War-left U.S. aerial bombs in Southeast Asia still a threat to locals

Half a century on, war-left U.S. aerial bombs in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are still excavated, posing threats to local people's daily lives.

Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) found an unexploded U.S.-made AN-M34 aerial bomb, weighing nearly one tonne and containing more than 500 kilograms of high risk explosives, from the river in Tonle Boun Muk near the Sokha Hotel in Phnom Penh and in front of the Royal Palace on May 5, according to the Khmer Times.

"Cambodia is still suffering from the United States' unexploded ordnance and landmines, which are the legacy of the U.S.-Vietnam war 50 years ago," Joseph Matthews, a senior professor at the BELTEI International University in Phnom Penh, told Xinhua.

In April alone, CMAC had found at least five unexploded U.S. Mark 82 (Mk 82) aerial bombs, weighing about 500 pounds each, in Kandal, Svay Rieng, Takeo, and Prey Veng provinces.

"Every day, somewhere in Cambodia, poor people are becoming the victims of these unexploded ordnances (UXOs) and landmines," said Matthews.

From 1979 to 2021, 19,808 people were killed and 45,156 were either injured or had limbs amputated due to landmines and UXOs, Xinhua reported, citing a report from the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority.

Besides massive landmines and UXOs left in Cambodia, the country also suffered the tragedy of U.S. aerial bombings in 1960s and 1970s.

Acknowledging the United States bombing of the Cambodian countryside continued and increased from 1970 to August 1973, a research paper titled "The America Bombardment of Kampuchea, 1969-1973" pointed out that the total bombing was 540,000 tonnes.

Cambodia is not alone. Vietnam and Laos have been also suffering from the war-left U.S. aerial bombs.

"The United States released more than 15 million tonnes of bombs, landmines and shells in Vietnam, of which about 80,000 tonnes are unexploded and remain scattered over nearly 20 percent of the country's territory, which has killed more than 40,000 people and wounded more than 60,000 since the end of the Vietnam War," said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian during a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

In addition, the casualty figures caused by UXOs for 1975-2017 were listed as 38,798 killed and 66,093 injured, a paper titled "War Legacy Issues in Southeast Asia: Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)" reported, citing the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor.

As for Laos, from 1964 through 1973, the United States flew 580,000 bombing runs over the country and dropped more than 2 million tonnes of ordnance on the countryside, double the amount dropped on Germany during World War II, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

UXO, including cluster munitions remnants (called "bombies" in Laos), represents a far greater threat to the population and account for the bulk of contamination. UXO, mostly of U.S. origin, remains in the majority of the country's 18 provinces, according to the paper titled "War Legacy Issues in Southeast Asia: Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)."

"History has proven that the United States is a destroyer of rules and order, a maker of violence and conflict, and a perpetrator of coercive diplomacy," Zhao said.

(Cover: F105 Thunderchief of the U.S. army bombing military and strategic targets in north Vietnam during the Vietnam War, February 1966. /AFP)

(With input from Xinhua)

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