Contextual Content

The US bomb legacy in Laos

During the Vietnam war, the US illegally bombed Laos as part of a secret war to disrupt Vietcong supply routes. 30 years later, 78 million unexploded cluster bombs remain scattered across the country, placing thousands at risk of death or injury every day. 111 countries gathered in Dublin this week to adopt a treaty banning cluster bombs. 5 countries – the US, Russia, Israel, India and Pakistan – were notable in their absence.

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Story Transcript

PETER HERBY, HEAD OF ARMS UNIT, ICRC: A cluster munition is a cannister which is fired from an aircraft or an artillery position which contains many small submunitions, the small munitions, which then explode. And some of these cannisters can contain as many as 650 of these small submunitions.

REKHA VISWANATHAN (VOICEOVER): Seventy-eight million unexploded cluster bombs are scattered across Laos to this day, active reminders of the Vietnam War. From 1964 to 1973, the US illegally bombed the country as part of a secret war to disrupt Vietcong supply routes into Vietnam.

HERBY: In Laos, they have been everywhere at the time of the war, in the 1960s and ’70s, in villages. And the place was basically uninhabitable because of the degree of weapons contamination and, mainly, cluster munition contamination.

VISWANATHAN: The Laos National Unexploded Ordinance Program, or UXO, says Laos has the distinction of being per capita the most heavily bombed nation in the world.

MENG JUNLAMANEE, SUBMUNITIONS SURVIVOR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I went to the paddy field to work. I started ploughing the field, not knowing there was a bomb there. I ploughed the soil, hit the bomb and it exploded. I didn’t know there was a bomb underneath.

JA-LOR, SUBMUNITIONS SURVIVOR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I was pulling the weeds in the paddy field. The hoe hit the bomb, and it exploded.

EDWIN FAIGMANE, ADVISOR, UXO LAO: People know about the dangers about this UXO, about these cluster munitions on the ground. But it’s either they leave it on the ground and they will not be able to farm, or they take the risk just to be able to do some farming and plant rice.

HERBY: Our belief is it will be necessary and it’s possible to prohibit perhaps more than 95 percent of existing cluster munitions, which means billions of submunitions that are sitting in stocks around the world.

VISWANATHAN: An international treaty banning cluster bombs was adopted on Friday by over 100 signatories. The United States, Russia, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan did not participate.

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