US cluster bombs still killing Lao people

This video is called Cluster Bombs in Laos.

From DPA news agency in Germany, by Christiane Oelrich:

Thu, 04 Nov 2010 07:02:04 GMT

Vientiane, Laos – Latsamy Voralath these days wears his hair fashionably long in front, with a fringe covering an empty eye socket. One of Laos’s tens of thousands of victims of cluster munitions, he lost one arm, two fingers on the other hand as well as an eye.

Over 80 million unexploded bomblets litter the Laotian countryside, killing and maiming dozens every year, four decades after the end of the war in 1975 in neighbouring Vietnam, which spilled over the border.

An international ban on cluster munitions came into force in August. Laos, which is to host the first conference of the signatories on November 9 to 12, is pushing for financial support for clearing its territory.

Growing up in the small town of Sepone in the south of the country, Latsamy used to live a fairly normal life. His family were poor, like all the others, but he went to school, hung out with his friends and hoped to become a farmer like his father.

To earn a bit of pocket money, Latsamy and his friends would collect some of the tons of scrap metal that litter the countryside, left over from the conflict between the United States and Vietnam.

One September day in 2004, when he was 14 years old, he dug a piece of unexploded ordnance out of the ground. Not recognizing it for what it was, he was knocking the mud off it when it exploded, the now-20-year-old explained with a barely audible voice.

Phongsavath Manithong, 19, spins on his head at dizzying speed, honing his impressive breakdancing skills. He does not put out his hands to keep balance – he lost them to a cluster bomblet he found outside his school.

“It was my 16th birthday, I was on my way to school with some friends to pick up our exam results,” he said. “One of us found this thing by the side of the road. We didn’t know what it was.”

Phongsavath, the most curious of the bunch, tried to open the canister-shaped object, losing both hands and his eyesight when it exploded.

A cluster bomb ejects up to 300 smaller submunitions or bomblets, designed to halt advancing enemy troups, or kill, maim and demoralize civilian populations. But their impact is felt long after the end of a conflict.

Laos remains the world’s most heavily contaminated by cluster munitions.

The US, as part of its so-called “secret war” in Laos, dropped millions of bombs and mines on the country’s eastern provinces, flying as many as 500,000 bombing sorties over the country in a nine-year period during the Indochina War in the 1960s and 70s.

The objective was to destroy the jungle bases of Lao and Vietnamese communist forces and disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was the main logistical passage from North to South Vietnam.

Around 270 million bomblets fell on the country, up to 30 per cent failed which to explode on impact, according to Eva-Maria Fischer, a spokeswoman for the aid organization Handicap International.

According to the first survey of unexploded ordnance released by the government’s National Regulatory Authority, about 30,000 Lao fell victim to the bombs and mines from 1964 to 1973 and another 20,000 thereafter, the Vientiane Times said earlier this week.

Last year, of the 100 confirmed casualties of cluster munitions worldwide, 33 were in Laos, according to the Cluster Munitions Monitor campaign group.

Cluster bombs are not just a hangover from last century’s conflicts; they are still produced by 17 countries, and stockpiled by a total of 73 countries.

The campaign against the weapons is gaining momentum, with the Convention on Cluster Munitions that went into effect on August 1.

But the United States, China and Russia, thought to be the leading producers, as well as Israel, India and Pakistan, have refused to join the treaty, which some critics have called a “feel good” exercise.

Seven of the convention’s signatories have, however, destroyed stockpiles of 13.8 million of the devices, and 11 more were starting similar procedures, the Cluster Munitions Monitor said in a report published Monday.

In total 38 former users, producers and stockpilers of cluster munitions have so far joined the treaty.

LAOS: World Bank-backed Dam Powers Ahead, Despite Social Cost: here.

CAMBODIA: Cluster Bombs Cloud Prospects for Peace: here.

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