Dakrong, Quang Tri, February 12, 2010
There will be no Tet celebrations to welcome the Lunar New Year for Ho Van Nguyen’s family this year. A cluster bomb explosion killed Nguyen on Friday morning, Feb. 12, as he was cutting weeds around his banana trees and preparing for the Tet holiday which began in Vietnam on Saturday.
The accident occurred in Mai Lanh Village, Mo O Commune of Dakrong District, which is in the western part of Quang Tri Province, along the former wartime DMZ.
The 40-year-old father of six daughters left home after breakfast on Friday morning. His wife said Nguyen took with him his favorite farming tool, a bush-hook. About 10:30 a.m. there was an explosion from the direction of his family’s hillside slash-and-burnt farm plot along the Dakrong River. It is believed that Nguyen hit a cluster munition while clearing weeds from around his banana trees, using the bush-hook. The area where he was working is a large cultivation site for over half of the 1,800 Van Kieu minority people who reside in Krong Klang Townlet. Bananas, cassava, and maize are the major sources of income for local residents there.
Mr. Ho Van Hoi, Nguyen’s uncle, heard the explosion and was the first to rush to the accident scene. When he arrived, he saw his nephew lying lifeless on the ground. Both his hands were severed, his eyes were badly damaged, and the skin was scorched from the chest up to the face of the victim.
On the eve of Tet, Nguyen’s tragic death suddenly thrusts his family into extreme difficulties. His wife and six daughters, the youngest only three years old, are facing shock and grief, and an uncertain future. The family’s emotional tragedy is compounded by the loss of their only breadwinner, who also supported his aging parents.
“I married twice but have only that son,” lamented Nguyen’s father, Mr. Ho Van Mong, who was a guerrilla fighter during the Vietnam war. “How can I live on without him?”
News of the accident immediately was passed on by Project RENEW staff to Clear Path International (CPI) and PeaceTrees Vietnam (PTVN), two NGO projects which provide direct emergency support to UXO accident victims and their families in Quang Tri Province. PTVN also fields an explosive ordnance disposal team (EOD team) in Dakrong District which was launched in September 2009.
“Our team has destroyed thousands of UXO since our deployment in Dakrong,” said Pham Thi Hoang Ha, PTVN In-Country Project Manager. “However, there are still a lot of UXO that need to be removed.”
According to a Landmine Impact Survey conducted by BOMICEN/VVAF, Dakrong District has the highest level of UXO contamination anywhere in the country: 97% of its land area is confirmed to be contaminated by explosive ordnance.
President of the local Red Cross Association, Ms. Le Thi Lam Hoa, said the area where the accident occurred, Mai Lanh Village, had been reclaimed from virgin land in 1982 for resettling ethnic minority families who were dislocated by the war. “Another accident in that area killed two men in 1985,” said Ms. Hoa. The victim’s father said the area was heavily bombed during wartime, and he had witnessed a large number of cluster bomb dispensers falling to the earth which failed to function.
Since the war ended in 1975, more than a third of the 105,000 casualties in Vietnam have been caused by cluster munitions, called “bombies” or guava bombs by the local ethnic minority people.
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