Sunday, March 14, 2010

March 11 UXO Field Trip

Note: The Lao government and Lao UXO ensure UXO areas are not accessible to the general public.

This side trip was one I couldn’t pass up: a near 3 hour drive north of Luang Prabang towards Nong Khio to an active Lao UXO field site. UXO? UneXploded Ordinance. Laos has the unenviable honour to be considered the most bombed country in the world. From 1964 to 1972 the CIA spent an estimated 2 million dollars a day bombing Laos totaling a half a billion tonnes of bombs.

Thanks to GVI volunteer Zoe Rose from Pennsylvania who started English classes for the staff at the Luang Prabang UXO Visitors Center, 4 GVI volunteers got a very very rare invitation to visit a UXO site where a rice farmer had found a BLU-26 (a tennis ball sized “bombie” from a cluster bomb) in one of his paddies.

On arrival we were given a detailed safety briefing and signed the required forms and waivers – and provided our blood type! Our guide, and UXO research analyst, told us that the site had experienced an intense ground battle during the second war (the 1st war was with the French ending in 1954) and had been subject to heavy aerial bombardment. As an additional safety precaution all search work is stopped while visitors are on site.

Following one of the the team leaders we wound our way out in single file to the search area. The search grid is laid out with coloured string and each technician searches their assigned area with a metal detector and when they get a signal they carefully (I guess I didn't have to say that) dig down to see what it is. If they find a UXO it's mark it with a red flag. At the end of each day all found UXOs are destroyed with charge of TNT. About 20 were destroyed during our visit. Quite a show!

The Lao UXO consists of some 1,300 highly trained bomb disposal technicians and is sponsored by the UN and several governments such as Australia and Germany. The UXO team of about 15 technicians at this location had already found and destroyed some 75 bombies after searching just 10% of the 20 acre site. The team leader said he thought it would take another 3 weeks to completely clear the site.

Bombies from cluster bombs form the highest UXO risk in Laos, higher than land mines. The UXO Lao web site states, “It is estimated that up to 30% of all ordnance did not explode. Such unexploded ordnance (UXO) continues to remain in the ground, maiming and killing people, and hindering socio-economic development and food security.” Its estimated 30% or 78 million bombies did not explode. So far the Lao UXO has found destroyed just 0.5% - yes, one half of one percent.

Do the math; in the one rice paddy we visited they may find over 600 bombies. A few years before in the same area a local man was killed when he hit a bombie while digging right in his village.




  • watch the film "bomb harvest laos" on google videos

Cheers, Ron