Vietnam's endless war

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 November, 1997, 12:00am

Although the Vietnam War ended 22 years ago, its deadly legacy continues to maim and kill innocent Vietnamese.

A tragic example of this occurred last April.

Seven Thai and Kho Muu minority children were killed in the village of Chieu Luu, in Nghe An province near the Laos border, as they rushed from their classroom after lessons.

What happened? Some villagers say heavy rains earlier in the day had washed away the topsoil in the village, leaving a weapon as exposed and as deadly as on the day it was laid by the United States army.

The bomb had been left behind from a war which began - and ended - a generation before the young victims were even born.

Another version of the story is that a boy had found the small bomb in a field, put it in his pocket, and it later exploded when another child pushed him.

Oxfam Hong Kong consultant Jim Monan, who was in neighbouring Laos four weeks before the deaths, said: 'There is always an element of chance in these things.

'People had innocently thought Nghe An province [just across the border in Vietnam] was safe because no landmine incidents had been reported in the region for years.

'The deaths of those children in Chieu Luu proved how tragically premature that assumption had been.' Oxfam had helped Chieu Luu villagers build water and irrigation systems.

Their food supply had increased and water-borne diseases such as dysentery were less frequent, especially among children.

But the presence of unexploded landmines hidden in the soil is a major deterrent to development work.

How do you fund agricultural projects when the land is bristling with deadly weapons? Yet how can poor countries like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia afford to lose their land to landmines and bombs once again? This, though, is not the end of the sad story.

When faced with extreme hardships from floods or droughts, villagers often go into dangerous fields to look for landmines and bombs to sell as marketable scrap metal.

Sometimes they manage to deactivate them, sometimes they explode in their faces.

Oxfam Hong Kong expresses sympathy to the families of the seven children and will continue the fight to ban landmines.

Voeun Sam Ouen, a landmine victim from Cambodia who has been lobbying at the United Nations for a worldwide ban, summed it up like this: 'The big boys still need new toys to play their war games.' But there are ways to help.

Come to our Ban Landmines Candlelight Vigil on Sunday from 7 pm to 9 pm on the harbour-front near City Hall, Central.

You also can learn more about landmines by borrowing Oxfam's slides.

Or you can display Oxfam's free set of photographs on landmines.

Keen readers can buy the books, Landmines and Underdevelopment, a Case Study of Quang Tri Province, Central Vietnam ($30), and A Safe Future, Reducing the Human Cost of War ($60).

Oxfam Hong Kong is an independent development and relief agency which works with the poor regardless of race, sex, religion or politics in their struggle against poverty, distress and suffering. Call 2861-1411.