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Geopolitics

Laos, A Risky Cleaning Job In The World's Most Bombed Country

A brave group of women are taking on the enormous task of finding and destroying millions of unexploded bombs in Laos, the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world.

The US.. dropped more than 260 million cluster bomblets on Laos during the Vietnam War
The US.. dropped more than 260 million cluster bomblets on Laos during the Vietnam War
Sally Sara

XIANGKHOUANG — The women from the bomb-clearing team use loud speakers to warn the locals when there is about to be an explosion.

These women are on the front line of a campaign to clear up to 80 million unexploded bombs in Laos. Their metal detectors make a buzzing sound each time they find something.

Forty-six year old Phou Vong is a clearance worker from the Mines Advisory Group team operating in the province of Xiangkhouang. She says she will never forget the first time she found a bomb: “I was both excited and frightened. I hesitated a bit, but I thought I should be glad to find it because in a sense I was helping my people.”

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. dropped more than 260 million bomblets on Laos to cut off supply routes for the Viet Cong — the equivalent of one bombing mission every eight minutes, for nine years.

Many of these munitions were cluster bombs, large cases full of hundreds of smaller bombs. More than four decades after the end of the war, the bombs are still taking lives and limbs.

20,000 victims

Vong says the U.S. should do more to help clean up the deadly legacy it's left behind: “Well, if we want to clear these bombs, I would like them to support more than what they have done so far. This is not enough because there really are too many.”

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An undetonated bomb in Laos — Photo: MAG

There are children singing nearby. It sounds like a nursery rhyme but it is actually a song about the unexploded bombs, a song that could save their lives. They are also warned not to touch the small cluster bombs, nicknamed bombies. The small tennis ball-sized bombs can detonate at any time.

Australian aid worker Colette McInerney from World Education Laos says some victims have lost hope. “It can be very, very traumatic and people can withdraw within themselves — they don't want to talk to anyone about it. A lot of people come here because they have suicidal thoughts,” she says.

More than 20,000 people have been killed or injured by cluster bombs in Laos since the war ended.

No one really knows how much time or money will be needed to destroy all of the unexploded ordinance contaminating the Lao countryside. It could be a task that takes several generations.

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Geopolitics

Utter Pessimism, What Israelis And Palestinians Share In Common

Right now, according to a joint survey of Israelis and Palestinians, hopes for a peaceful solution of coexistence simply don't exist. The recent spate of violence is confirmation of the deepest kind of pessimism on both sides for any solution other than domination of the other.

An old Palestinian protester waves Palestinian flag while he confronts the Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the village of Beit Dajan near the West Bank city of Nablus.

A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan on Jan. 6.

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — Just before the latest outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a survey of public opinion among the two peoples provided a key to understanding the current situation unfolding before our eyes.

It was a joint study, entitled "Palestinian-Israeli Pulse", carried out by two research centers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, which for years have been regularly asking the same questions to both sides.

The result is disastrous: not only is the support for the two-state solution — Israel and Palestine side by side — at its lowest point in two decades, but there is now a significant share of opinion on both sides that favors a "non-democratic" solution, i.e., a single state controlled by either the Israelis or Palestinians.

This captures the absolute sense of pessimism commonly felt regarding the chances of the two-state option ever being realized, which currently appears to be our grim reality today. But the results are also an expression of the growing acceptance on both sides that it is inconceivable for either state to live without dominating the other — and therefore impossible to live in peace.

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