The campaign against Laos was part of the U.S.’s wider war in Indochina, aimed at foiling North Vietnamese incursions and halting the communist Pathet Lao’s growing influence. Today, reminders of the war litter the Xieng Khouang province.
XIENG KHOUANG PROVINCE, located in the mountains of Northern Laos, was the site of major ground battles between the Pathet Lao and the American-backed Royal Lao Army and one of the most heavily bombed areas of the entire war.
Today Xieng Khouang is known primarily for the Plain of Jars, a collection of two thousand year old archaeological sites, but leftovers from the war are unavoidable – the landscape is dotted with craters, Hmong villagers use bomb casings as building material and unexploded ordnance (UXO) remains buried throughout forests and farmland.
The Lao government and a few Western NGOs (most notably MAG) have launched campaigns to clear jar sites and farmland of bombs, encouraging tourism and reducing the number of accidental UXO victims. Despite these admirable efforts, Xieng Khouang remains poor, barren and littered with deadly explosives.
1. In the past, many residents of Xieng Khouang were hesitant to reveal the location of large pieces of UXO, fearing that they would be destroyed and could no longer be sold as scrap metal. This lead to the implementation of the "low-order technique," a method of removing explosive material without damaging the valuable parts of the ordnance.
2. Bomb casings make durable building material in many impoverished villages, where metal is expensive and rare.
3. In addition to building material, bomb casings are also used for flower pots.
4.An assortment of mortars, grenades, and cluster bomblets used during the war.
5.Of the 250 million bombs that the US dropped on Laos, at least 80 million did not explode and remain buried in the ground. Designed as anti-personnel weapons, the bombs are filled with ball bearings that increase the amount of shrapnel released in an explosion. Unfortunately, they look very similar to the balls Hmong children toss to each other at New Year festivities.
6.Vast expanses of fertile land in Xieng Khouang remain full of buried explosives, rendering them unusable and keeping the predominantly Hmong population poor.
7.An approximately 200ft (61m) wide crater on unused land.
8.Small craters left by cluster bomblets.
9.Many of the bomb craters have formed semi-permanent ponds.
10.By 1973, the only thing left standing in the old provincial capital of Muang Khoun was Wat Phia Wat's Buddha statue. The rest of the town was completely leveled by American bombs and ground battles between the Royal Lao Army and Pathet Lao.
11.A bombed-out hospital in Muang Khoun remains a monument to the war.
12.Many houses and restaurants in the rebuilt Muang Khoun use disarmed bombs as decoration.
13.The two thousand year old jars scattered around Xieng Khouang are the area's biggest draw for tourism. Their original purpose remains a mystery, but popular theories include funerary vessels, food storage, and alcohol fermentation containers.
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