Vietnam’s northern villagers lose lives, limbs to UXOs

Original story by Lao Dong newspaper

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Trieu Van Nguyen lost his right leg to a landmine in 2008. Photo credit: Lao Dong Trieu Van Nguyen lost his right leg to a landmine in 2008. Photo credit: Lao Dong


Giang recently committed suicide after losing his second leg to a three-decade old landmine in the northern mountainous province of Ha Giang, which borders China.
The second tragedy occurred while he was working, one-legged, on his farm.
Giang had lost his other leg to land mine set in the forest several years before.
Bui Trung Thu, an official at Thanh Thuy Commune, said that after being injured the second time, Giang spent his days digging in search of a grenade with which to end his life.
“He probably didn’t want his wife and small children to take care of him after he lost both legs,” he said.
Unexploded ordnance--most of which are undetonated landmines left over from the northern border war (1979) and subsequent skirmishes with China--have killed many people and injured countless others in the area, which is home to many who lack limbs and eyes.

Bon Van Hon stands by a deactivated artilery shell at his home in Ha Giang Province's Thanh Thuy Commune. Photo credit: Lao Dong
“You can see [victims] all over the village. They might be a farmer tilling a field or tending cows or a person sitting on his doorstep gazing at a lost limb,” Thu said.
The suffering of a family
Trieu Van Nguyen is one of many residents of Thanh Thuy Commune’s Nam Ngat Village, a community of Dao people, who continue to suffer the effects of landmines leftover from the war.
The 34-year-old farmer lost his right leg in 2008 while gathering wood in the forest to build his home.
“Landmines remain abundant and can be found all around the mountainside and in many fields. Sometimes, I come across them while ploughing a field to grow corn.”
Nguyen said he was frightened, once, when his ten-year-old son brought home a grenade he'd picked up off the ground.
Nguyen’s father-in-law, 45-year-old Bon Van Hon, lost both his legs to landmines in separate incidents, the first in 2000, the second in 2004.
Hon hates the remnants of the war with a passion and always destroys them when he finds them.
He says he usually digs a hole, puts the ordnance and then builds a fire over over the explosives in the evening.
The next morning, he visits the site to make sure everything has exploded.
“I don’t know any other way to deactivate them and prevent them from harming local people. I don’t want others to lose limbs like me. That’s a tragedy that lasts one's whole life,” he said.
Hon’s two brother-in-laws are also landmine victims.

Captain Nguyen Xuan Tho lost his right leg and five comrades while deactivating unexploded ordnance in Ha Giang. Photo credit: Lao Dong
“My eldest brother-in-law picked up a piece of ordnance off the ground without knowing what it was. It exploded after he threw it away. It was really scary. His body was blown apart,” he said.
“We had to gather his body parts up and bury them.”
Hon said his other brother-in-law also lost a leg to an unexploded landmine.
Post-war casualties
While many villagers have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance, many military engineers working to clear the land have suffered similar fates.
Captain Nguyen Xuan Tho, former head of Platoon No. 7, lost his right leg while clearing ordnance from Thanh Thuy Commune during the 1990s.
“It was on June 10, 2002 when I accidentally stepped on an unexploded landmine. My leg was torn to bones. I wrapped it up myself while another soldier ran off to get an ambulance.”
The “ambulance” Tho said ended up being a hammock.
He was carried for four hours from the mountainside to their tent before being taken to an actual hospital.
“Unexploded ordnance is everywhere. Each soldier usually finds 60-70 items in a single morning,” he said.
Tho said his unit has 22 members who spend each day worrying that the landmines will kill them or their friends.
He said five of his comrades died while on duty.
His first comrade, Nguyen Cong Truong, died in 1992 while they were clearing landmines near a camp fire.
“The fire detonated some underground ordnance and sent a piece of shrapnel flying through his chest and heart,” he said.
Ly Xuan Lin, head of Thanh Thuy Commune, said unexploded ordnance continues to litter the area, despite numerous sweeps by deactivation teams.
“People are still dying from unexploded ordnance, decades after the war ended. The sorrow lingers without an end in sight.”

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