The Government spends money to clear bombs and mines. Wherever the soil becomes ‘clean’, soldiers’ remains have been exhumed and moved. That means the debt to soldiers is being paid step by step, said Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh.
Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh (left) and Director General at Department of International Organizations Do Hung Viet
Vietnam this month assumes the UN Security Council Presidency with one of three priority topics addressing mine and bomb consequences and sustainable peace.
To review the achievements gained during the process of clearing contaminated land and find ways to proceed in the time to come, VietNamNet held a seminar with two guest speakers – Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh, Deputy Minister of National Defence, and Do Hung Viet, Director General at Department of International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam.
General Vinh, how many provinces/cities are contaminated with bombs and mines and how large is the polluted area?
Vietnam is one of the most heavily bomb and mine polluted countries in the world. All 63 provinces and cities are contaminated with bombs and mines and the total area of polluted land is 5.5 million hectares. As such, 20 percent of the total ground area is polluted with bombs and mines, not to mention pollution in the sea and coast.
As there were many wars in the last 100 years, bombs and mines left from the wars are diverse and they are located in many different soil layers.
Time has elapsed, but explosive materials are likely to explode at any time, causing serious consequences to people’s lives and the country’s socio-economic development.
Half a century more to clear bombs, mines
With the current situation and the ongoing mine clearance speed, how much time will we have to spend to clean bomb-contaminated land and how much will it cost?
In 2010, the Government estimated that Vietnam could clean 3,000 hectares of land each year. As such, it’ll take us 200 years and $6 billion in total to clear land.
In that year, the Government launched Program 504 with an aim to speed up the mine clearance process. To date, we have cleaned about 500,000 hectares, which means we still need to clean 5 million hectares more. With the current process, we can clean 100,000 hectares a year, so we will need 50 more years to clear all the land.
The Government spends money to clear bombs and mines. Wherever the soil becomes ‘clean’, soldiers’ remains have been exhumed and moved. That means the debt to soldiers is being paid step by step,"
Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh
However, we cannot expect absolute clearance because there are many different types of bombs and mines and they are at different soil layers. In Europe, bombs and mines left from the World War II are still being discovered.
We are striving for no UXO-related (unexploded ordnance) accidents to occur to people by 2030, and for basic bomb and mine clearance all over the country by 2045.
Building sustainable peace
A question for Viet. At the recent regular press conference of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you mentioned the April action program, when Vietnam assumes the UN Security Council Presidency. Could you please elaborate on the priority focuses of the Security Council this month and could you explain why UXO handling and sustainable peace is one of three key issues?
Our persistent theme when joining the Security Council throughout the 2020-2021 tenure is strengthening the partnership for a sustainable peace. In April, we are focusing on three issues, including the cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations in preventing conflicts; protection of civilians and essential infrastructure items in armed conflicts; and addressing the consequences of wars, especially UXO.
In Vietnam, unexploded bombs and mines remain a regular threat to people’s safety, hindering socio-economic development. Addressing war consequences, including bombs and mines, is a matter of Vietnam’s direct concern and interest.
Our goal when joining the United Nations Security Council is protecting national interests. Choosing the theme of addressing consequences caused by bombs and mines is a natural one that serves the optimal interests of Vietnam. Also, our motto is harmonizing Vietnam’s interests with the interests of the international community.
As Vinh said, UXO is not the problem of Vietnam only. When I talked to the partners in Belgium, they said there were bombs left from World War I in their country. As for the countries where there are ongoing conflicts such as Syria and Yemen, UXO is also a big problem.
About 60 countries are still having to deal with problems related to bombs and mines, and the total number of annual casualties is 10,000. When putting forward the UXO issue, we hope that we can catch the attention of the Security Council and the support of the international community regarding the issue of the mine clearance in Vietnam.
Soldiers’ remains to be exhumed and moved soon
Now a question for Vinh. Which forces are getting involved in the mine clearance in Vietnam?
All the mine clearance activities are put under the coordination of the Government’s steering committee, called the National Steering Committee for Overcoming the Consequences of Chemical and Explosive Remnants of War and Dioxin. The Vietnam National Mine Action Center is in charge of managing and coordinating all mine clearance operations.
The units that directly conduct the operations are army engineers, especially conducted in hot spots. We also have civilian organizations in localities and voluntary organizations under international cooperation which carry out mine clearance campaigns in Quang Tri, Binh Dinh and Thua Thien – Hue.
Which are the priority areas?
First, populous areas with red marks, areas for socio-economic development and sensitive areas such as sea mouths and coastal areas.
I would like to say more about the significance of mine clearance activities. A very poor locality in Quang Tri province has a beautiful eastern land area, with view of the sea. If the locality is put on the list of areas for socio-economic development and calls for investment, Quang Tri will be able to mitigate poverty.
However, the land area has been left idle for many years because of UXO. The Government recently cooperated with South Korean KOICA and spent money to clean the land area. And the eastern economic zone of Quang Tri has taken shape.
We are gathering strength to build seaports and expand passages, canals and estuaries to the sea to develop economy and transport, but this has been hindered by UXO.
Mine clearance is of great human significance. After the Northern Border War, there was an area called the ‘century’s lime kiln’. The sacrificed soldiers’ remains could not be searched for in the last 40 years.
The Government has spent money to clear bombs and mines and wherever the land become clean, the remains are exhumed and moved there. That means the debt to soldiers is paid step by step, and the soldiers sacrificing for the fatherland will be returned to their families.
Creating confidence and good will
What do we expect when adding the consequences caused by UXO to the Security Council’s April agenda?
Do Hung Viet: We put high expectations on this. We bring to the Security Council and the international community a more comprehensive approach of Vietnam. We hope that the Security Council will consider the comprehensive approach in addressing the issues on international peace and security.
Addressing the consequences of the war not only has relations to peace and security, but has great impact on the socio-economic development of each country and community. We also hope that the international community will pay higher attention to mine clearance in Vietnam.
Nguyen Chi Vinh: Let me continue. In addressing consequences caused by UXO, the most important goal is cleaning the contaminated land, protecting people and developing society and economy. It also has important military, defense and political significance.
First of all, this will make nations realize that they need to stop instigating war in other countries.
Second, this shows cooperative relations among former enemies. We can put aside the past and we don’t forget the past.
After the war, American people and veterans’ associations and unions asked the US Government to cooperate with the Vietnamese Government to address the consequences of the war. And we have realized the attitude of the former enemies. Some countries do this with self-awareness. For other countries, we have to struggle to force them to take responsibility for what they did in the past.
Third, addressing the consequences caused by UXO in particular and addressing the consequences caused by the war in general is very important content in bilateral and multilateral cooperation in national defence.
Together with attracting international resources and support, we strengthen cooperation with other countries and build confidence. Thus, they also benefit by creating trust and goodwill together.
The activities of overcoming the consequences caused by bombs and mines as well as overcoming the consequences of dioxin are part of the millennium program, which is cleaning the environment in a sustainable way.
After finding unexploded bombs when he was digging the foundations of his new house last month, Ta Thanh Dat knew what he had to do.
A 227-kg bomb left from the war time was safely defused in a residential in Bo Trach district, the central province of Quang Binh, the province’s military command said on March 2.