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25 years later - Vietnam's deadly legacy

April 27, 2000

The following information is very relevant to the current commemoration of the ending of the Vietnam war. Please contact me if you want further information ,John V Head, spokesperson for NZ Campaign Against Landmines

25 Years Later, Vietnam's Deadly Legacy Of War - Vietnam War Leaves Explosive Legacy

Baltimore Sun - April 27, 2000

Since 1975, thousands have been killed or hurt by unexploded ordnance

By Associated Press

VINH CHAP, Vietnam -- In the 25 years since the Vietnam War ended, more than 30,000 people have been killed by land mines, bombs, grenades and mortar shells that still lie buried in the ground.

Children find and play with them. Adults try to scavenge the metal and explosives.

Quang Tri province, population 564,000, was the site of some of the fiercest fighting of the "American War." The badly misnamed Demilitarized Zone that split Vietnam into the Communist North and the U.S.-backed South went through the province at the 17th parallel.

Most civilians fled. The hills were denuded by defoliants such as Agent Orange that have left a toxic legacy in what is one of the poorest provinces in one of the world's poorest countries.

The countryside is pocked with bomb craters that now are waterholes. Schools and public service announcements warn against handling war leftovers.

The message does not always sink in: Although the annual toll is declining, 700 people are killed or wounded each year.

Quang Tri General Hospital has a rehabilitation center, set up in 1994 and financed by Handicap International, that produces about 140 prosthetic legs a year.

"Most are for victims of unexploded ordnance; some are from traffic or work accidents," said chief technician Nguyen Van Hien.

Deadly playtoys

Ten-year-old Phan Huu Luan was herding the family buffalo near his home Oct. 26. He wasn't close enough to his two friends to see what they were playing with. It probably looked like a ball to them. One hurled it against a rock, and it exploded.

A swarm of fragmentation pellets knocked Luan into an old bomb crater. Bleeding from head to toe, his leg badly broken, he crawled to the edge, saw his two friends dying and began crying for help.

Foreign mine experts say his friends, Nguyen Dang Khoi and Nguyen Dang Luan, probably found a BLU-26 cluster bomblet. Hundreds of thousands of Bomb Live Units -- BLU-26s and BLU- 61s -- rained on Vietnam 2,500 at a time in clamshell-like pods that opened and scattered them over the countryside.

Armed by midair spinning that set fuses after a certain number of revolutions, some didn't spin enough and hit the ground harmlessly, needing perhaps 100 more turns -- or only one -- to become active. A boy's throw may be enough to do the trick.

The BLU-26 has a "kill" radius of 10 yards and a fragmentation range of 40 to 50 yards; the BLU-61 reaches out farther.

"I had some hatred toward the American pilot who dropped this bomb," said Luan's father, Phan Huu Tien. "Even though the war has been over for 25 years, the local people still have to suffer."

While Luan was in the hospital, two boys in the area were killed while playing with a land mine uncovered by flooding.

Tons of ordnance

In a report in September, the government said 38,248 Vietnamese have died from unexploded ordnance since the war ended on April 30, 1975. Most of the deaths were attributed to leftovers from that war, but some occurred in the far north, site of Vietnam's brief but bloody border war with China in 1979.

The People's Army newspaper estimated that 300,000 tons of old bombs, artillery shells and mines remain from the estimated 15 million tons of explosive devices used by American forces and their allies. A removal campaign in 1975-1977 in the south cleared 3 million explosives. A clearance program in the northern provinces in 1991- 1998 found 2.3 million -- and resulted in the deaths of 37 soldiers.

Humanitarian aid

Clearing land of lurking bombs is important in a nation where three-quarters of the 76 million people live in the countryside farming small plots.

Nowhere is the effort more organized than Quang Tri. A map of the province shows projects run by the humanitarian groups PeaceTrees Vietnam of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and Britain's Mine Advisory Group as well as James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. The mine removers have found everything from 1,000-pound bombs to M-14 mines that contain so little metal that they are difficult to find with the best detectors.


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