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Old mortar kills 6 children

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HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnam War-era mortar shell exploded while children were playing with it, killing six of them and seriously injuring two others, police said Wednesday.

The children were playing soccer Monday when they found the mortar shell near a rice field, said Luong Van Ngan, police chief of Phu Cat district in the south-central province of Binh Dinh.

The mortar apparently had been dredged up from a canal during upgrade work on Highway 1 but was not immediately seen in the mud. Recent rains had exposed it.

Five of the children, ages 10 to 11, were killed instantly, Ngan said. Another died in the provincial general hospital Tuesday, and the injured were listed in critical condition.

Unexploded bombs, land mines and artillery shells killed 38,248 people in the first 23 years after the end of the war that ended April 30, 1975, according to government statistics. Some 60,064 people were injured through April 1998.

The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs estimated that 300,000 tons of unexploded ordnance remain — 2 percent of the 15 million tons of bombs, land mines and shells fired by U.S. forces during the war. Newspapers carry reports of casualties from war leftovers virtually every week, as many poor villagers risk their lives to scavenge scrap iron for a little cash. Fierce fighting took place in Phu Cat district during the war.