China-Laos railway thrives despite US' deadly legacy

By Du Juan | | Updated: 2022-01-06 15:51
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US military operations in Laos, despite ending nearly 50 years ago, have left behind a legacy of destruction that still endangers lives today.

The China-Laos railway opened to traffic in December last year. Though the completion of the more than 1,000-kilometer Belt and Road project was difficult, one underreported aspect of the work is the unexploded ordnance workers had to be wary of, thanks to bombings of Laotian land by the US military decades ago.

About 459 UXO bombs and 463,536 pieces of shrapnel over 2,931 hectares of land had been cleared in Laos during the construction of the China-Laos railway between January 2017 and July 2019, according to a report by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs released in September 2019.

And this is only a small part of an estimated 80 million bombs that remain unexploded across the Southeast Asian country.

During the Vietnam War, the US carpet-bombed neighboring Laos to block Vietnam's supply lines on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the south of Laos. That operation was called the Secret War, and was led by the CIA, according to a CBS news piece from 2016.

Laos is, per capita, the most heavily bombed country in the world. On average, bombs were dropped every eight minutes over nine years between 1964 and 1973. More than 20,000 people have been killed or maimed by the unexploded bombs since the war ended, and currently 50 are maimed or killed every year. Around 40 percent of these are children.

Even on Dec 3, 2021, the day when China-Laos railway began service, Vientiane Times reported three men working as part of a survey team with UXO Lao were killed instantly when searching for unexploded ordnance on a coffee plantation in Champassak province. UXO Lao is the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Program, established by the Lao government with the support of UNICEF.

In December 2016, construction of the China-Laos railway in Luang Namtha province had yet to commence as some UXO clearance need to be completed before rail builders could go full steam ahead. The section in question where some UXO may remain is 16.9 kilometers long, per the Vientiane Times.

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