Forty Years After 'Secret War' In Laos, Countries Sign Convention Banning Cluster Bombs

01/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

More than 100 countries will today sign a convention banning the use of cluster bombs. In Laos, the most bombed nation on earth, their lethal legacy is a part of daily life.

The entrance to Craters restaurant is guarded by a phalanx of bombshells, each as big as a man. Opposite, the Dokkhoune hotel boasts an even finer warhead collection. For tourists who have not cottoned on, the Lao town of Phonsavanh lies at the heart of the most cluster-bombed province of the most bombed country on earth.

The haul of unexploded ordnance (UXO) is just a taster of that littering the countryside, or sitting in vast piles around homes and scrapyards. The deadly harvest from the US bombing of this landlocked country 30 years ago in the so-called "secret war" as the real battle raged in next-door Vietnam has become big business. Steel prices that surged on the back of soaring demand from China's go-go economy drove up scrap prices five-fold in eight years in impoverished Laos. It sent subsistence rice farmers, struggling make to ends meet amid spiralling food and fuel prices, scurrying into their fields in search of the new "cash crop".

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