Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vietnamese women strive to clear war-era landmines




Vietnamese women strive to clear war-era landmines

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A member of an all-female demining team prepares to detonate unexploded ordnance at a landmine site in Quang Tri, Vietnam. afp

Vietnamese women strive to clear war-era landmines

Inching across a field littered with Vietnam war-era bombs, Ngoc leads an all-women demining team clearing unexploded ordnance that has killed tens of thousands of people – including her uncle.

"He died in an explosion. I was haunted by memories of him," says Le Thi Bich Ngoc as she oversees the controlled detonation of a cluster bomb found in a sealed-off site in central Quang Tri province.

More than 6.1 million ha of land in Vietnam remain blanketed by unexploded munitions – mainly dropped by US bombers – decades after the war ended in 1975.

At least 40,000 Vietnamese have since died in related accidents. Victims are often farmers who accidentally trigger explosions, people salvaging scrap metal, or children who mistake bomblets for toys.

Part of the demilitarised zone that once divided the North and South, Quang Tri is among the worst-affected provinces.

Ngoc remembers the burnt flesh of her uncle's body when he was killed by a bomb that detonated while he scavenged for scrap metal.

For the past 20 years, Ngoc has worked as a deminer with Mines Advisory Group (Mag), funded by the US, Britain and Japan.

Today the 42-year-old criss-crosses her home province to excavate up to a dozen pieces of unexploded ordnance daily – and she is not alone.

Deminer Tran Thi Hanh said her husband was injured by a landmine blast while going to work, and she does not want the same thing to happen to others.

"This is what motivates me to do this job," she said.

100 years to clear

Once a site has been cleared the land can be used for agriculture.

"Demine, replant, rebuild – we are in the business of peace, the economy of peace," says Heidi Kuhn, founder of NGO Roots of Peace, which has helped 3,000 people to farm pepper on former mine fields.

Vietnam is the world's leading producer of black pepper.

Double amputee and former soldier Phan Van Ty says growing the crop has given him a new lease on life.

He lost a leg fighting for the southern regime, but after the war lost the other one when he detonated a bomb while searching for scrap metal in a former US weapons warehouse.

That explosion is seared in his memory.

"I have nightmares of my flesh being scattered in a blast – and then waking to find myself still in one piece but just without legs," he says, pushing his wheelchair past towering columns of pepper vines.

Up to three million pieces of unexploded ordnance and cluster munitions are still buried in Vietnam's soil.

Just last month, Ty says he found a grenade in his backyard.

Clearing the entire country could take up to 100 years and cost billions of dollars, according to officials.

But that has not deterred Ngoc from pressing on with the dangerous work, which is typically undertaken by men in Quang Tri, where women are usually garment workers or farmers.

"This job is not about money, it is about making a better place and ensuring a safer land."

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from

  • Floods prompt evacuations in Kampong Speu

    Rain-induced floods and water flowing from Kampong Speu province have submerged the houses of 1,527 families living close to the Prek Thnot River in Spean Thma, Tien, Kong Noy and Roluos communes in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, according to data from local authorities. Spean Thma