Between 1964 and 1973, the United States conducted a "secret" war, dropping over two million tons of bombs on the mountains and jungles of Laos. Many of these bombs - especially a newly developed weapon called a "cluster bomb" - failed to explode when they hit the ground, leaving the landscape littered with millions of unexploded bombs, as dangerous today as when they fell from the sky three decades ago.
Dubbed "bombies" by Laotian villagers, these eye-catching but deadly orbs, as brightly coloured as exotic fruit, are still found by children playing in shallow dirt, in the clefts of bamboo branches, or in the furrows of fields where farmers still till the soil by striking the earth with a hoe.
In 1964, as the Vietnam War was intensifying, the United States attempted to staunch the flow of North Vietnamese people and supplies moving along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which detoured through Laos before heading into South Vietnam. Laotian Communists, backed by North Vietnam, were fighting in a civil war against the U.S.-supported Royal Lao government. Because the United States signed the 1962 Geneva Accords prohibiting American military involvement in Laos, the bombing, organized by President Kennedy, the CIA and the Air Force, was kept secret, both from Congress and from the American people, to pursue a covert strategy for ridding the countryside of Communists. Initial targets were Communists troops, supply depots and lines of communication. Later, to prevent the soldiers from having access to men and materials, the U.S. began to bomb farms, villages and towns.
The consequences for Lao civilians were devastating. American planes delivered the equivalent of a B-52 planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. More bombs were dropped on Laos at that time than on Germany and Japan combined during World War II.
In the last three decades more than 12,000 people, many of them children, have been killed or injured by bombies or other unexploded ordnance (weapons). With an estimated 90 million cluster bombs dropped on Laos, many experts consider Laos to be the most heavily ordnance-contaminated country in the world.