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‘Secret War’ for thousand years

A reportage from the world most cluster bombed country, Laos (1)

by Yu-Kyung Lee, Xieng Khong / Vient Tiane (Laos), 14 December 2008

Eventually, the International Treaty banning cluster bombs was signed by 93 countries in Oslo, the capital of Norway in December 3 rd 2008. Lao has been one of the leading countries for the Treaty as it’s been unimaginably victimized by cluster bombs and other UXO, whereas the USA which had unimaginably bombed Lao for 9 years during the Vietnam War, didn’t join it.

Besides the USA, Israel, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and South Korea, which have exported certain types of cluster munitions to Pakistan last March even as international discussions against the Cluster Bombs were being matured, are not ‘yet’ signatory of the Treaty.

The ‘excuse’ of Hanwha Coorporation, one of the two South Korean companies that produce and export cluster munitions, is ‘North Korea’, with which South Korea has been on cease fire for half a century.

“North Korea have been developing Weapons of Mass Destruction (or WMD), which is threatening to the national security of South Korea. Military threatening by North Korea never disappeared”. The company has replied to my written questionnaire.

In the meantime, I’ve recently travelled to Lao, the worst cluster bombed country in the world. As one International NGO worker told me, “The case of Lao is the best example why we should ban cluster bombs”. This story may tell bits of ‘why’. Lao people who’ve been suffered for decades more than any other parts of the world.

Story of Victims

Ya Vue is a 6 years old boy from ethnic Hmong community in Laos. He’s got burned in his left arm and parts of his body when a cluster bomblet or ‘bombie’ (as local call it) was exploded. He was willing to show me his burned arm but not his right hand because the last finger of the hand hasn’t existed any more since the ‘bombie explosion’.

“I feel shy because I lost one finger”, he said.

Two Hmong boys, whose age is six and seven respectively, got injured by cluster bombs last August, when their friends hit bomblet near fish pond. In the incident, which happened last August, two children were killed and three others (including those in picture) were injured. Children are one of the most vulnerable to cluster munitions in Laos. (24 Nov. 2008)
photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

Another boy has appeared in minutes. His name is Yer Que, 7 years old from the same Hmong village and a friend of Ya Vue. Yer Que slightly limped in the right leg, which was affected by the bombie explosion too. The leg has become worse, he thought, because he recently played a football after judging that it had been better. He’s got burned in his face as well as parts of body from the same incident.

“I am so sad, because I lost friends to play with and I cannot play a football as like before.” The boy was visibly traumatized. He said ‘no dream’ when asked “what’s your dream?”

The incident was happening on 3 rd of August of this year 2008. These two boys were playing with three other friends around a fish pond in their neighborhood namely Naughy village in the northern province of Xieng Khong. The fish pond was too familiar for children as a daily playground. But things have been completely changed on that day.

On that day, 5 boys saw a bombie nearby fish pond. It was a ‘BLU 26’ cluster bomblet, which is the most common and worst killer in the country. Most of casualties relating UXO, or Unexploded Ordnance, have been caused not by big bombs, such as General Purpose Bomb which is also common, but by the small bombies that have been ‘hidden’ in particularly farmland, under the mud ground in a same color of soils. Not easy to recognize beforehand accidently touching it to get explosion.

Experts said a CBU (Cluster Bombs Unit) of BLU-26 contains 670 bombies and each of bombies has about 200 up to 300 fragments. One fragment can fly away hundreds of meters if exploded, to kill and injure randomly. Thus, one cluster bomb unit could destroy at least 3 foot ball grounds. Children and farmers are particularly vulnerable to bombie explosion.

“We all knew it’s dangerous to touch it. But when one friend did it, nothing happened. So we thought this one may be ok” Ya Vue said.

So, the same boy threw the bombie to fish pond but this time it was exploded. Two brothers, including the boy who threw it, were killed on the spot while three others were injured.

So, the same boy threw the bombie to fish pond but this time it was exploded. Two brothers, including the boy who threw it, were killed on the spot while three others were injured. Ya Vue continued to recount.

One of the typical incidents added now. Locals in the province use or throw a bombie, often aiming catch fish in a fish pond, but explosion to come.

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