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Vietnam: Land mines still line 16 million acres

/ Source: The Associated Press

More than one-third of the land in six central Vietnamese provinces remains contaminated with land mines and unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War, according to a study released Friday.

Nearly 35 years after the war's end, Vietnamese civilians are still routinely killed and maimed by leftover mines and other explosives. Vietnam estimates that more than 42,000 people have been killed in such accidents since 1975.

The study by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and Vietnam's ministry of defense provides the most detailed information to date about the amount and location of unexploded ordinance littering a region that saw some of the heaviest fighting and bombardment during the war.

The survey was the result of close collaboration between the United States and Vietnam on one of the most sensitive legacies of the conflict.

In addition to mapping unexploded mines and ordinance, the project, which the U.S. government provided $2 million to finance, involved clearing 3,345 acres of land in 1,361 communities across the six provinces.

More mine-clearing remains
But the study also underlines the scope of the mine-clearing work that remains to be done.

Vietnam's Ministry of Defense estimates 16.3 million acres are still contaminated across the country, said Thao Nguyen, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation's country director.

"The clearing of unexploded ordinance and land mines is far from finished," Nguyen said.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak said the survey will help set priorities for future clearance work.

"Eliminating residual explosives from past conflicts is an important issue for the people of Vietnam, as it is for the United States," he said.

The U.S. has provided $46 million to help with mine-clearing efforts in Vietnam since 1989, he said.

Scavengers, farmers get hurt
The study looked in detail at victims in the provinces of Quang Tri, Quang Binh, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Ngai, Nghe An and Ha Tinh.

Thirty-four percent were hurt while scavenging for unexploded bombs to sell as scrap metal; 27 percent were farming or herding livestock; and 21 percent were playing or tampering with the bombs.

The study found the most heavily contaminated provinces were Quang Binh and neighboring Quang Tri, the site of the former demilitarized zone during the war.

Since the war ended, nearly 7,000 people have been killed or injured by leftover ordinance in Quang Tri and 6,000 in Quang Binh, the study found.