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A war that ended 40 years ago, kills my child today

“That day at my mother’s house at 12 noon, we had a baci where our relatives gathered. My children and some others were playing outside the house when suddenly there was an explosion – it was a bombie and my daughter…” At this point Mr Chong Ber Lee was overwhelmed with emotion and was unable to continue. His feelings were too painful to suppress as he relived the thought that he had lost his 9-year-old daughter forever.

Mr Chong Ber Lee, alongside his wife and their surviving daughter, relates the tragedy that killed their elder daughter.

The tragedy occurred on March 21 when the exploding cluster bomb killed one girl and injured 12 other members of the four families in Yodngum village, Paek district, XiengKhuang province.
According to local villagers, a road was being repaired and it had rained recently which uncovered the small round bomb that had lain buried in the ground. A girl named Ear Lee went to buy some sweets at a local shop and on her way home she spotted the bomblet, which she thought was a petanque ball. She picked it up and took it home, not knowing that it would soon take her from her family forever.
Her house was next to her grandmother’s house and her family was hosting a baci for her grandmother and the other relatives who had gathered.
Ear Lee joined the other children who were playing outside and shared the sweets she had bought. Then she showed them the rusty metal ball she had picked up. Having learnt about cluster bombs at school, some of the children were scared and moved away. Her younger sister said “It’s a bombie” but the girl replied, “No, it’s not a bombie, it’s a petanque ball”. But her little sister insisted “It’s a bomb; I’m scared!” and backed away. Still the girl would not be persuaded and said “It’s not; if you don’t believe me, I’ll show you by throwing it on the ground and you will see it’s not a bombie!”
The resulting explosion killed Ear Lee immediately and injured 12 other children and adults nearby – all relatives.
“She would have been 10 in November. She was still young,” the girl’s father said. He had three children - two daughters and a son–and the family had built their house near his mother’s land about two years previously.
“Since the accident, our family has suffered a lot. My wife has spent a lot of time at the hospital taking care of our other daughter who was injured in the explosion. She cannot walk properly but the doctor says she will able to walk well in the next two or three months.”
His wife said, “She told me she dreams of her sister taking her by the hand to go somewhere, but she doesn’t go. We have put an amulet around her neck to
protect her.”
Mr Chong said “I have had to take care of my mother’s family as some of them were also injured. Faced with the loss of one daughter and caring for another two injured, we can’t work any more and our family is having a very hard time right now.” Their son also injured from the event.
Mr Chong and his wife normally work on their farm growing rice and other crops on land that’s about two hours’ walk from their house. But this year they’ve been unable to get any crops in the ground as they didn’t have enough time to prepare the land.
“Now we don’t have anything to rely on. We hope the authorities can help us somehow. Otherwise, I will try to get some kind of work so that I can earn some money to help my family survive,” he said.
They also plan to build another house somewhere else in the village. “We have to move because we cannot continue to live in the place where our daughter was killed. It’s considered bad luck,” he added sadly.
Mrs Mee Lee, 26, hurt her leg in the accident and cannot walk properly now; her two children were also injured. “I was close to the explosion and was carrying my daughter over my shoulder and she was hurt too. I have sent my son to our mother’s house as we are afraid he might suffer another accident if he plays around here. But I will take him back soon.”
Ear Lee’s family and the others who were affected have received assistance with healthcare as well as some other help but they are all struggling to come to cope with the situation.
Unfortunately, similar accidents happen in Laos every year. The war ended 40 years ago but innocent people are still killed by the bombs that were dropped. Those who are injured inevitably face difficulties as some are disabled and find it hard to earn a living, which also affects their families.
Every day many villagers place their lives at risk as they go about their daily tasks and farm their land. They can’t be certain that if they go out to farm in the morning they will return to their family in the afternoon.
According to information from Legacies of War, during the Indochina War, over 2 million tonnes of ordnance was dropped on Laos. An estimated 30 percent of the devices did not explode on impact, leaving at least one third of the country’s land contaminated by these deadly tennis ball-sized weapons.


By Ounkham Pimmata
(Latest Update May 17, 2017)


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