War-era bombs continue to bring death to Vietnam

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Police investigate the scene where Dao Mua, 60, died Wednesday when an unexploded ordnance went off

More than three decades after the last US soldier left Vietnam, unexploded bombs continue their killing spree in the country.

Dao Mua, 60, the father of three children, died on the spot Wednesday after a Vietnam War-era bomb went off when he was searching for scrap metal in Ward 3 in Quang Tri Province's Dong Ha Town, RENEW said in a statement.

RENEW (Restoring the Environment and Neutralizing the Effects of the War) is a partnership between Quang Tri and international organizations to reduce the effects of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Vietnam.

The north-central province is located on the 17th parallel north, which used to be the demarcation line between the liberated northern region and the US-backed South Vietnam.

It gained notoriety as a brutal theater of war that was the most heavily bombed by the US to block the movement of soldiers and arms from the north.

On the day Mua died Doan Van Khoa, who lives nearby, said he heard an explosion at around 8 a.m. and rushed to the scene, hoping to provide first aid to possible victims.

"I was working in my house when I heard the bang. I ran to the scene but could not do anything. He had died before I arrived."

Mua, one of many scrap collectors operating in Quang Tri, had been involved in this dangerous occupation for almost 20 years, digging into the soil searching for metal, usually from bombs and shells.

According to RENEW, Mua did not have a motorbike and walked from his home in Ward 4 to look for scrap.

On a lucky day he would collect 15 kilograms of metal and sell them for VND40,000 (less than US$2).

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"Yesterday he came home without any money," a woman at the accident scene, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

"Today he found something, but died."

Another resident, Le Trinh, said Mua's family is very poor and he also had to take care of his 90-year-old mother. His first son works in Laos, and two married daughters live with their own families, he said.

"They live in a shack that is not decent enough to be called a house."

RENEW said Ward 4 in Dong Ha may have the highest number of people engaged in the search for war scrap.

Since 1994 around 20 people have been killed and 10 others were injured while looking for scrap or trying to dismantle UXO.

Last March a 44-year-old father of eight died in hospital after a piece of ordnance exploded while he was trying to cut it open at home.

"Nobody can get rich by searching for war scrap it is just a matter of buying some rice and clothes," Trinh, who spent seven years doing the job and quit after seeing too many people die, said.

Last month alone two people in Quang Tri were badly injured by UXO.

On October 2 a 17-year-old boy lost his leg while digging to plant coffee in Huong Hoa District, adjacent to the former Ta Con Airstrip (known to the US Army as Khe Sanh).

On October 29 a 67-year-old man in Trieu Phong District suffered severe injuries after attempting to dismantle UXO at his home to sell for scrap.

Since the war ended in 1975 scrap-metal collecting has accounted for more than a third of the 104,000 deaths and injuries caused by UXOs in Vietnam.

"The huge amount of UXOs still on the ground and just under the surface throughout the central provinces, coupled with poverty, drives this dangerous occupation," RENEW said.

Around 6.6 million hectares of land, or more than a fifth of the country's area, were affected by UXOs left behind from the Vietnam War, according to official figures.

But only 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) have been cleared so far.

Experts estimate it will take hundreds of years and billions of dollars to clear Vietnam of leftover bombs, shells, and mines.

Vietnam launched a UXO action program in 2010 to clear around 1.3 million hectares by 2025. It is set to cost $595 million in just the next five years

At a seminar on UXO decontamination held on December 4, 2011, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said: "Accidents and casualties have continued to take a toll, particularly on children, every day and every hour on a nationwide scale."

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