Go to Razzle Dazzle welcome page. Phonsavan, Laos


Phonsavan   |   Plain of Jars   |   battleground

August, 2004

Laos photo.
1. Military high ground
Laos photo.
2. Bomb crater
Laos photo.
3. UXO
Laos photo.
4. Removing UXO

— Index —

nul. nul.

Although the Xieng Khoang Plateau, and the Plain of Jars, have been fought over for thousands of years, it took 20th century weapons to really destroy many of the jars. Site 1 of the Plain of Jars includes a high hill which is the "military high ground" in the area (see photo #1, at left). This means that whoever held this area always fortified the hill, building bunkers and trenches for protection. The other side then did its best with bombs or artillery to destroy those fortifications. The jars were simply in the way, victims of what the military calls collateral damage.

The weapons of modern war are designed to throw metal fragments through the air at high velocity. All of them were capable of damaging the jars. Any soldier caught in the open on this battlefield would have taken refuge behind the jars, and his enemies would have attacked him there. Even bullets were capable of making small holes in the stone jars. The American bombs, however, were the most powerful weapons in use, and seem to have caused the greatest damage. The craters that they left behind are still there, usually half-filled with water and often devoid of plant life (photo #2).

One of the many legacies of the American war in Laos is the huge number of unexploded bombs, shells, grenades, and mines (UXO) that now litter the country. Every where we went near Phonsavan, we saw evidence of the pervasive influence the UXO have on every day life here. Most restaurants and guest houses are decorated with military ordnance of various sorts, even the tourist office has its display (photo #3). People take great risks to remove the fuses and explosives from bomb casings to sell the steel as scrap metal. And, of course, people are still being killed on a regular basis by the UXO.

Throughout the battlegrounds of Laos, brave men are removing the UXO to make the land safe again for people to live and work. We met several men from a group called UXO Lao at a restaurant during our trip to Phonsavan. The British Mines Advisory Group (photo #4) assists people around the world to remove the explosive hazards left by war. They are active in the area around Phonsavan. The work is dangerous and tedious, and it is almost impossible to find and remove every single UXO from an area.

For several years, Jim worked as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician for the US military. He is particularly sensitive to the difficulties and hazards involved in this kind of work. It is hard to imagine a more dangerous, or more rewarding, job.


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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
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Created 8/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.