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The War Dispatch: The Bombing of Laos

By Jacques Decornoy

SAM NEUA, LAOS-We came to Sam Neua province from Hanoi. The Soviet-made command car proceeded hiccupping over a road struck by bombs and made slippery by the rain. It took almost two full nights to reach here, after much skidding in the mud and many dangerous encounters with trucks on the small mountain road.

To the very end of the journey, the car had to be navigated between craters left by bombs and rockets. A wooden ladder leaning across the limestone rock gave access to the cave-hotel, a natural hole in the mountain, "improved" with dynamite. A tiny motor distributed that extremely rare commodity in "liberated Laos": electricity.

This retreat for hunted guerrillas is managed by Mlle. Kempeth Pholsens, an anti-French graduate of Moscow University, daughter of Quinim Pholsena, the Laotian Minister of Foreign Affairs and neutralist leader who was assassinated in Vientiane in April 1963. Life here is very simple. On a rocky platform which forms the entrance to the cave, a washbasin has been set, a dangerous place for anyone to stick his nose out too far-at times it is impossible to finish shaving because of the jets from Thailand prowling about. The, one lies flat on the floor of the cave, his only view a glimpse of the sky and a few flowerpots attached to the rock by wire. It is a difficult life, but still possible in this season. But when the rainy season begins, water penetrates the chalky mass and drips into the "hotel." It is a silent world, for the surrounding villages have disappeared, and the inhabitants also live hidden in the mountains. Some water buffalo and a few pigs wander about at our feet among the craters made by the American bombs.

On a "usual" morning . . . at 7 o'clock and AD-6 plane prowls overhead. It circles for about ten minutes, then leaves. At 7:30 the plane returns, makes a pass and drops three loads several kilometers from the "hotel." At 8 o'clock there is a flight of jets. At 8:30, new jets and bombs. The same operation at 9 o'clock.

One of the officials of the Sam Neua district told us that during the first three years of bombing alone, sixty-five villages were destroyed. This is a figure impossible to verify for a short report, but it is a fact that between Sam Neua and a place about thirty kilometers away, not a single house in the villages and hamlets had been spared. Bridges have been destroyed, and fields riddled with bomb craters.

At the other end of Sam Neua the sight is even more painful. Enormous craters are everywhere. Churches and many houses are demolished. In order to be sure of hitting anyone who might be living there, the Americans dropped their all-too-familiar fragmentation bombs. Here by the side of the road lies a disembowelled "mother bomb." All around for tens of meters, the earth is covered with unexploded "daughter bombs" containing hundreds of steel pellets, little weapons that the Vietnamese know so well. One of them had rolled into a shelter, under a mat, mortally wounding three people who had taken refuge there.

Sam Neua-"All Americans must get out of Laos." This assertion continually comes up in conversations with Pathet Lao cadres who must be met on their own ground in order to appreciate how fundamental this demand is for them. In their minds it is not only a question of stopping the air raids. The Americans themselves must pull out, as well as the "private" air companies (Air America, Continental) which supply provisions, arms and indeed more than 3000 "advisors" (of whom 72 are military attaches at the U. S. Embassy) to the CIA-supported Meo Armee Clandestine of General Vang Pao. For the Pather Lao, Washington's influence on the various aspects of daily life must disappear entirely.

SINCE the bombing of Laos began some five years ago, F-4 Phantom and F105 Thunderchief fighter bombers which carry 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of bombs, and B-52s which carry four to six times that bomb load, have made daily runs. This past year they are reported to have flown over 20,000 sorties a month. This is over Sam Neua and the Plain of Jars area alone, which does not include the saturation bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail in Southern Laos. The result, as U. S. Ambassador to Laos G. McMurtire Godley testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is that almost one third of Laos' population of three million has been made into homeless refugees.

The inhabitants of Sam Neua ask themselves the reason for this deluge of fire and steel. "I don't even know where America is," says a peasant woman whose daughter has just been killed. She has lost everything she had. A peasant remarks, "I understand nothing that was said about American aid and against the United States. After the raids on my village I know what they meant. Everything American, far and wide, is hated by the people."

Copyright 1970 Dispatch News Service International Inc.

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