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This farmer can now work safely on his land for the first time in 40 years

by Eva Hegedus, Programme Officer, MAG Laos | MAG (Mines Advisory Group)
Monday, 9 June 2014 10:45 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Sithon will treasure this planting season as a special one: for the first time since the Vietnam War he could seed his rice safely, after MAG cleared almost 400 explosive weapons from his land.

"There were bombies [the local term for cluster submunitions] everywhere." Fifty-nine year old Sithon Manyvong recalls returning home to Naphia in 1975 after the Vietnam War had ended.

Naphia village is in Phaxay district, one of the areas of Xieng Khouang province most affected by unexploded ordnance (UXO) – the bombies, rockets, missiles, mortars and grenades that did not explode when they were used, continuing to pose a risk of detonation.

"Because there were no UXO clearance organisations at that time, we villagers had to move the bombies ourselves," Sithon says. "We piled them up and covered them with firewood to burn them... and what did not explode we buried in the soil."

Until a MAG Mine Action Team recently destroyed nearly 400 unexploded ordnance (UXO) items on Sithon’s three hectares, he would worry constantly about his children. He saw so many others involved in UXO accidents and had carried injured youngsters to the hospital.

"I felt so angry that bombs killed civilians during the War and there was still this danger left behind," he says.

Though the family feared for their safety every day, Sithon explains that they had no choice but to use the dangerous land: "This was the only place that was flat, and we had to plant rice somewhere to survive."

Thankfully, the worry has gone.

"Now, as the land is cleared, we can do whatever we like. We can dig and when we hit the ground with the jok (hoe), we know it is safe. Now my family doesn't have to worry every year when we plant and harvest the rice."

"I strongly believe I will have more rice this year, because now we can plant on every square centimetre of our land."

Sithon plans to sell this extra rice yield at the local market, and use the funds he generates to support his three sons and three daughters with their studies.

The Mine Action Team that cleared Sithon's land was funded by the US State Department.

To find out more about MAG's work in Laos and worldwide, go to www.maginternational.org.