sign in a cave in Laos

6 November 2011

UXO in caves in NE Laos

UXO is unexploded ordance

Whilst caving in the Vieng Xai area of NE Laos, we had to be really careful about UXO, or unexploded ordance, as this was one of the most heavily bombed areas during the Vietnam war.

Vieng Xai is a small town, its claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Repulic). Lao gained independence from France in 1949, this was followed by a civil war, and then the communist Pathet Lao came to power in 1975. Around this time, Vieng Xai got caught up in a secret war and became the site of an unprecedented but little known episode in world history.

In the early 1960’s the Pathet Lao moved their headquarters from Vientiane to Houa Phanh province. As the USA tried to halt what it saw as the expansion of communism after World War 2, Laos became caught up in this secret war. The US set out to destroy the Lao revolutionary movement whilst denying any military involvement in the country.

In an attempt to destroy the Pathot Lao’s new command centre at Vieng Xai, the US embarked on a devastating aerial bombing campaign that would last for nine years (1964-1973). More than two million tonnes of ordnance were dropped on Laos over this period – more bombs than were dropped on Europe during the Second World War. This total is equivalent to one planeload of bombs every 8 minutes for 9 years. However this fact is little known in world history!

detonator box used as motorbike box

Today UXO is still a huge problem. Unexploded ordnance (UXOs) are explosive weapons (bombs, shells, grenades, land mines, naval mines, etc.) that did not explode when they were employed. UXO are still found and the UXO demining teams are working daily to clear the paddy fields, farmlands, gardens etc.

The biggest problem is the bomblets, locally called bombies, which come from cluster bombs, and are small and easily hidden. One cluster bomb could hold 670 bombies, and if it didn't go off on landing, this means 670 bombies are still "alive" in the earth. And each bombie could contain 300 ball bearings.

MAG (Mines Advisory Group) from UK began work in Laos in 1994, and 1996 Laos created its own national organisation UXO Laos, with MAG advice and support.

This marker shows what has been cleared

During our caving expeditions, as we were working with the local government and tourism authorities we were given special permission and permits to allow us to go to many areas within the Vieng Xai district, but we always took local guides with us, and were careful never to stray off the path.

A missile struck this rock wall in a cave entrance
bullet scar on rock wall of cave entrance and a bomb crater

Missile found in a cave
bombheads found in cave in Vieng Xai district

Hope it doesn't go off!

These old bomb cases now used as decoration

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

1 comment:

  1. Aren't you afraid that this bomb may go off ? Is communism such a bad word and must they bomb them !

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