A Trip Into The Laotian Jungle To Find Unexploded Bombs from the Vietnam War.

A Trip Into The Laotian Jungle To Find Unexploded Bombs from the Vietnam War.

Above Photo: A (fortunately defused) Vietnam War cluster bomb, which was being used in a test pit so that metal detectors could be ranged onsite.

I recently went out into the field with a UXO team from Salavan, in southern Laos, where my novel BACK is set. I wanted to check on locations I’d used in the novel and, in Salavan, there is still considerable unexploded ordnance (UXO) left behind from the Vietnam War, in the jungle and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

UXO features in my novel as a one of the hangovers and evils from the Vietnam War that my backpacking trekkers encounter on their own fateful journey into the war-ravaged jungle, looking for something that was left behind from the Vietnam War.

Monks at an early morning alms-giving in Salavan.

Monks at an early morning alms-giving in Salavan.

I was walked through the quiet, wood-smoke scented streets of Salavan on my way to the UXO Lao office for a very early start. The only vehicles on the road were women heading to the market with geese and ducks tied to the handlebars of their motorbikes, as a line of saffron-clad monks chanted on the pavement in front of a kneeling food donor.

UXO Lao - Salavan Province headquarters.

UXO Lao – Salavan Province headquarters.

Salavan’s UXO problem largely stems from the presence of many branches of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which ran right through the province, not far from town, during the Vietnam War.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail was set up and used by the North Vietnamese Army to send men and war material into Cambodia and South Vietnam to fight the US and its allies, and it was heavily bombed by the US planes during the Vietnam War.

Wartime bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (seen top right, as a dirt track) by US planes as the Trail crosses from Vietnam into Laos.

Wartime bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (seen top right, as a dirt track) by US planes as the Trail crosses from Vietnam into Laos.

I was were taken to a site only 1 kilometer from the town centre, in Pornkhaew Village,  where a farm of 32,000 square metres was being methodically searched and cleared of UXO by a team of nine people.

The UXO investigation site 1km from downtown Salavan.

The UXO investigation site 1km from downtown Salavan.

A few years ago SEVENTY-TWO cluster bomblets and thirteen other munitions had been discovered on the same site.

A cluster bomblet lodged in the base of a tree.

A rusting cluster bomblet lodged in the base of a tree.

I was shown around the site by the head of the operation, Mr Daupon, who sternly warned me not to stray off the path and to turn off my mobile phone.

Above ground, the Salavan site looked very pleasant. It was what lay beneath that gave rise to concerns.

Above ground, the Salavan site looked very pleasant. It was what lay beneath that gave rise to concerns.

After I’d signed my life away with a seriously comprehensive disclaimer, and was asked about my blood type, I was taken on a tour of the site, where UXO Lao operatives worked the ground with highly sensitive metal detectors, in one-metre wide strips.

Staring down the barrel of a North Vietnamese Army anti-aircraft gun in Salavan's UXO compound.

Staring down the barrel of a North Vietnamese Army anti-aircraft gun in Salavan’s UXO compound.

He also took me to see some cluster bomblets which had been discovered twenty-five centimeters below the surface, deep enough for safely walking on above ground, but highly dangerous for farming or house-building.

The problem with much of Laos' UXO is its proximity to villages, schools and towns.

The problem with much of Laos’ UXO is its proximity to villages, schools and towns.

In the current methodical clearance operation, a further 63 cluster bomblets had been discovered, together with  forty bullets, anti-aircraft and anti-tank rounds, and a highly dangerous white phosphorous bomb dropped from a US aircraft. They would later all be blown-up by C4 explosives in a controlled explosion.

These are Chinese-made anti-aircraft and anti-tank bullets which were discovered strewn all over this small site by UXO Salavan, in the detection effort so far.

These are Chinese-made anti-aircraft and anti-tank bullets which were discovered strewn all over this small site by UXO Salavan, in the detection effort so far.

Nearby was a school where a previous clearance operation had yielded thirteen cluster bomblets and bullets.

UXO Lao estimates there are still eight million cluster bomblets littering the country. That doesn’t include other munitions, of which there are also many millions lying under or on the ground.

A UXO Salavan operative with a metal detector on the site.

A UXO Salavan operative with a metal detector on the site.

UXO Lao believe they have made safe perhaps only 500,000 bomblets since they began operating in 1997, leaving another eighty-seven million five hundred thousand bomblets to be defused before farmers and children can live their lives in relative safety again.

Which unfortunately means UXO Lao will be in business for many years to come.

A highly dangerous and volatile phosphorous munition dropped on Salavan by US planes during the Vietnam War.

A highly dangerous and volatile phosphorous munition dropped on Salavan by US planes during the Vietnam War.

Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.

MIA button

For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:

See also: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/photo-story-uxo-from-the-battle-for-salavan-laos-when-air-america-and-the-cia-fell-out/

And: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/related-regional-articles/a-right-spectacle-vietnam-war-era-salavan-airport-in-laos/

© Peter Alan Lloyd

BACK Parts 1 and 2:

Reviews: Amazon.co.uk: Customer Reviews 

UK: Amazon.co.uk: BACK Parts 1 and 2 

US: Amazon: Back Parts 1 and 2

Smashwords: Back Parts 1 and 2

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peter.lloyd.94064?fref=ts

Website: www.peteralanlloyd.com

Twitter: @PeterAlanLloyd

Location of Salavan in southern Laos.

Location of Salavan in southern Laos.

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

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