08/04/2007, 00.00
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Laos, the land of unexploded bombs

Thousands of bombs buried beneath the surface still today claim hundreds of lives, above all among children: it would take over 400 years to clear all of the land, but the Laotians have begun trading in their metal.

Vientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Laos can boast of a sad first place: it is “the most-bombed country in the history of warfare”. According to estimates over 5 million bombs dropped in over 580 thousand missions targeting the country, today lie unexploded beneath the soil.

A startling inheritance left over from the wars which wracked Laos during the XX century and which still today claim hundreds of victims, above all among the young: from Xieng Khouang village in central Laos – one of the worst hit areas during bombardments – comes the story of Thom, who lost the use of his legs when a hidden bomb exploded.  His friend met with a worse fate, he died during the explosion.  Despite the fact that he still carries shrapnel in his body from the bomb, Thom says he feels “fortunate” because he is still alive, whereas many others “have died just like my best friend”.

King Phet is a native of the same village.  Today he collaborates with the UN to clear the country of leftover bombs: he says it will take 400 years to clear the land “given the lack of equipment and trained personnel”. In the meantime, residents are learning all about the dangers of UXOs (contaminated areas in Laos) as part of an awareness campaign, even though many residents retain such talks as “not very practical”: “its one thing to teach about UXOs now – says one farmer - but how is a little child to really understand the dangers?” He too lost a son to an unexploded bomb and says he will never forget the “heartbreaking sight” of the child.

Even if it is impossible to forget the horrors of war Laotians have learned to commercially exploit its leftovers: China, Vietnam e Thailand, by scrap metal at 0.13 euros per kilo.  This is why hundreds of people invest their entire wealth (circa 12 euro) in metal detectors and dig to uncover rockets and missiles to sell in exchange for a kilo of rice.  The bombs have become common objects used to manufacture cooking utensils or household objects: grenades become cups or lamps, metal is melted down to make trays or knives.

 The children instead prefer to banish their fears with a popular rhyme: “Don’t go play too far … don’t make your parents worry where you are … in the mountains there are bombs ... don’t go play too far”.

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