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(WNN/AN) Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA, ASIA: Landmine removal in Cambodia is not easy. It comes with danger and casualties. It also comes with constant fear that a landmine can explode at any time under the feet of children, elders and other family members. The area in Cambodia that was controlled tightly by paramilitary and government forces in the late 1960s to the late 1990s is still the most dangerous region in Cambodia for landmines.
“This whole area was a Khmer Rouge stronghold for many years,” says Touch Samol, Chief of Bamteay Timuoy, a village in Banteay Meanchey province on Cambodia’s north-western border with Thailand. “It was an important area for them.”
The region was the scene of extended periods of conflict involving the Khmer Rouge, Vietnamese and Government forces.
“An agreement was made in between the Khmer Rouge and the Government in 1996,” explains the 56-year-old, “and then we moved from war to development. Since then, people have been trying to build their livelihoods, setting up farms and building roads. But they were always at risk.”
Because of the close proximity to Thailand, there are many business interests in the area, and the soil here is extremely fertile. This puts additional pressure on land – a huge issue in many parts of Cambodia – and more people are risking themselves by pushing into land contaminated by landmines. It is no surprise that the majority of landmine accidents happen in the west of the country.
“Landmines are generally divided into two main groups – anti-personnel and anti-tank – and have four main component parts: an outer structure made of either plastic, wood, metal, Bakelite, rubber or even glass; a fuse or firing mechanism; a detonator; and high explosives.,” says the U.K. based MAG -Mines Advisory Group which has worked to remove landmines in over 5 global regions and 41 different countries.
From January 2012 to August 2012, MAG destroyed over 1,300,000 landmines and other unexploded items. They also cleared over 26 million square feet of land to help 1,500,000 people living in areas that continue to be plagued with problems.
“The danger increased from year to year as people tried to improve their lives. They were at high risk of accidents because of the landmines,” outlined Chief Samol from the Banteay Timuoy village.
“In this village there are 1,673 people, 354 families, and there are 53 landmine survivors [this means that one in 32 people have been injured by mines in this village] – but many have also died: I can remember 11 who lost their lives. There was no alternative, so people took risks. They were very scared but what choice did they have?” he adds.
Thanks to funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), MAG recently completed clearance of a vital road in the Banteay Meanchey province and regions on the border of Thailand. The five-month project saw a MAG Mine Action Team clear 54,046m, finding and safely destroying five anti-tank mines, 35 anti-personnel mines and 10 items of unexploded ordnance – and opening up a large area for trade. Bulldozers and excavators are now hard at work reconstructing the road.
MAG has also conducted Risk Education sessions with communities and set up an incident report network. Meetings were held with all partners, including community members and development partners such as CFEDA (Cambodian Family Economic Development Association), to ensure that the resulting development plan was devised and implemented in an inclusive manner.
“This road we are currently rebuilding now was a very important route for food and weapons, which is why it was so highly contaminated. Khmer Rouge laid mines to protect it and the Government laid mines to block it,” says Chief Samol. “Now people are happy. Thanks to the clearance they are restoring the land and can now travel freely. The road will be vital for transporting goods from far away to the market. So you see that is important for a lot of people.”
“Clearing the mines is the first development activity and is vitally important for improving our livelihoods,” Chief Samol added. “We can do many things to help ourselves – but we cannot clear landmines. I would like to offer my thanks to MAG and their donors.”