Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Trip to Tham Phiu

Lasikeo Phommasone was a child-soldier in November 1968. Welling up with tears he told me he was 15 when an American T-28 fighter plane released its bomb at the entrance to the Tham Phiu cave. The bomb travelled the length of the cave before exploding and killing all 374 people inside. Lasikeo had delivered food to the villagers inside the cave just five minutes beforehand. He was below the cave mouth when the bomb torpedoed through. He turned around and went to get his horse to go to the village to get help. Lasikeo stood in front of the memorial statue, a soldier carrying the limp body of a woman, and says he has not, until now, felt emotionally able to return but his sons wanted to come from Vientiane and so they all came along as a family. The Americans, determined to halt the spread of the Red march, bombed parts of Laos to oblivion. General Curtis Le May said that he had indeed wanted to bomb the Communists ‘back into the stone age’. More bombs were dropped on Laos than in the entire Second World War. Driving through Xieng Khuang province where much of the bombing raids took place is a passport into a world littered with weapons of mass destruction. Strung around houses are fences bollarded with bombs, herbs sprout from cluster bomb cases, cluster bomb stilts support store rooms and mills. In one Hmong village, bomb cases were piled up in the back yard like they were just a pile of old garden pots waiting to be reused. One roadside house has painted the bomb tips in yellow and uses them to surround his garden table as well as prop up his fence. A note in Lao written on a mortar bomb says they are for sale - apparently an offence in Lao law.

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