The US veterans help land mine removal in Vietnam

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - A U.S. veterans organization launched a $500,000 program Monday to remove landmines and unexploded bombs in central Vietnam, one of the most heavily bombed areas during the War.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built the Washington, D.C., landmark, is backing Project RENEW, a two-year pilot program aimed at removing the war's deadly leftovers from Trieu Phong district in central Quang Tri province along the former demilitarized zone.

``We have 4.4 million people visit the memorial every year and we see Project RENEW as an extension of that healing,'' said group director Jan Scruggs.

Nearly 40,000 people have been killed in Vietnam by landmines or unexploded ordnance since the end of the war in 1975. In Trieu Phong district, about 1,500 people have died. The majority of victims are hurt or killed while scavenging for scrap metal or explosives for use in fishing.

During the war, U.S. forces dropped more than 15 million tons of bombs in Vietnam. Vietnamese officials estimate 35 million landmines and 300,000 tons of unexploded ordnance remain buried in the countryside.

The program aims to be the first comprehensive approach to the issue of landmines - addressing everything from education about landmines to their removal. It will also coordinate efforts by government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

U.S. Ambassador Pete Peterson lauded the program Monday as ``a very special effort'' to deal with a problem that remains a menace to Vietnam.