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Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 16:40 GMT
Vietnam War's new victims
Mines, Quang Tri province, Vietnam
Thousands have been killed by old mines
By Owen Bennett-Jones in Hanoi

Twenty five years after it ended, the Vietnam War claims new victims each week.


Many more people will die

Le Thi
It will take many more decades to remove the estimated 300,000 tonnes of explosives that remain uncleared.

According to the Vietnamese, 38,000 people have been killed and 64,000 injured by mines and bombs since the war ended in 1975.

The accidental detonation of mines and unexploded bombs is so common that many incidents go unreported in the newspapers.

Children's games

Ten-year-old Phan Lu Lun lives in central Vietnam just a few kilometres from the old demilitarised zone which separated the armies of North and South Vietnam during the war.

His home is on a former Vietnamese military base which is riddled with unexploded ordinance.

rural scene, Vietnam
The countryside is littered with explosives
A year ago two of Phan Huu Lan's friends found a bomb.

"I was feeding a buffalo by the hill and met two friends there," he said. "They had found a mine and we played with it. The mine exploded. They died."

Phan Lu Lun survived but he has scars all over his body, his left hand is limp and he has metal lodged in his head. He says he has headaches but his parents are too poor to provide him with medical attention.

"Many more people will die. There are still so many mines here," said Phan Huu Lan's 68-year-old-grandmother, Le Thi. "I have tried to warn the children to tell an adult if they find mines.

"But they find bombs attractive and want to play with them."

US help

It is not only children who are at risk. Scrap metal dealers often try to collect the bombs so they can sell the metal and the explosives which are used by some fisherman.

Fishermen
Scrap metal dealers sell explosives to fishermen
"Clearance has been going on here for 25 years. But look at what is happening in Europe," said Nick Proudman of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG).

"They are still clearing ordinance from the Second World War and the First World War."

MAG is clearing a former US military base in central Vietnam. It will take two and a half years to make safe a square kilometre of ground.

In the past, mine-clearers received little co-operation from the United States. American officials used to argue that the US Army never laid mines during the Vietnam War, and that the job was done by its South Vietnamese allies.

"Unfortunately the Americans still deny that they laid mines in Vietnam," said MAG's senior technical advisor Mark Thomson. "We've tried various avenues such as the State department to gather information on types of ordinance and where mines were laid.

"But there is limited information available."

Some US veterans - keen to promote reconciliation with Vietnam - have tried to help. In response to internet appeals they have stated what mines they laid and where. The information, though, is often too imprecise to be much help to mine-clearers.

But official US attitudes are changing. In recent months Washington has contributed more than $3m of mine clearing equipment to Vietnam.

It is also sponsoring research to survey exactly what explosives lie where. US officials are now trawling their archives for information on the location of mines and bombs.

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See also:

09 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam bomb kills six children
08 Aug 00 | UK
Call for cluster bomb ban
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