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Landmines, still killing

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100 people will die in Cambodia this year from landmines, improvised explosive devices and ordinance laid 30 years ago.  Many others will be maimed.

Cambodia is the world’s most land-mined country. Between 1979 to 2017 19,758 people were killed by landmines and 44,962 were injured or made amputees.

Clearance efforts since 1992 and awareness initiatives have greatly reduced casualties. A target of 2025 has been set for Cambodia to be landmine-free.  However, an estimated 4 million to 6 million anti-tank and anti-personnel munitions remain across 1,660 square kilometers of jungle and fields.

Munitions clearance is dangerous and slow. A single de-miner can clear 10 to 50 square meters of ground per day. Advances in know-how, metal detection and personal protective equipment have reduced the dangers. However, the work is treacherous and often contain hidden traps. After all, the landmines were laid by adversaries aiming for an optimum kill.

Few areas have been spared: 15 years ago, landmines were a genuine threat to tourists in Siem Reap.  Now, 70 percent of all landmine incidents occur in Cambodia’s northwest, home to the last Khmer Rouge holdouts and where Pol Pot was seized in 1997.  The majority of contaminated land is in the provinces of Battambang and Ratanakiri near the Thai border.

In spite of greater awareness, financial necessity will push farmers to clear new fields adjoining known landmine areas. Tragedies occur after rains wash away soil hiding ordinance, which is then more prone to detonation.

A pioneer of landmine clearing in Cambodia is ex-child soldier Mr Aki Ra who, with private support, operates The Landmine Museum and Relief Centre in the Angkor National Park, 7km south of the Banteay Srey Temple, 25 kms north of Siem Reap.  Proceeds from the Museum funded his efforts in land clearing.  He then began to bring home wounded and orphaned children that he and his wife raised alongside their own children. Today the Museum records Aki Ra’s work and the history of landmines in Cambodia, but it is also home to over two dozen abandoned, orphaned or destitute children.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre’s Peace Museum opened last year on a nine-hectare plot in Prasat Bakong district, about 20 kilometres from Siem Reap city.  It was built with support from Japan which donated $12 million toward the initiative.

A 3,000-square metre exhibition room features mines of all types, unexploded ordnance and war weapons. The equipment used to conduct demining missions is also on display, including body armour and heavy machinery such as excavators.