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Laos Still Littered with American Munitions

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Download  An international treaty banning the manufacture and use of cluster bombs has just come into force, but some of the world's key military powers are refusing to take part.

The United States, China, Russia, Pakistan and Israel - all countries that stockpile, manufacture or use cluster munitions - haven't signed the treaty and therefore aren't bound by it.

Nevertheless, the treaty's supporters say it's a huge step forward for peace and disarmament.


But challenges remain for countries such Laos still heavily contaminated by unexploded bombs dating back to the Vietnam War.


Ron Corben has this report.


In 1996 Thoummy Silamphan was eight years old when scavenging for bamboo shoots in the Lao province of Xieng Khouang in northern Laos when he struck an unexploded cluster bomb.

“Before I knew what is what I was already blown away. Villagers from nearby rice fields came to see me immediately. I was unconscious when the villagers found me. My parents were very upset. I was sent to the provincial hospital of Xieng Khouang province. I woke up next day to find I had lost my left hand.”

Thoummy spent the next two months in hospital, the bitter grief of coming to terms with his loss, fearful of returning to school and life ahead of him.

But he did return to school and soon found many in the community facing similar disabilities after coming into contact with unexploded ordinance or UXO from the Vietnam War.

Saleumxay Kommasith is a director general in the Lao foreign ministry says the scale of the challenge for Laos to this day remains daunting.

“So it was around two to three million tons of bombs which if you break into bomblets it's around 260 to 270 million of bomblets fall in Laos. And 30 per cent of them failed to detonate on impact. After the war in 1975 to 1994, no operations, no clearance has been done at all. That's because of the lack of funding; it's a lack of expertise. We don't know how to clear it. So that's why in that period from the war until 1996 the number of victims was very high.”

In Laos unexploded bombs each year injure or kill over 300 people.

And progress to demine remains slow given over one third of Laos remains contaminated by UXO.

Just 200 square kilometres has been cleared - less than one per cent of the affected area.

The international community has come to aid Laos in demining operations including Australia, the United States, France, Norway, Japan, and Britain.

Ian Holland, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) representative in Laos says the convention adds pressure on those nations yet to sign, including the United States, Russia, Pakistan and Israel.

“Now there's a realization the critical mass of countries that have signed and that have ratified the convention. In February we had the trigger point of the 30th country having ratified and six months thereafter we now have the convention coming into force and that is a significant milestone and adds more gravity and momentum to the process. And in turn that raises the awareness of the conscience of the countries to join.”

Going forward, given the amount of unexploded ordinance that is scattered across Laos what do you see as the challenges for the country over the next five to 10 years?

“The challenges for Laos over the next five to ten years are very significant when it comes to looking at the cleaning up the contamination caused by the unexploded ordinance. Significant areas of the country are affected. Many populations, many communities, many out in the rural areas; and the resources - financial and human resources that are required to undertake an operation that will last no doubt a generation - 20 years or more even just to clear the areas that are priority areas for agriculture for schools for development.”

បាន​បន្ទាន់​សម័យ​ចុង​ក្រោយ​បំផុត ( ថ្ងៃច័ន្ទ ទី09ខែ​សីហាឆ្នាំ2010ម៉ោង17:59 )