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Feature: Lao villager's favorite pastime: detonate unexploded U.S. bombs

VIENTIANE, Sept. 2 (Xinhua)-- While most residents at Vilabouly village in Savannakhet province in Laos are engaged in farming and fishing, Wan's favorite pastime is defusing bombs left by the Americans during the Indochina war.

Recently Wan defused a 1,000 kilogram U.S. bomb after European experts decided that defusing the unexploded ordnance (UXO) would prove to be too dangerous.

The huge American bomb was equipped with a clockwork mechanism designed to detonate after the weapon hit ground. The aim of such weapon was to kill or maim as many Vietcong guerrillas as possible.

The bomb was dropped in the vicinity of the Laos between 1963 and 1975. Savannakhet was part of the Ho Chi Minh trail used to transport supplies from communist North Vietnam to guerrilla fighters in South Vietnam.

Approximately 30 percent of clockwork bombs dropped on Lao land failed to explode after their timing mechanisms were damaged by impact with the ground.

What makes Wan's efforts particularly heroic and what has driven off foreign bomb disposal experts is that even a slight vibration could reactivate the clockwork device and the bomb would explode.

While defusing the bomb, it is impossible to know whether or not the countdown has been activated.

The bombs are designed to detonate and propel small razor sharp pieces of metal, also called frag, which travel fast enough to behead or dismember its victims. Frag can travel up to 1.5 kilometers from the point of detonation. In Wan's case, the explosion could have flattened his village of Vilabouly.

Defusing a bomb is not as simple as unscrewing the fuse since unscrewing the locking lugs will cause them to fly open, jam the screw thread on impact and detonate the bomb.

In Wan's case, he carefully cut through the steel of the bomb just some distance from the base in order to remove the explosives.

On a good day Wan is able to sell the 45 kilograms of steel comprising the body of the bomb for about 10.5 U.S. dollars and the explosives found in the cavity to fishermen for about 3.5 U.S. dollars.

According to Wan, the secret to success in bomb defusing is to be prepared to die at any moment should the clockwork mechanism activate. With every successful defusing, Wan grows a little more confident that fate is on his side.

While foreign bomb disposal teams are reluctant to take such risks in their work, Wan is unfazed. Like most people in his locality, Wan is Buddhist and believes that he will be reincarnated if he dies. He hopes that his work will provide him with merit enough to be reincarnated again in human form.

The bomb in Vilabouly village was dropped by U.S. Air Force pilot Chip Wood based in Udon Thani in 1968. In his F4 jet, named after his mother Angie, Wood dropped a payload set to explode between 5 to 20 hours after impact.

The most common bomb dropped on the land of Laos was the cluster bomb. After being dropped from the plane, the mother bomb will split apart and eject up to 200 smaller bombs. It is estimated that approximately 30 percent of these weapons did not detonate after they hit ground.

During the Indochina war, the U.S. carried out over 580,000 air missions over the Laos. Over 270 million cluster munitions alone were dropped on the country, more than the total volume of bombs were dropped during the World War II.

Despite increased prosperity and a strong national economy, the specter of UXO still hangs heavily over Laos. UXO contaminated land means that the expansion of infrastructure into remote regions becomes prohibitively expensive. Authorities have to carefully survey and clear land before any construction projects are undertaken.

UXO also blights otherwise arable agricultural land with a high proportion of detonations occurring through agricultural practices or simple domestic activity.

Each year, there have been approximately 300 new casualties reported from UXO-related incidents. About 40 percent of UXO victims are children who continued to be maimed or killed almost 40 years after the end of the Indochina war.

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