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Country Reports
LAOS, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


Mine Ban Policy

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) has not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, despite the fact that in December 1994 Laos was one of the first governments to call publicly for an immediate, comprehensive ban on antipersonnel landmines.[1] Laos did not participate in any of the treaty preparatory meetings, did not endorse the pro-treaty Brussels Declaration in June 1997, and did not attend the treaty negotiations in Oslo in September even as an observer. Laos came as an observer to the treaty signing conference in December 1997 at the invitation of the Canadian government, but did not make a statement. Laos was absent from the votes on pro-ban resolutions in the UN General Assembly in 1996, 1997, and 1998.

Phonesavanh Chantavilay, the chief of the Laotian Foreign Ministry’s United Nations Division, has said that the main reason Laos has not signed is its concern that it would not be able to meet the treaty’s deadline for destruction of mines in the ground.[2] Another observer has said that Laos is likely to stay out of the treaty as long as China and Vietnam are not a part.[3] One confidential source told Landmine Monitor, “They thought it was difficult for small, poor countries to do away with one of their only cheap means of defense....They consider mines as one of their only economically viable options.”[4]

Laos acceded to the Convention on Conventional Weapons on 3 January 1983, but has not ratified the amended Protocol II on landmines.

Production, Transfer, Stockpiling, Use

Laos is not thought to have ever produced or exported antipersonnel mines. Laos is believed to maintain a stockpile of mines, but no details are available. There are no allegations of recent use of antipersonnel mines by Laotian armed forces.

The Landmine/UXO Problem

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic suffered intense ground battles as well as extensive bombing during the Indochina War era, especially during the period from 1964 to 1973. The fighting left a legacy of widespread contamination by unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines, that still cause death and injury more than 20 years after the war ended.

It has been estimated that Laos suffers from more than 9 million unexploded “bombies” (mostly BLU-26 bomblets) dropped by the U.S. Bombies become de facto anti-personnel mines when they do not explode on impact due to some technical reason, e.g., they were dropped at the wrong height or did not arm themselves properly. In such circumstances they remain a threat for years or even decades.[5] The primary threat to civilians in Laos is this unexploded ordnance, not antipersonnel mines, though both are present. To the civilian population, there is little or no difference between the two -- they will likely explode if stepped on, kicked, or handled improperly.

In 1997, Handicap International (HI) released the results of a national survey it conducted on the impact of UXO and landmines in Laos. It is one of the most detailed surveys ever conducted on UXO/mine contamination in any country. Much of this Landmine Monitor report is drawn from that document.[6] The reader is referred to that full document, as well as a much longer Laos country report prepared by the Landmine Monitor researcher, for much greater detail than there is space to reprint here.

HI reports, “The presence of landmines was reported in all provinces surveyed. More than 1,000 villages reported the presence of landmines in the past with 214 villages currently reporting landmine contamination.”[7] Over 3,800 villages, with a population of 1.3 million people, had been affected by UXO and mines. HI also states, “To date, clearance operations have concentrated in areas where there are few landmines. However, it is expected that when clearance operation expand, the risk of encountering landmines will increase.” [8] In 1996, the UN estimated that 500,000 tons of UXO were still present in Laos.[9]

Mine Clearance

In 1994, the first UXO/landmine removal project was initiated by the Mines Advisory Group in Xieng Khoung, one of the most affected provinces in Laos.[10] In February 1996 a Prime Ministerial degree (49/PM) established the Lao National UXO Program (UXO Lao) to coordinate all UXO related activities. Its main tasks are: (1) create a national capacity for UXO activities; (2) implement a national UXO strategy and demining projects; (3) coordinate UXO clearance, awareness and survey projects throughout the country. Operations were first conducted in three affected provinces, then in 1997 were expanded into an additional five provinces, and recently a ninth province was added.[11] The Lao PDR ambassador to the UN has said, “By the year 1999 if all goes well as planned, the UXO offices will be established in all the 13 affected provinces, the Vientiane prefecture and the Saysomboune Special Zone.”[12]

According to UXO Lao’s 1997 Annual Report, in 1997 159 hectares of land were cleared, and a total of 43,098 items of ordnance, including 251 landmines, were destroyed. In 1998, through October, 239 hectares of land were cleared, and over 58,000 pieces or ordnance, including 222 mines, were destroyed.[13] It has been noted, though, that the “National headquarters does not have sufficient tracking systems in place to determine if land cleared is eventually used for humanitarian, development or commercial purpose.”[14]

In the HI survey, 55 villages nationwide reported some kind of clearance operation in the area of the village, with about 50 percent of these areas being cleared by the Lao army. The army indicates that it has cleared important national roads, schools, wats and other sites to be used for the construction of buildings, irrigation schemes or public utilities. The Chinese army also assisted Chinese road builders in the north to clear areas around National Route 1.

The Mines Advisory Group has been working in Xieng Khouang since October 1994 and Saravane since July 1997. In Xieng Khouang, clearance teams were deployed to 47 different sites during 1997. The majority of sites were areas where schools were going to be built, improved or expanded. In Saravane, clearance teams have worked at the main provincial school, and at the airport where landmines were found around the perimeter. In both locations 228 AP mines and 13 antitank mines have been destroyed.[15]

Handicap International started clearance operations in Savannaketh in July 1997. Teams cleared 1.62 hectares of land including schools, agricultural land and the site of a government guest house.

Norwegian People’s Aid started clearance operations in Attapeu in February 1998, clearing 2.5 hectares of agriculture land, and in Sekong in October 1997, clearing 1.9 hectares of land on the site of a government office.

Milsearch is a commercial ordnance clearance company that has been working in the Lao PDR, usually under contract. Most of its clients are private companies (Lane Xang Minerals, Phu Bia Mining Ltd, Laos Hunt Oil Company and CGG-Exploration Logistics) as well as the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. The company has been performing reconnaissance and clearance activities in eight provinces of Laos including Savannaketh, Luang Phrabang, Houaphan, Bolikhamay, Xieng Khouang, Attapeu, Khammonuane and Champassak. The company has worked on reconnaissance and clearance of grid lines and drill pads for mining companies, land use for village relocation, hydro construction sites, and road and bridge construction sites.

In 1991 to 1992, Hunt Oil conducted a UXO verification survey prior to exploration which covered the four southern provinces (Saravane, Champassak, Sekong and Attapeu). The work was done in co-operation with the British firm CGG-Exploration Logistics. This company found numerous types of ordnance and 264 U.S. and Soviet-design landmines, including these types: M2A1, M2A4, M14, M16, POMZ-1, POMZ-2.[16]

The German company Gerbera has carried out UXO/landmines clearance work in Houaphan since November 1996 and in Luang Prabang since April 1998. In Houaphan province the work initially concentrated in Viengxay district, which is one of the key development zones in the Province, and in the second half of the year extended to two more districts. In 1997, clearance teams worked at 43 sites, including the sites of 7 schools, an orphanage in Han Long, the central square of Viengxay, a wat, the Viengxay Hospital, agriculture land, and areas for housing and gardens. Clearance work extended to Sam Neya district in the second half of the year.

The Belgian Army started clearance in Champassak in September 1997, clearing 15.93 hectares of land.

Mine/UXO Awareness

The Lao National UXO Program has established a Community Awareness (CA) section within the national organization. The objectives of the CA section are to create a new awareness among the rural communities of the continued danger of UXO, and to educate villagers on ways to minimize the hazard caused by UXO. Since 1996, 843 villages have been visited, and more than 207,000 people educated. Today CA activities are being implemented in nine provinces with 14 CA Teams and 94 CA Staff.[17] The budget for community awareness in 1998 was U.S.$200,000.

Organizations working on mine/UXO awareness include Consortium, Gerbera, Mennonite Central Committee, Mines Advisory Group, Norwegian People’s Aid, and UNICEF.


Mine Action training and capacity building has been carried out by personnel from the UN, other governments, and non-governmental organizations. Four groups of U.S. instructors have conducted training at the Nam Souang Training Centre. Since 1996, 706 Laotians have graduated from training courses, mostly in UXO clearance, but also in community awareness, medic, team leaderership, and other areas.[18] Expenditures on training and equipment totaled U.S.$1.4 million in 1996, $3 million in 1997, and $5.4 million in 1998.[19]

Mine Action Funding

In 1995 the Lao government, with assistance from UNDP and UNICEF, established a Trust Fund for unexploded ordnance, in order to finance a nationwide program of UXO clearance and awareness. To date more than $5 million in cash and more than $8 million in in-kind contributions have been pledged to the Trust Fund. “Overall annual resource mobilization targets for 1998 are U.S.$15.8 million to be received either as cash grant or as contribution in-kind, without which UXO operations will not be sustainable in the future,” said Laos’s UN ambassador.[20]

Contributions to UXO Lao

European Union
United States
Handicap International
Mines Advisory Group
New Zealand
Norwegian People’s Aid


United Kingdom

United States (USAID)



Private Donation

Landmine Casualties

According to the Handicap International survey report, “Landmines were reported in every province in Laos and are responsible for 11 percent of accidents. In 12 percent of recorded accidents, the type of UXO or landmines was ‘Unknown’ because the victim died immediately or did not see the type of UXO or landmine that detonated.”[22]

From 1973-1996, 1,171 people suffered landmine accidents, and another 9,473 suffered from UXO accidents. “Data from the survey clearly shows the national trend in accident figures during the period from 1973 to 1996. One-third of all recorded UXO accidents occurred in the first four years following the war (1973-1976). During these four years, Laos experienced 1,100 UXO-related accidents per year, an average of three accidents per day. In the following ten years (1977 to 1986), the annual casualty rate declined to 360, an average of one accident per day. From 1987 to 1996, the annual casualty rate remained constant, averaging about 240 accidents per year.”[23]

Of the 10,649 recorded UXO/landmine accident victims,59 percent are adult men. Young boys make up 27 percent of the accident victims, women 10 percent, and young girls 4 percent.

The percentage of children involved in UXO/landmine-related accidents is increasing. Children represent more than one-third of recent accident figures as compared to one-fifth of accidents in the period following the war. In the majority of accidents involving children, the victims are male.[24]

The average age of people having accidents with UXO/landmines was 26 years old, and the majority of these victims were aged between 5 and 35.[25]

The most frequent activity resulting in an accident was the handling of UXO (24%), followed by agricultural activities (22%), collecting forest products (14%), and domestic activities (12%).

The most common disability caused was amputation (65%), followed by paralysis (13%), loss of eyesight (9%), burns (7%) and loss of hearing (5%).

Survivor Assistance

The survey found 2,481 people with upper or lower limb amputations, but only 44 of these people reported the use of prosthesis.[26] There is no current production of upper limb prostheses in Laos. Most of the devices only reach people living close to the provincial capitals, whereas most areas affected by UXO and landmines are more isolated and remote.[27] There is no standard follow-up for amputees receiving prostheses from the six centers functioning in Laos.[28]

Of those casualties who managed to survive the initial accident and resulting trauma, nearly half made it to the hospital for treatment. Fifty percent of survivors did not choose to go to the hospital after the accident. Rather, villagers treated and took care of the person in the village with no medical intervention. As a result, villagers have developed ways of coping with injuries if the district or provincial hospital is inaccessible or too expensive.

Among the agencies providing assistance to UXO and landmine victims in Laos are: Consortium in Xien Khouang, Health Frontiers in Xieng Khouang, Handicap International at Mahasot Hospital in Vientiane, DED (German Development Service) at the National Rehabilitation Center, World Concern in Saravane Province, World Vision in Xieng Khouang and Savannaketh.

Two thirds of people with UXO/landmine related disabilities are still working in their fields, according to the HI survey results, with only 10 percent of surviving victims rendered inactive by their injuries. Most people appear to be supported by their families and are able to return to the fields.

The ability of Lao communities to remain inclusive of mine/UXO survivors is further supported by survey data on the marital status of people disabled by bomb or landmines. Only 19 percent of single, disabled people did not marry after the accident, which is just slightly higher than the percentage of single people in the general Lao population. The figures reported for men and women were not significantly different, although anecdotal evidence indicates that disabled women are more marginalized than men.

The Lao Disabled Peoples Association was formed in 1997. Draft rules and regulations were approved by the government. The association has requested the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare to draft a national law in support of the rights of disabled people.[29]

Note to Readers: A much longer country report on Laos has been prepared for Landmine Monitor which could not be used in full due to space considerations. It contains much greater detail on the landmine/UXO problem, casualties, clearance, and survivor assistance programs. The full report is available upon request. The full Laos country report also contains these appendices:

App 1 Map of Landmine in Lao PDR

App 2 Logistics prevent Laos from signing mine pact

Deputy Foreign Minister meets Canadian Mine Action


App 3 Number of the villages affected by mine

App 4 Map of UXO Lao activities 1998

App 5 Cash contributions committed to the Trust Fund during

The period 1 January – 31 December 1997

App 6 In-kind contributions received and pledged to 31 December 1997

App 7 In-kind and bilateral commitment to UXO Lao during the period 1 January – 31 December 1997

App 8 Contributions received by UXO Lao

App 9 Summary of Ca activities 1 January –31 December 1997

App10 Summary of activities coordinated by UXO Lao

App11 UXO Lao Staff chart (as at 1 November 1998)


[1] Statement to 47th UN General Assembly, December 1994.

[2] Bangkok Post, “Logistics Prevent Laos from Signing Mine Pact,” 30 June 1998. In the article, the official wrongly cites the deadline as four years, which applies to stockpiled mines, not those in the ground (for which the deadline is ten years, with possible extension for another ten).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Interview with U.N. official, February 1999.

[5] Jim Monan, Curse of the Bombies: A Case Study of Saravan Province, Laos (Hong Kong: Oxfam Hong Kong, 1998), p. 14.

[6] Handicap International, Living with UXO: Final Report National Survey on the Socio-Economic Impact of UXO in Lao PDR, 1997. The survey covered 86 districts in 15 provinces, at the village level. It was a Level 1 survey as defined by the International Standard for Humanitarian Demining. Survey teams collected quantitative data in 7,675 villages. The villages covered by the survey had a population of more than 2.5 million people, or over half the county’s total population.

[7] Handicap International, Living with UXO, 1997, p. 7.

[8] Ibid, p. 55.

[9] Monan, Curse of the Bombies, p. 7.

[10] Statement by H.E. Mr. Alounkeo Kittikhoun, Ambassador of Lao PDR to the United Nations, to the U.N. General Assembly, New York, 17 November 1998.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Information from UXO Lao Operations Section, 1998.

[14] UXO Lao External evaluation mission, June 1998, p. 16.

[15] Information from MAG/LaoPDR, 1998.

[16] Information provided by Milsearch, 1998.

[17] Information from UXO Lao CA Section, 1998.

[18] Information from UXO Lao operations section, 1998.

[19] Information from UXO Lao program section, 1998.

[20] Statement by Amb. Kittikhoun to the U.N. General Assembly, 17 November 1998.

[21] Information from UXO Lao program section, 1998.

[22] Handicap International, Living with UXO, p. 28.

[23] Living with UXO, p. 25.

[24] Ibid, p. 26.

[25] Ibid, p. 38.

[26] Ibid, p. 57.

[27]Ibid, p. 32.

[28] Amy Talbott, Landmine/UXO victim assistance in the Lao PDR-General overview, Landmine Survivors Network, Vientiane, February 1998.

[29] Amy Talbott, Landmine/UXO victim assistance in the Lao PDR, p. 15.