Photo: Swords to ploughshares at Ban Naphia.

UXO and the legacy of the Secret War in Xieng Khouang

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During the 1960’s, while international news outlets intensely covered the Vietnam War, the world ignored the fact that an illegal war was raging in neighbouring Laos.

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History in a nutshell Though Laos was guaranteed neutrality in 1962 at the second Geneva Convention, the country would soon become engulfed by the conflict between the US/South Vietnam and North Vietnam. Civil war had emerged within Laos between the North Vietnam-backed communist Pathet Lao and the US-backed Royalists and neutralists. The US began a clandestine CIA operation as part of their containment strategy against communism.

Refashioned bomb casings support a birdhouse in Ban Nakhampheng. Photo taken in or around UXO and the legacy of the Secret War in Xieng Khouang, Phonsavan, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Refashioned bomb casings support a birdhouse in Ban Nakhampheng. Photo: Cindy Fan

They recruited and trained the Hmong, a hilltribe group who saw communism as a threat to their autonomy, independence and land, including their heartland Xieng Khouang. The US built secret military installations with airstrips known as Lima Sites throughout the country. “Private” airline Air America was actually covertly owned by the US government, and one of their objectives was to transport the Hmong’s traditional crop, poppies. Opium and heroin were sold overseas to raise funds for the war. Plenty of it ended up in American G.I.’s fighting in Vietnam.

While tens of thousands of Hmong boys and men fought guerrilla warfare and suffered heavy casualties on the ground, the US unleashed an intense aerial bombardment campaign. Southern Laos was bombed to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the network used by North Vietnam to move supplies, artillery, munitions and troops, while areas in northern Laos like Xieng Khouang and Sam Neua were Pathet Lao and NVA strongholds. Laos was also used as a dumping ground: aircrafts could only safely land when empty of explosives. Even if the original target could not be properly attacked, bombs were unleashed regardlessly—often dumped in Laos as the bombers returned to bases in ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,400 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Phonsavan? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Laos.

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