We only spent one day (two nights) in Phonsavan, Laos, but during our stay we learnt a lot about the ‘US Secret War’ in Laos and the wonderful work that MAG are doing to clear the UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) that litters the landscape.
The ‘US Secret War’ in Laos
Although most people are aware of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, not many people are aware that a large part of the war was actually fought in Laos. Even to this day the US denies any involvement, thus it is nicknamed ‘The Secret War’.
The US dropped bombs on Laos in order to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail which the North Vietnamese used to move troops and to carry supplies and artillery into South Vietnam. In addition, American aircraft were sometimes unable to launch their bombs at their ‘primary target’ in Vietnam due to bad weather or other circumstances. As they did not wish to go through safety procedures in order to land back at base whilst still carrying bombs, they dropped them on Laos.
The map below shows the location and the intensity of the bombing campaign in Laos.
If you want to find out more about the secret war, please watch this insightful video on Youtube.
Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) and Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
Whilst in Phonsavan we visited the MAG building (on Route 7) and read about MAG’s work, but also watched a video on ‘Bombies’ which is screened every night at 6:30pm. The video highlighted the destruction that cluster bombs cause even after the war has ended. During the 9 years of bombing between 1964 and 1973, ordinance was dropped on Laos every 8 minutes, although 30% of this ordinance did not explode on impact. This has meant unexploded bombs now scatter the landscape, either lying above the surface or just beneath it, waiting to be discovered.
Most bombies are discovered either by farmers who are trying to make a living; by children that are playing and are attracted to the bright yellow colour of some of the bombies; or by scrap dealers harvesting scrap to make a living.
MAG is a charity that is helping to clear the UXO and is currently also working in 40 other countries including: Angola, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Iraq, Lao People’s Democratic Republic,Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Vietnam.
To find out more about bombies and the work of MAG, please watch this video.
MAG desperately need more funding for equipment and staff in order to expand their work, as at the current rate it will take more than 100 years to make Lao safe. You can make donations to MAG in person through their office on route 7, either by giving money or through buying souvenirs such as T-shirts and bracelets. Alternatively please donate online through just giving using the donation button below.
Whilst in Phonsavan we visited the Plain of Jars site 1 where lies around 250 large stone jars that are believed to be c3000 years old, and are thought to have been used as funeral urns as bones were found in the jars.
During the war this area was very heavily bombed, and the war scars are evident in the many bomb craters and trenches that are dotted around the jars. There is also a small cave at jar site 1 where families hid during the bombing, and it certainly made the war feel very ‘real’ to me to see the bomb craters so close to the entrance of the cave.
We also visited the ancient city at Muang Khoun and saw MAG work working first hand.
Current persecution against the Hmong
In the ‘Secret War’ the US recruited members of the Hmong tribe in their war against the communist Pathet Lao, as the Hmong tribe had a fierce hatred for the communist North Vietnamese. However, when the US withdrew they only took a small number of the Hmong back to America, leaving the majority of their loyal allies, the Hmong behind. With the Pathet Lao now in control of the country, the Hmong are being persecuted and many have already been killed by Lao’s current communist government and many more are still being hunted in the jungles in Northern Lao.
To find out more about the Hmong and their plight please watch the video below.
Why isn’t the UN or the US doing anything about this?