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Country Reports
LAO P.D.R., Landmine Monitor Report 2001
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Key developments since May 2000: In 2000, 7.42 million square meters of land were cleared and 80,538 UXO and mines were destroyed. In the half of 2001, 43,851 UXO and mines were destroyed. According to UXO LAO, in 2000, 39 people were killed and 63 injured by UXO.

Mine Ban Policy

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) has not acceded to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs began a review of its stand on the Mine Ban Treaty in late 2000 and sent a translation of the treaty in Laotian to the office of the Prime Minister and to the National Assembly as a part of that process.[1] Ambassador Alounkeo Kittikhoun told the UN General Assembly in October 2000, “We share the concern of the international community over the indiscriminate use of antipersonnel landmines. In this regard, while noting the Ottawa Convention [Mine Ban Treaty], we maintain the view that States have the legitimate right to use such weapons for the defense of their national independence and territorial integrity as provided for in the Charter of the United Nations.”[2]

Laos did not participate as an observer in the Second Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in September 2000, or the intersessional Standing Committee meetings in December 2000 and May 2001. Laos has been absent from every vote on pro-ban resolutions of the UN General Assembly since 1996, including the November 2000 vote. Laos has not ratified Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

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 the Laotian armed forces.

Landmine/UXO Problem[3]

The civilian population of Laos is threatened by the presence of landmines and a wide variety of unexploded ordnance (UXO) -- up to 230 different types in one province alone.[4] Fifteen out of eighteen provinces are considered dangerous due to these explosive remnants of war.[5] Contamination by unexploded ordnance, particularly antipersonnel submunitions, is far greater than that of antipersonnel mines.[6] Unexploded bomblets (“bombies”) from the United States cluster bombs are a major problem.[7] UXO LAO believes more than two million tons of ordnance were dropped on the country, predominantly by the United States but also by the Thai and Lao Air Forces, during the Indochina War, especially 1964-1973. UXO LAO estimates that up to 30% of the air-dropped ordnance may remain as unexploded, and potentially lethal, war remnants.[8]

Explosive war remnants remain a serious obstacle to the development of the country. A survey for unexploded ordnance and mines should be conducted prior to any development project, whether it is the opening of a new field by a farmer, the building of a new wing of a school or a hospital by the government, or the construction of a new road. Few donors take this requirement into account, leading to severe delays, and unexpected extra costs.[9]

Mine Action Funding

In 1995, a Trust Fund was established under UNDP to finance a nationwide program of UXO/mine clearance. Prior to 2001, many governments opted to bypass the Trust Fund, and provided their contribution directly through NGOs or national organizations. For example, the Australian government provides its support through the NGO World Vision Australia, the German government provides its support through its contract with the German company Gerbera. Beginning in 2000, most of UXO LAO's international partners began transferring all personnel and assets for UXO LAO to manage, with some NGOs scheduling to depart the country. Donor governments have been asked to place their funding directly into the Trust Fund.

The following governments have been past contributors either to the Trust Fund or bilaterally: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Laos, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States, as well as the European Union, UNDP, UNICEF, and UNV (UN Volunteers).

According to other Landmine Monitor Report 2001 country reports, the following governments contributed to mine action in Laos in 2000: Australia US$924,793; Belgium US$370,699; Denmark US$2,444,681 (Trust Fund); Germany US$1,000,000 (UNMAS); Luxembourg US$227,525 (Trust Fund); Netherlands US$500,000 (Trust Fund); New Zealand US$56,975; United Kingdom US$1,201,692 (MAG); United States US$1,886,000.

Between 1994-2000, the United States provided $15.8 million in assistance for UXO/mine clearance, including $1.886 million in its fiscal year 2000 (down from $3.3 million the previous year). The majority of the United States assistance has been in-kind, through the provision of detection and operations equipment, trucks and radios, and US military staff for training in ordnance removal and disposal.[10] In March 2001, the United States placed $682,000 into the Trust Fund for the support of mutually agreed line items of the UXO LAO budget.[11]

According to UXO LAO, in 2001 the total overall budget for mine action is US$9.53 million. This includes $6.08 million for the national UXO LAO budget and $3.45 million for Implementing Partner Support.[12] The national budget portion includes $4.22 million for salaries and operating costs, $700,000 for advanced training, $682,000 for equipment support, $360,000 for truck procurement, and $120,000 for provincial staff capacity building. Budget documents showed a shortfall in funding of $1.4 million.

The Lao government appears to accord little priority to clearance of unexploded ordnance. The Lao government has no known budget of its own for mine/UXO removal. The budget for UXO LAO is autonomous and is overseen jointly by the government with UNDP and UNICEF.

Mine/UXO Clearance[13]

UXO LAO is responsible for clearance activities throughout the country. It has a staff of more than 1,100 people, making it one of the country’s largest employers.[14] Four NGOs (Handicap International (Belgium), the Mines Advisory Group, Norwegian People’s Aid and World Vision Australia), as well as the Belgian military and the commercial company Gerbera, provide technical assistance and capacity building as implementing partners to the UXO LAO provincial programs, with financial assistance from international donors.[15] These six implementing partners currently provide technical assistance in the nine provinces with clearance operations (see Landmine Monitor Report 2000 for details). The implementing partners have transferred national staff and have handed over equipment and vehicles to UXO LAO, and are expected to withdraw completely over the next few years.[16]

From January to December 2000, UXO LAO teams removed or destroyed 80,538 explosive war remnants, including 751 landmines. A total of 7.42 million square meters of land were cleared.[17] In the first half of 2001, 43,851 explosive war remnants were removed or destroyed, of which 288 were landmines.[18] The UXO LAO target for 2001 is 9.5 million square meters of land cleared.[19]

Laotian staff who carry out clearance and related activities are trained at a center in Ban Ylai. During 2000, 252 people graduated from the various courses offered at this institution, including four Basic Clearance courses, as well as a course to update and advance the skills of current UXO LAO staff. The Ban Ylai training center seeks and trains candidates for each provincial program according to the projection developed in the yearly national work plan of UXO LAO.[20]

UXO LAO clearance teams are not trained to clear minefields, and in practice do not attempt to clear hand-laid minefields, because they are not seen as a priority for community development.[21] MAG estimates that there are 1,000 minefields in the country, but no survey of their location has been undertaken.[22] Landmine Monitor has been told that only two of these are fenced, and none appear to be marked.[23]

Clearance activities outside UXO LAO are undertaken by the Lao Army, which is involved in clearance on large infrastructure projects, like national roads, funded by multilateral agencies. Milsearch, an Australian-Lao Army joint venture, does commercial demining.


A March 2000 case study on Laos by the United Nations Development Program and the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining projected that as productivity of UXO LAO increases (as it has each year since its inception), and startup costs, including international partners, are phased out, the cost of clearance of land for agricultural purposes is justified on economic grounds alone.[24]

The Geneva Center/UNDP case study found that clearance costs per hectare (10,000 square meters) ranged from under US$4,000 for long-established operations to more than $20,000 for new operations. The study concluded that average costs should fall below $3,000 per hectare well before 2002.[25]

Mine/UXO Awareness

UXO LAO has 18 Community Awareness (CA) teams which provide UXO risk awareness education in the nine provinces in which UXO LAO is active. UNICEF provides support to UXO LAO CA activities. UXO LAO Community Awareness teams made 814 village visits during 2000, benefiting an estimated 256,582 people, of whom 113,845 were children.[26]

The UXO LAO target for Community Awareness for 2001 is 847 villages visited and 324,000 people briefed.[27] UXO LAO has a goal of having CA teams visit every village in the nine provinces at least once by the end of 2001.

UNICEF commissioned an external evaluation of CA activity in late 2000.[28] This report notes that in some areas of the country the number of UXO accidents seems to be increasing and the cause of this is not clear. The report noted that not all people are currently being reached because of a high level of ethnic diversity: 54% of the population in the provinces where UXO LAO is active are non-Lao speakers, but only 12% of the CA teams are non-Lao. Most materials for Community Awareness have been generated for a Lao speaking audience.[29]

Mine/UXO Casualties

From the end of the war until the mid-1990s, an estimated 240 persons per year were victims of UXO and mines.[30] Since that time the number of victims has dropped to approximately 100 per year. According to UXO LAO, during 2000, thirty-nine people died and sixty-three were injured by UXO.[31] No antipersonnel mine victims or accidents were reported by UXO LAO for the year 2000.[32] However, a humanitarian aid worker interviewed a Lao Army soldier at the National Rehabilitation Center who became a mine victim in mid-2000 while on duty near the border.[33] As noted above, a UNICEF study in late 2000 noted that in some areas of the country the number of UXO accidents seems to be increasing.[34]

There is a great deal of skepticism in Laos regarding statistics on UXO casualties. Virtually all organizations interviewed, including UXO LAO, believe that UXO casualties are significantly under-reported. A disclaimer accompanies UXO LAO statistics. Poor infrastructure, lack of reach into affected communities, little understanding of the value of statistics, cultural embarrassment or fear of reporting were all cited as reasons for the unreliability of statistics.

Survivor Assistance

Assistance varies according to a victim's ability to reach the few medical establishments within the country capable of dealing with their specific injury. Antipersonnel submunitions frequently produce upper body injuries in the victim. Blindness, loss of upper limbs and lacerations are common in survivors. Currently there are no services available to those who suffer blindness from a UXO incident.[35] Health care is unavailable to persons who cannot afford to pay for it, and some services are only possible in the capital, to which few of the rural poor have access.

The War Victims Assistance Project, a US-funded program administered by Consortium Laos, estimates that the average cost of treatment can use up to half a rural family’s annual income. The Consortium administers a War Victims Medical Fund that provides direct assistance to pay the medical needs of UXO victims in Xieng Khouang Province, and since 1 May 2001 in Xepon District of Savannakhet Province.[36] The War Victims Assistance Project also has attempted to improve emergency medical care by training doctors and nurses and investing in the upgrading of medical facilities.[37]

The Ministry of Public Health’s National Rehabilitation Center (NRC) and the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) provide prostheses, orthoses, and some other assistance devices.[38] A National Plan of Action, prepared by POWER with the cooperation all COPE partners, governs the work of COPE. COPE’s services are delivered through the NRC in Vientiane and four provincial centers in Luang Prabang, Phonsavane, Savannakhet and Pakse. All five centers have been completely rebuilt or refurbished and re-equipped and the personnel retrained, but provincial branches still suffer from a lack of skilled and motivated personnel.[39] There are eleven Lao students in training at the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics, and they are intended to fill this gap as they arrive back in Laos over the next two years. Outreach to the provinces tends to be ad hoc, and there is no ongoing program to actively bring patients into the Center for care. The COPE program refunds costs of travel to and from the centers, and provides accommodation, or meets its cost, for all persons attending any of its five centers. COPE seeks to provide all assistive devices and services free since civilian victims of mines and UXO do not receive socio-economic assistance from the government. Military victims receive some assistance. A mid-term evaluation of COPE showed that most of its services are taken up by male below-knee amputees from the capital region. Disabled women, children, and minorities are underrepresented amongst the patients.[40]

UXO LAO is not involved in Survivor Assistance. There is a lack of communication between UXO LAO and COPE, compounded by the fact that two different government ministries are involved. Mine clearance and awareness is under the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, whereas most assistance to victims comes under the Ministry of Public Health. UXO LAO’s CA field teams appear to have little knowledge of available victim assistance programs. Although they frequently meet mine survivors in the course of their visits to villages, they do not pass on information of victims in need of assistance to concerned authorities.

Currently COPE and the National Rehabilitation Center do not have any access to Trust Fund support.[41] COPE has been consistently under-funded and frequently in danger of closing. Thanks to assistance provided by World Vision Australia, it is now secure until December 2001. Significant further funds were under application at the time of writing and the future of the program may be secured before the World Vision money expires.[42]

Disability Policy and Practice

Disabled people suffer discrimination within Laos, and may be prevented from returning to their former profession if disfigured. It is generally believed that disabled people have lesser capacity, and this is even put across in some UXO Awareness messages.[43] Disabled people are not allowed to enter the government's vocational rehabilitation training program.[44] In January 2001, a Vocational School for the Disabled opened in Ban Sikeud in Vientiane Prefecture, built and operated by the St. Paul Foundation. It has enrolled 102 students with a variety of mobility disabilities in a 3-year vocational training program.

There are currently no disability laws in Lao PDR. A Lao Disabled Peoples Association (LDPA) has recruited 300 members in Vientiane Municipality, Vientiane Province, and Bolikhamxay Province, but has no legal recognition. It has applied for approval to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare who has been considering their case for some years now. The LDPA asked the Ministry to draft a national disability law in 1998. The current status of this activity is unknown. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund has given £100,000 for capacity building of the LDPA.[45]

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[1] Interview with Phonesavanh Chantavilay, Chief of the UN Systems Division of the Lao Foreign Ministry, Vientiane, 1 February 2001.
[2] Statement by Ambassador Alounkeo Kittikhoun, Permanent Representative of the Lao PDR to the United Nations, to the First Committee of the 55th Session of the UN General Assembly, New York, 11 October 2000, p. 3.
[3] See Landmine Monitor Report 1999 and Landmine Monitor Report 2000 for a fuller description of the landmine and UXO problem in Laos.
[4] Interview with Luc Delneuville, Program Director, Handicap International (Belgium) Laos, Vientiane, 27 December 2000.
[5] Handicap International (Belgium), Living with UXO: Final Report National Survey on the Socio-Economic Impact of UXO in Lao PDR, 1997, p. 79.
[6] Out of 80,538 explosive war remnants removed and destroyed by UXO LAO during the year 2000, 751 were mines.
[7] Bombs and cluster bomb submunitions make up roughly half the ordnance cleared by UXO LAO. Out of the 80,538 munitions removed and destroyed in the year 2000, a total of 39,000 were cluster submunitions and bombs.
[8] Interview with Bounpone Sayasenh, National Program Director, Lao National UXO Programme, Vientiane, 25 December 2000; see also, Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining and United Nations Development Programme, A Study of Socio-Economic Approaches to Mine Action, March 2001, p. 124.
[9] Interview, Bounpone Sayasenh, National Program Director, Lao National UXO Programme, Vientiane, 25 December 2000; see also, Conclusions and Recommendations in Executive Summary of the Study on Reimbursable Demining, commissioned by UXO LAO in 2000.
[10] US Military Trainers completed their mission in 1999, and UXO LAO trainers now carry on all basic clearance courses for new staff. The UXO LAO Community Awareness program was also developed under the guidance of the US Special Forces (4th Psychological Warfare Battalion- Airborne). Interview with Phil Bean, Chief Technical Advisor, UXO LAO, Vientiane, 10 May 2001.
[11] Interview with Phil Bean, Chief Technical Advisor, UXO LAO, Vientiane, 10 May 2001.
[12] UXO LAO, “Proposed Budget for 2001-2003, Implementing Partner Support 2001-2003.” Somewhat different budget figures are provided in the United Nations Portfolio of Mine-Related Projects. This indicates the UXO LAO budget in 2001 is US$9.73 million. This includes nearly $3.9 million in operational expenses, $1.3 million for procurement of vehicles and equipment, $820,000 for training projects, and $3.7 million for technical advisor support from implementing partners. According to this document, as of April 2001, UXO LAO had a funding shortfall of $1.3 million. United Nations Portfolio of Mine-Related Projects, Lao PDR, April 2001, p. 159. The UN reports that the budget is expected to decrease to $7 million in 2002 and $5 million in 2003.
[13] See Landmine Monitor Report 1999 and Landmine Monitor Report 2000 for a description of mine/UXO clearance programs from 1996 to early 2000.
[14] As of December 2000, UXO LAO's Personnel Monthly Report showed 1,120, of whom 581 are clearance personnel and 35 are Technical Advisors.
[15] Throughout the interviews and research for this report, Landmine Monitor consistently received conflicting information. NGOs often demonstrated a lack of information about the activities of other agencies who might be running similar programs in another province.
[16] Email from Phil Bean, Chief Technical Advisor, UXO LAO, to Landmine Monitor (HRW), 30 July 2001.
[17] UXO LAO Progress Summary Report, 1 January – 31 December 2000.
[18] Email from Phil Bean, Chief Technical Advisor, UXO LAO, to Landmine Monitor (HRW), 30 July 2001.
[19] United Nations Portfolio of Mine-Related Projects, Lao PDR, April 2001, p. 158.
[20] Interview with Bounpone Sayasenh, National Program Director, Lao National UXO Programme, Vientiane, 25 December 2000.
[21] Email from Phil Bean, Chief Technical Advisor, UXO LAO, to Landmine Monitor (HRW), 30 July 2001.
[22] Interview with MAG Technical Advisor in Xieng Khuang Province, 8 May 2001.
[23] Two minefields in the Phaxay District of Xieng Khuang Province were fenced by clearance teams. The minefields were part of the defense of a former firebase for Thai mercenaries and contained M16 and M14 US-made mines. The fences are periodically checked and marked, but the signs reportedly disappear each time they are put up. None were in evidence when Landmine Monitor visited. Researchers were told these were the only minefields with maintained fences in the country. In Savannakhet researchers visited another minefield on the edge of a school playground. No signs were present. Researchers were told that all locals know the area is dangerous and do not enter it.
[24] Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining and United Nations Development Program, A Study of Socio-Economic Approaches to Mine Action, March 2001, p. 140.
[25] Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining and United Nations Development Program, A Study of Socio-Economic Approaches to Mine Action, March 2001, p. 139. A yet to be released UXO LAO Cost/Benefit Analysis Report gives an average cost of US$3,400 per hectare during the year 2000. The GICHD/UNDP study said private firms indicated costs around $2,200 (and up) per hectare. The commercial firm Milsearch provided Landmine Monitor with an estimate of $2-5,000 per hectare. Interview with Paul McGuiness, Manager of Milsearch, Vientiane, 31 January 2001.
[26] UXO LAO Progress Summary Report, 1 January – 31 December 2000.
[27] United Nations Portfolio of Mine-Related Projects, Lao PDR, April 2001, p. 158.
[28] UXO Awareness Education Activities supported by UNICEF in the Lao PDR, External Evaluation, June-July 2000.
[29] Consortium's CA puppet troupe was an exception, as they were Xieng Khouang Hmong. An undetermined amount of radio programming exists in the three next largest ethnic languages: Kamu, Hmong and Bru.
[30] Landmine Monitor Report 1999 and 2000.
[31] UXO LAO Summary Report of UXO Accidents, 1 January – 31 December 2000.
[32] UXO LAO Progress Summary Report, 1 January – 31 December 2000.
[33] Interview with Mike Boddington of Prosthetic and Orthotic Worldwide Education and Relief, Washington, DC, 9 March 2001.
[34] UXO Awareness Education Activities supported by UNICEF in the Lao PDR, External Evaluation, June-July 2000.
[35] Four percent according to the 1997 survey by Handicap International (Belgium). A small school for the blind does exist in the National Rehabilitation Center but only accepts children who have been blind since birth.
[36] The War Victim Assistance Fund is supported by the US Leahy War Victims Fund, which has committed US$2.6 million over a 3-year timeframe until June 2003.
[37] Consortium Lao information sheet, “The War Victims Assistance Project.”
[38] COPE is a partnership between the Ministry of Public Health, POWER, the International Limb Project, World Vision, the Cambodian School for Prosthetics and Orthotics (CSPO) and the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR).
[39] Interview with humanitarian aid worker, Vientiane, 31 January 2001.
[40] Interview with Thomas Keolker, Country Director of COPE, Vientiane, 5 May 2001. He stated that while they know the victims in these groups are out there, they do not come to the Center. COPE is trying to discover why.
[41] In the Trust Fund founding document, it outlines the interventions eligible to receive its support and Point 8 includes: Assistance to provincial and district health services to strengthen the capacity to deal with accident victims, especially with regards to emergency treatment of trauma injuries, or rehabilitation. To date, COPE has been told that they cannot use money allotted to the Trust Fund.
[42] Interview with Thomas Keolker, Country Director of COPE, Vientiane, 5 May 2001, Email to Landmine Monitor (HRW) from Mike Boddington, Director, POWER, 26 July 2001.
[43] Interview with humanitarian aid worker, Vientiane, 31 January 2001. The worker observed UXO LAO Community Awareness workers make an ordinary presentation to school children during which they repeatedly stated that if the children became a survivor of an UXO incident they would be able to do nothing for themselves. Also in UXO Awareness Education Activities supported by UNICEF in the Lao PDR, see 3.7 Destigmatise UXO Accident Survivors, p. 18-19.
[44] Interviews with persons working with disabled people, Vientiane, 31 January 2001 and 5 & 9 May 2001.
[45] The Diana Fund has given £100,000 of a £277,000 budget for a 3-year capacity building program for the LDPA through POWER, one of the COPE NGO partners.