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9 Mar, 2009 05:41

Laos uncovers leftover bombs

In Laos people are still being killed and injured by bombs dropped over thirty years ago by the US during the Vietnam War.

Out of the two million tonnes of explosives which fell on the South East Asian country, 30 per cent have not yet detonated, thus posing a great danger, especially to farmers who work on the land.

But one man has made it his mission to rid the country of the lethal leftovers.

It was a day Hamm’s family want to forget, but know they never will. The young boy had gone with friends to hunt for scrap in the fields – one of the few ways people in Laos can make money during the so-called dry-rice period.

It was something he'd done many times before, but on this fateful occasion, it would be his last.

Every year hundreds of explosives across the country are responsible for claiming the lives or limbs of not only farmers, but also children. And Hamm's story is, sadly, all too common.

“He didnt notice the bomb and when his friends brought him back home, he was asking to be taken to hospital, but there were no blood supplies in the hospital – so he died,” said Hamm's mother.

Laos is a land of remote villages where people live simple lives, harvesting their food from their land. But the soil that feeds them also holds a hidden danger which fell from the sky more then 30 years ago.

Dragged into the Vietnam war, Laos found itself on the recieving end of more then two million tonnes of explosives dropped by the US air force. But up to 30 per cent of those bombs never exploded.

For Michael Hayes and his team removing this danger remains their most important task.

Michael was a soldier for more than twenty years. His last mission was as part of a peacekeeping force to Cambodia. He was tasked with mine clearence and from then on he’s never looked back.

“There were so many casualties, it was unbelievable,” said Hayes.

Today he heads a company which operates all around Laos, searching for unexploded bombs and teaching locals about the dangers.

“We have developed a leaflet with images of different types of bombs, so locals that see the bomb can just tick the image and we can start our work.”

And almost every day his team sets out to hunt for explosives and help prevent a repeat of such tragic stories.

Once specialists uncover the bomb, it is marked with a special sign and then destroyed at the end of each working day. There is a special rule not to leave a bomb uncovered overnight.

As time has passed Michael's company has become a family business. Now his older son works with him, destroying the bombs and educating locals.

“Yes, it's dangerous, but I trust the people around me,” said Aaron Hayes.

There are still miles of fields that need clearing. But Michael is determined one day his team will put an end to this ticking time-bomb of a problem.