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Apr-19-2014 16:16printcomments

Wartime Ordnance Explosion Severely Injures Ethnic Coffee Farmer Near Former U.S. Marine Base at Khe Sanh

They face lethal threats every day.

Khe Sanh
Khe Sanh photo: Wikipedia

(WASHINGTON DC) - Th​e Mine Action Alert below has already been circulated to a number of lists​, so apologies for any duplication.

This is a tragic ​reminder that unexploded ordnance is still taking casualties in Vietnam 40 years after the war, and why Project RENEW's work remains important.

Some basic knowledge of how to deal with the situation this young farmer encountered could have saved his hand.

We have not found the funds to expand Project RENEW's risk education and explosive ordnance response units into the Khe Sanh area, so the risk in that area is still great.

We are pleased that in RENEW's area of operations our efforts are showing results. When the project began in 2001, there were about 50 accidents a year in the four districts of Quang Tri Province where we launched Project RENEW. In the past year, there was one accident. That's still too many. Our goal is to reduce accidents, injuries, and deaths to zero.

A visit this week of Senators Patrick Leahy, Mike Crapo, Dick Shelby, and Congressmen Jim Cooper and Peter Welch, offered some encouragement that the U.S. Congress may finally put up significant funds to "get the job done" in Vietnam -- that is, to make Vietnam safe from the dangers of unexploded ordnance, and within a reasonable period of time, say five to 10 years. It can be done, with the political will and sufficient financial resources (and far less money than the U.S. has spent in a given month in Iraq or Afghanistan!).

We owe it to 21-year-old farmers who were born long after the war ended, their families, their children who are still living with the consequences of a war that ended for the U.S. in 1975. The war has not ended for them.

They face lethal threats every day.

As an American citizen, and a Vietnam vet, I feel a strong responsibility for the U.S. to finally step up and do the right thing. It's been 40 years, and more than 100,000 casualties.


Wartime ordnance explosion severely injures ethnic coffee farmer near former U.S. Marine base at Khe Sanh

Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province (15 April 2014) – Coffee drinkers love Vietnam’s Arabica coffee grown at Khe Sanh, a former battleground in the central province of Quang Tri. But they probably don’t know that to grow one of the best coffee beans in Vietnam, indigenous farmers face a deadly legacy of unexploded ordnance (UXO) even though the fighting ended nearly 40 years ago. Yesterday that legacy kept on giving.

In a coffee field near the Ta Con Airstrip, which is the Vietnamese name for the U.S. military’s Khe Sanh Combat Base, a loud explosion seriously injured a young Van Kieu man around 3:00 p.m. on Monday.   Ho Lay was working with his brother digging holes in the ground, preparing to plant their new coffee crop. The 21-year-old man unearthed a piece of ordnance.   He picked it up and shouted to his older brother, Ho Van Linh, who was working a short distance away.

“I heard my brother shout my name, asking me what it was,” said Linh. “I saw him start to throw the object toward me, just as it went off in his hand.”  Linh said he thought the explosive device was an M79, also known as a 40mm grenade.  Together with cluster bombs, those items have been the leading cause of deaths and injuries in Quang Tri Province since 1975.

Linh and other members of his family used a motorbike to bring Lay to Huong Hoa District Hospital.  After he was stabilized, Lay was transferred to Quang Tri General Hospital in Dong Ha City for specialized treatment.

With nearly 5,000 hectares of coffee now being grown in Huong Hoa, the district produces 97% of the total coffee output in Quang Tri Province.  According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s (USDA) Vietnam Coffee Annual 2013, Quang Tri ranks number eight among Vietnam’s coffee producing provinces, with large areas of coffee under cultivation.

For many indigenous families who have long scratched out a bare living with slash-and-burn agriculture, coffee has been the key to rising out of poverty.  Farmers who started many years ago now earn good incomes, and some are prospering.  Many others, such as Linh’s family, want to follow suit despite fluctuations in the coffee market.
“My uncle used to grow coffee on this land many years ago, but he failed,” Linh said.  “Now we’re willing to take a chance again, knowing that the price of young coffee plants has never been so cheap.  We have grown corn and peas,” he added, “but these crops are very short-term. Coffee is long-term, and produces better income for us.”

Linh and his brother, who graduated from high school in Khe Sanh two years ago, were planning to plant 800 young coffee plants in time for the rains which come to Khe Sanh in the next two months.  However, their effort to climb out of poverty was shattered yesterday by an item of UXO, and his brother Lay will now have to live with a disability that will be with him forever. 


Injuries to Lay’s right hand were so severe that doctors had to amputate it. Lay’s other
was shattered by the blast. Photo by Project RENEW.
Despite a global coffee slump, Khe Sanh is a booming coffee town, and the areas producing coffee are getting bigger.  Providing coffee farmers with knowledge about UXO and safety guidance that covers all their work activities is essential where most of the land has yet to be cleared of explosive ordnance.   The people of Khe Sanh, who have suffered poverty and many other disadvantages, want to improve their circumstances and assert themselves as full citizens, earning good livelihoods.  To do this, they must be given the knowledge and tools to stay safe, and to report UXO when they find it.

Lay’s brother Linh, like other coffee growers, had general knowledge of the type of UXO that injured Lay.  Linh guessed it was an M79.  However, the two brothers had never been exposed to rigorous Risk Education, to teach them exactly what steps to take to be safe and how to report the finding so a qualified EOD team can come and safely dispose of dangerous items.

During the past five years, at least six coffee farmers have been injured by UXO in Huong Tan Commune alone.  In the same village of Tram, an explosion in February 2010 wounded four young men while they were weeding at a coffee plantation.  In October 2012 a 17-year-old boy lost his leg while planting coffee in in Ruong Village.

Project RENEW 
Restoring the Environment and Neutralizing the Effects of the War
Dự án Phục hồi Môi trường và Khắc phục Hậu quả Chiến tranh
Project RENEW Coordination Office
Kids First Village, 185 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Dong Ha City, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam
053 3858 445 tel / 053 3858 442 fax
projectrenewvietnam@gmail.com / www.landmines.org.vn
Ngo Xuan Hien, Communications & Development Manager, 0915 352 565 mobile
Email: ngoxuanhien@gmail.com



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Anonymous April 21, 2014 7:03 am (Pacific time)

The vast majority of illegal explosive bobby-traps going back to when the French were in Vietnam up to the present, were put in by communist forces. One can simply dig one up and see most were manufactured in either the Soviet Union or China, sometimes other places like North Korea. Hey get Phil Knight of Nike to go over and clear them. He sure didn't give a rip about American P.O.W."s. Go to hell Phil Knight.

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.


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