Unexploded Ordnance from the Secret War in Cambodia.
Above Photo: Yeak Lom Lake in Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.
On my BACK-related research trips around in Ratanakiri Province, I’m always surprised by how relaxed locals were about the threat of UXO (unexploded ordnance).
Ratanakiri, which borders Vietnam and Laos, hosted a busy stretch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (or Sihanouk Trail as it was called inside Cambodia) during the Vietnam War, and I knew it was one of the most heavily bombed areas of one the most heavily bombed countries on the planet.
The region also saw considerable fighting between the Khmer Rouge and government forces before the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power, and this conflict was well known for the over-use of land mines.
I simply didn’t believe that Cambodia could be so advanced in UXO removal compared to Laos, where there is an enormous amount of work being done, including educating locals about the dangers, which doesn’t seem to be happening on the same scale in Cambodia. The locals in Cambodia didn’t seem to have a clue about it.
And so, one day a while back, we decided to visit Ratanakiri’s main tourist site, the beautiful and dramatic Yeak Lom Lake a 4,000-year-old, 48 metres deep volcanic crater, containing exceptionally clean and clear water. Or so I thought.
It’s a favourite spot for swimming and sunbathing – for tourists. If you’re a local, it’s a place to have large picnics, dump plastic bags and Styrofoam shit after you’ve eaten and let it all blow into the lake.
Before we headed to the lake I asked the hotel owner “Is the area safe to walk around?”
“Of course! We have no UXO remaining in Ratanakiri. It has all been cleared.”
I also asked the bike rental company and got the same response, although I never believed anyone about this in Cambodia.
Anyway, we went to Yeak Lom and had a lovely day by the side the lake, walking around it, and even swimming in it.
Imagine my surprised a few days later when the Cambodian Mines Advisory Group sent a team to the area near Lake, where 11 items of UXO had been discovered. These were Vietnam War-era 60mm mortars, which had been exposed when recent heavy rains had washed away the surrounding soil. The mortars were later safely destroyed in a controlled explosion, but it’s another example of why I don’t believe locals in Cambodia about the extent of UXO detection and clearance in remoter areas there.
See the trailer for 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.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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