Sunday, August 01, 2010

Cluster Bombs: Laos

As cluster bomb ban takes effect, the view from Laos

August 1, 2010 The cluster bomb ban – officially known as the Convention on Cluster Munitions – comes into force today. Countries that have ratified the treaty must stop making cluster munitions, dispose of stockpiles, and clear contaminated areas.

Vansoum Phim Mavong an employee of Mines Advistory Group, searches for unexploded munitions in a field in central Laos. The shells of 'bombies' a nickname for the tennis-ball-sized bomblets, litter fields all over Laos, the most-bombed country in the world per capita. A world-wide cluster bomb ban takes effect Sunday. Jared Feddie

Khangphaniena Village, Laos The young woman brushes her metal detector over coarse, dry grass in a field near a primary school. Against the sound of children playing, the machine beeps as she searches for unexploded bombs dropped by American aircraft four decades ago.

Most of those were cluster bombs – shells that open midair scattering tennis-ball-sized "bombies," as they are known all over Laos. About 30 percent of them failed to explode upon impact, and instead remained buried in the earth. On average, one person a day is injured or killed in some part of the country by unexploded ordnance.


Laos, the most bombed country in the world per capita, strongly backs the treaty. Between 1964 and 1973, the US dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance in a campaign kept hidden from Congress and the public. Since then, about 20,000 civilians have been maimed or killed by unexploded bombs, according to Legacies of War, a Washington-based group that raises awareness about America's "secret war" in Laos.


Indeed, figures show a dramatic contrast between the amount the US spent bombing Laos and the amount spent clearing away their lethal legacy. The US currently contributes about $5 million per year to cleanup efforts. Every single day for nine years it spent about $17 million (in today's dollars) bombing Laos, according to Legacies of War. Continued

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