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Over its relative short history, modern Cambodia’ security position has been influenced by a number of factors, including direct external influence by foreign powers, indirect dominance arising from Cold War conflicts, and internal struggles. All of these factors have resulted in armed hostilities. In the course of these conflicts, each warring faction has polluted indiscriminately and scattered without record or regard to later consequence their killing tools of mines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs). It has been estimated that between 4 to 6 million land mines have been laid - the frightening statistics of one land mine for every two rural Cambodians. In addition, there are the UXOs - the remains of the massive air bombing campaign, and the ordnance that litters the many battlefronts, which are part of the two to three million tons of ammunition expended from 1970 to 1997.

The Cambodian problem of land mines and UXOs has been the direct result of the three decades of wars and conflicts, which have devastated the country in every sense. People of Cambodia have to deal with one of the worst level of mine and UXO contamination. The Cambodia National Level One Survey reveals that over 3,075 areas are suspected to be contaminated by mines, UXOs and cluster bombs. Those areas represent a surface area of 4,466 Sqkm. Unfortunately the polluting legacy remains for a long time after war is over.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world – with an estimated 36% of the population under the poverty line, and 85% of its population is living in rural areas. The incidence of poverty is the greatest among farmers.

As armed conflict ceased, refugees returned home, internally displaced persons (IDP) sought permanent resettlement, and fighters demobilized and returned to civilian life. They are among the poorest, particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Most of them wanted to settle in the Western part of Cambodia, known as the rice belt of Cambodia, where agriculture land is at a premium. This has posed a serious shortage of land and other resources. They are forced to risk their lives by moving into the uninhabited unsecured but fertile areas. These areas happened to be the suspected or even confirmed mine contaminated land.

Throughout most of Cambodia, in today’s environment, mines and UXO clearance effort is essential in support of development projects. It helps to re-establish infrastructure; provide assistance to environmental preservation activities; allows free access to resources to all Cambodians; free land for productive use, and facilitates integration into the mainstream community of the many refugees, internally displaced persons, the poor and landless. This is particularly a true description of the situation of the Northwestern province of Cambodia, Bantey Mean Chey province.

The O’Chrov and Malay Districts in the Province of Bantey Mean Chey were some of the hottest battlegrounds even up to 1996 on the border with Thailand. For three decades there were the scene for major infantry battles, guerrilla warfare, mine warfare and most recently civil and factional warfare. Along with the war came tens of thousands of refugees seeking refuge in near by Thailand. The United Nation sponsored election in 1993 sparked the return of refugees many of them choosing to remain in this part of the country.

The landmine contamination is one of the largest factors hindering the development of Cambodia. The situation is very acute in Bantey Mean Chey province. This province according to the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) report is one of the highest rates of civilian mine/UXO victims.

The mine incident database produced by CRC revealed that after ten years of mine actions; the casualty rate has dropped from over 250 in 1996 to 70 per month nationwide in 2002. Bantey Mean Chey has averaged down to 11 per month, partly as the result of Mine Action.

Nevertheless, continued shortage of arable land and insecurity caused returnees and IDPs to choose to remain in this area. Demining is then seen as a necessary tool to reduce mines and UXO casualties and provide access to land use, thereby allowing resettlement of thousand of people in the area.

According to the results of the latest “National Level One Survey”, among 649 villages in the province of Bantey Mean Chey, 277 are contaminated with mines and UXOs. O’Chrov district accounts for 61 contaminated villages and Malay district accounts for 35 contaminated villages all by mines and UXOs.

The socio-economic impact of landmines is not well measured but significant. The three decades of war and conflict have resulted in serious distortions in the country's social fabric and family structure.

The health care costs associated with large numbers of landmine victims are far greater than developing countries can handle. Landmine injuries cause tremendous trauma. The wounds caused by landmines require expensive medical treatment for extended periods of time with high follow-on costs

But mines are also severely inhibiting, or in many cases, preventing the return and reintegration of internal displaced persons, the resettlement of the poor landless, agriculture, and other key infrastructure development projects such as roads, irrigation system, ponds etc....

The presence of the threat of landmines is an underlying inhibitor for development in areas for people being resettled being in this province. Landmines threaten personal safety and deny communities access to their economic resources. Experience in these few years of mine action has clearly shown that mine/UXO clearance is not a stand-alone activity.

Therefore CMAC mine clearance operations have moved from an emergency mode into a development response mode. Making internal decisions on the deployment of resources is based on clear socio-economic indicators aiming in the past at refugees or internally displaced population but today aiming also at other groups of landless poor people.

In this new situation CMAC needs to look beyond the clearance of minefields to the sustainable development of new communities. This is not a part of its mandate, so the logical way forward is to work hand-in-hand with local and international NGOs, so that cleared land is actually returned to productive use, into the hands of the most needy.

A successful example of this has been the resettlement projects in O’Chrov and Malay Districts of Bantey Mean Chey province and Bavel district in Battambang, implemented by Norwegian People’s Aid, ZOA and CARE respectively, with support from other International agencies’ programs, and mine clearance by CMAC.

This is likely to be the blueprint for much of future mine clearance activity in Cambodia and other demining agencies in Cambodia such as Halo Trust or the Mines Advisory Group, already working with this approach.

One day I went to Banteay I village, O’Sampor Commune located along the Khmer-Thai border in Malay District, around 80 Km at the southwest of Banteay Mean Chey Provincial Town, to visit minefields for integration into CMAC yearly work plan 2004. After lunch, I met Mr. Sok Chum the Village Chief, he was a former Khmer Rouge commander and a one arm man caused by mine, I was very welcomed and Mr. Chum told me a true story of war in his village from 1979 until 1996.

We do not like the war; Mr. Chum started to tell me the war story in his village. But, Pol Pot had delayed Malay war during 17 years from 1979 to 1996 in the purpose of protection of Cambodian Democratic Authority. The battlefield arranged by Pol Pot to form Military Unit led by Mr. Sok Pheap, its element from 7,000 to 8,000 soldiers with full arms equipped, and included with people as basis battlefield composed of old, young, men, women counted to more than 30,000 persons.

The way on how to use the fighting activities and strategies carried out by guerrilla policies was tactically used with small group of fighters, light, quiet, varied mobile group of warriors and divided into small groups and teams to attack against the big one. On the other hand, mines and sharp sticks, as traditional arms, were used as traps for enemies. The other effective strategies were to cut the roads off, the blockage of roads by the fallen down logs and under the trunks mines and sharp sticks were put to interrupt the movement and transportation of enemies’ soldiers and provisions. Mines should be rectified by the unit of mine processing itself. As for people of the basis’ battlefield, men and women of the families had their duties to make the sharp sticks as traps for enemies. The women and girls also cooperated within transportation of all means like taking ammunitions and foods for the front line fighters. The working for food to support the fighters was also posed of danger by mines tremendously.

In the hot Battlefields like the Southern of National Road No 5, from Kon Damrey, Mak Hoeun, linking with Mongkol Borey river bank until the Khmer Thai border where fighting was fierce and violence. This drew both the belligerent parties to considerably spread out the mines to defend and had victory upon their enemies. The common mines were laid on the roads and in rice fields were anti-tank mines, M72, M69, POMZ 2 and improvise mines. As for bamboo wooden sharp sticks were hidden in the digging holes. Most of them were broken and mostly burned by fire. Lethal mines also considerably spread the K5 belt along the Khmer Thai border.

In the condition of Peace Agreement in Paris was failure, Pol Pot had ordered to continue war following the specified strategies and performing the psychologist that obliged people and leaders in his shake who had just detested the destructive of war. The strength of Kampuchea Democracy, therefore, was gradually fallen down its policies, moral of spiritual fighting.

We noted that during attacks both sides were serious dangers, injuries, disabled and death, particularly the harmful dangers caused by all kinds of mines. They would decrease their strength and moral repeatedly in fighting. The member of each family was lost or abandoned their fighting career, others had brought their families into the safe areas and others had been miserably, died and disabled. The destructive of civil war has left many widowers; disable persons and orphans that provided the heavy burden for the Royal Government.

In early August 1996, HE Sok Pheap Manager of Malay battlefield and Commander of Division 450 had been strongly warning, defaming, threatening him to death by Sun Sen and Pol Pot. He had been alleged to be a disobedient person, because he didn’t accept their commandment. As HE Sok Pheap always had pity on people and patriotism, he decided to unite the whole people in Malay District and declared, “from now on we do not respect neither Sun Sen and Pol Pot’s commandment nor under other leaders of Kampuchea Democratic control”. He thought that if he still continued to follow them again, the constantly civil war still occurred without stopping, because Pol Pot strategies only to retake power and enjoy the last chance of Kampuchea Democratic leaders.

We, therefore, decided to break out of Pol Pot regime and integrated into the Royal Government in early August 1996. Mr. Sokhon, Mr. Chum faced to me and added, you see making war is too crazy, the civil war has destroyed its own nation and depopulation. People and nation were strongly damaged by civil war. All warriors are losers except people who hate and detest the war are the winners.

After dinner, around 7 PM, Mr. Chum accompanied me to visit one of the poor families in his village. We reached a small cottage made by bamboo and thatch lighted by a petrol lamp, built under a mango tree. Hey! Sokha are you here? Mr. Chum called out. Who call me? Come here and drink with me, a voice of a drunken man from that poor cottage. Please get out Mr. Sokhon from CMAC Phnom Penh wants to see you, Mr. Chum called again and introduced me to Sokha. OK! If he wants to see me, let him come in and bring me more wine, Sokha replied. No choice we came in the cottage, we saw a man leaning back at the wall with a white wine bottle in his right hand, he was about thirty five year olds, he was a both legs crippled man. At a corner a boy aged 10 years old was cooking the food. His stove was made by POMZ mine barks. In that cottage, out of these two owners, we saw only one old bamboo bed, one small jar of water, one old pot and two black casseroles. How are you Sokha? I asked, is this small boy your son? What is he doing? Yes he is my son, Sokha replied me, he feeds me now, please sit on my bed, I have no chairs and do you bring me wine? I want to drink; I want to forget every thing. He was nervous because of wine, but I did not know his problems yet. OK! Stop drink, Mr. Sokhon wants to ask you something Sokha, said Mr. Chum. Yes Mr. Sokhon, you could ask me everything, but now my bottle is empty, no wine I can’t answer your questions, may you give some money to Sokhim my son to buy me haft a liter of wine? Yes, but don’t drink too much, I said and gave to Sokhim 500 riels (Khmer currency-US$1=4000 riels). Sokhim got up with a sad face, took the money from me, bottle from his daddy hand and ran out to buy the wine.

Sokha your wine is coming soon; could you tell me your story? Why do you drink so much? I asked. Yes, Mr. Sokhon I will tell you my whole story, but first please look at a photo of my family that is hanging on the wall. I turned to the wall where he pointed, it was a little dark, but I could see a picture of Sokha standing nearby a woman, Sokhim and another small girl. We are not two like now, before we were four, Sokha continued. We are not from here, but we are from Takeo Province. Before I was a Khmer Rouge soldier, I was a brave man in the wartime, but unfortunately my left foot jumped on a mine while I was fighting against the Vietnamese troop and Government arm forces in year 1986. After I lost one leg, my company moved to stay in another Khmer Rouge base at Phnom Vor, Kampot Province. In 1990 I married with my wife Sokda; she was a nurse in my company too. When UNTAC came in Cambodia and the peace was coming in year 1993, I detached from that base and went back to live in my homeland in Takeo Province. We were late; my family was allocated a small house plot for living and a small rice field for cultivation. Of course, I didn’t like fighting anymore and I tried to work hard for my family especially for my lovely first kid Sokhim. Three years later we got another beautiful daughter Sokline. Our life became difficult, sometime it was flooding and sometime it was so dry, we had not enough water for our rice field, and also the soil of my rice field was no more fertile. The time was going on, in year 1997 I heard that Malay District, the fertile land, was integrated into the Royal Government and the road was opened, then my wife and I decided to sell our land in Takeo and came here for our new life. It was true that Malay welcomed every family from anywhere and the soil was very fertile for agriculture. But the same like before, we were still late, no safe land for us and the free land was mine contaminated. Mr. Sok Chum had told us about this problem, but my wife and I were not afraid of mines, we used to be soldiers, and we decided to stay here, we thought that we would be rich in another day with the fertile land. Mr. Chum allocated me one house plot sized 15m by 40m and two hectares of land for agriculture. We were so happy, because we never got the big land like this.

We started our new life in this minefield. Though I had one leg, but I tried to clear the mines by knife and built this cottage. I found a lot of mines and burned them out. Are you sure that you clear all the mines in this plot? I cut his story. No, but I hope the rest are not belong to me anymore, I have no more legs for them, Sokha replied. Oh! I am thirsty, where is my wine? Sokha looked at me and asked. Here it is daddy, Sokhim replied from the door. I have bought it for an hour, but I want you to tell more stories why mummy ran away from me. Sokhim handed the wine to his daddy and opened the casserole took rice soup put in a plate. He sat down on the ground near the wall and ate his rice soup with a piece of dried salted fish, kept his ears for his own story. OK! OK! You would son, Sokha drank a little wine and continued, you know in the day time I and other people went to the forest where the village chief provide us as agriculture land, we tried to chop down the trees and burned out the grasses to get the land for cultivation. Your mummy stayed home, took care both of you and grew some vegetables. Some time I came back home with wild animals like rabbits or snakes as food.

One day in the afternoon, it was raining hard, I could not continue my work and I decided to come back home with other people. We went along the daily road, it was muddy and unfortunately I slid down a hill, suddenly a black smoke mixed with mud blew up, my ears heard a sound BOOM and I felt painful on my right leg and after that I didn’t know anything. When I waked up, I saw myself in the hospital surrounded by doctor, both of you and your mummy.

Maybe a month later I came back home with two new artificial legs. I was so sad to see our house surrounded by grasses and thatches instead of vegetables. Your mummy told me that she owed the neighbors a lot of money while I was cured in the hospital and she wanted to be the cleaner in any restaurants in the town with your sister. I disagreed with her and then she proposed me to sell this mined land and to live somewhere else, because she was very scared of this area and this mine contaminated area could not make her earning the money. I said “NO” we must start our lives here. Sokha took his bottle and finished his wine; he closed his eyes with tears fell down and added. One day, while I was sleeping and you went to school, your mummy with your sister ran away from you and me, and I don’t know where they go. How is their life? I miss them especially my Sokline, she is too young and she will work hard. From that day I become a drunken man, my heart is broken, I am not a winner, but a lost one. I - want - to - drink - more… After these last words Sokha slept with tears on his face.

After listening his family’s story, Sokhim sobbed loudly. Daddy you always sleep without eating, mummy and Sokline where you are now, I miss you…

Mr. Chum and I took Sokhim out of the cottage and comforted him. We took some woods and burned them to get smoke for taking away the mosquito. Around the cottage was dark, only the stars enlightened us from the sky. If we didn’t talk we heard only the noise of crickets and other small insects. The three of us sat down on a log, I put Sokhim in front of my chest, held him tight and dried his tears with my hand.

OK! Sokhim, please don’t weep, the son must not weep, I said, you are not alone; you still have daddy, me, Uncle Chum and other neighbors. One day your mummy and your sister will come back. Sokhim stopped weep, but I felt his warm tears on my chest. Good boy, your daddy told us that you went to school before and what happen now and how do you work to feed your daddy? I asked Sokhim. Uncle Sokhon, Sokhim said, could you be my Uncle forever? Yes I would be your Uncle forever, I replied. Like my daddy told you, Sokhim continued, before I had the time to go to school, but now I stop learning, I spend my time with other old people to earn the money, I become a worker to collect the corn or bean from the farm. They give 60 Baths (Thai currency-US$1=43 Baths) per day for old people and a young boy like me only 40 Baths. When I come back from work, I must pick some firewood and take the water from the Pagoda one kilometer from here and then cook the food for my daddy. When I have no job, I go to the rice fields to find the crabs, frogs, snails or to the river look for fishes, bamboo bush, mushrooms, and in the night time with battery light I go hunting mice or wild birds with suffering of mine; I don’t want to lose my legs like my daddy. I don’t know what will happen to me in the future if I don’t understand the Khmer language like this. Sometime I go to play with my old friends, but I am so shy when they call me “a son of a drunken man”. I want my daddy stop drinking and I want to go to school, but no way, who take care of my daddy? Uncle Sokhon could you – tell – my – daddy – to – stop – drinking -? After this suggestion, Sokhim closed his eyes and slept in my hands. I carried Sokhim to bed put him nearby his daddy and pulled off their torn mosquito net and came back to chat with Mr. Chum.

Now you see Mr. Sokhon, Mr. Chum started to talk after some hours that he was quiet; this is just one of the poor families in my village. Though they have peace, they have strength, they have commitment, but what they get are the hopeless, invalid and broken heart. These social crisis and poverty were cause by mines and unexploded ordnances that are the heritage of the war. You know here in one hectare, if we grow the potatoes we will get 10 tons or 5 tons if we grow the yellow corns that we can earn 10,000 Baths, and we can grow them two times per year. But for Sokha, he doesn’t only lose the productivity, but he becomes a nervous and the same for other mine victims.

So how are your plans to help those mine victims? I asked. First I want CMAC to clear those fertile minefields and don’t allow the villagers de-mine themselves, and then our people can grow something to earn the money. They will reduce their poverty and can send their children to school. The second we want charity people or NGO to help the survivors by training them many kinds of professions and support them until they can find the job themselves. The third we want Government, UNDP and NGOs integrate our infrastructure development plan into their program. I hope that with commitment of our people in fighting bravely against the poverty plus the support of CMAC and development NGO, we will not in the well like the frogs anymore. Mr. Sokhon as you are in Phnom Penh I suggest you to bring my appeals for help to other NGO and the charity people in overseas, to help our poor people that are facing with the silent killers and poverty. Of course, I replied, I will try all of my best to help you and the poor people here. When the people become rich our country will be developed like other developed countries in the world too.

The cocks crowed I looked at my watch it was 1 AM in the morning. Mr. Chum and I closed the door of Sokha’s cottage and went to bed with a lot of thoughts in mind and pities to a young boy Sokhim.

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Hi Sokhon and Friends

I was saddened and in awe of the stories you have told here.

Saddened by the suffering, but in awe of the courage shown.

Could you tell me if the village communities have a 'procedure' as in first aid, pain relief; that is carried out when there is another victim of the mines?

best regards

Steve

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Dear Steve,

Thank you so much for your condolence to Cambodian mine victim. You have a great idea about "Procedure to carry out when someone becomes mine victim".

Unfortunately, now all the villages in Cambodia do not have yet this procedure, they just help each other as friends or neighborhood and some NGOs support the mine victims as their own activities.

All mine victims are living by their own way and knowledge. The Disable Activities Council at Top level of the Government and many NGOs try to sold these problems, but their supports are still limited according to the lack of funds and the increase of mine/UXO victim everyday (around 1000 every year).

Please kindly provide me any ideas or procedure for villages, then I will cause it to emerge to the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authorithy (CMAA) or in the seminar with Village/Commune Development Councils.

Deepest thanks for your kindheartedness.

Sincerely Yours,

Prak Sokhon

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Hi Mr. Prakh Sokhon,

That was a long story.

I symphatise with people of your country, especially with those maimed by mines and those children orphaned, however too small of a "fry" to provide any help other than talk to people on injustice of this world. Arms dealers collect fat profits to make people to kill and maim one another and the big colonial powers (now on economical sense) are also behind this. Poorer countries suffer and become victims. There is one big world policeman who produce a lot of arms that they sell. They have to sell them and test them, use them up so that more can be made to kill people. In order to be able to continue this industry they use their colonial powers to create wars in developing world.

People are the victims, but these political powers do not want to see them as victims, they see only an enemy in every country that do not follow their ideals. Behind politics is money. Money is power and they want to keep it that way.

When does the human kind learn to acknowledge that we are all born naked and should not have any priviledges at birth - in which country we are born?

It is about the time for these economical colonialists to come and clear the mess they made in developing world and share their wealth. Unfortunately they do nothing and NGO's have to peg funds for help. Which would not be easy to be enough.

Does Heather Mills' "Adopt a Minefield" work in Cambodia?

Thanks Mr. Sokhon for showing us this injustice; it would be criminal for a westerner not to appreciate his own comfort and another persons suffering after readind this.

I wish more comments from the forum members to this posting. Or is there a fear that "coon-ass" four-wheel truck is lost to sharing some of the wealth of this planet and it is easier to close the eyes for injustice.

Kind regards,

Jukka

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Dear Jukka,

I would like to thank you so much for your great comments and ideas with deepest philosophy. We have the same thing (nothing) when we born and after we died. But during our life, why everybody gets different situation?. Is it because of the God? the Society? or Ourself?...?

The Adopt-A-Minefield now is funding for mine clearance in Cambodia and I hope our forum members would become the Adoptors also (money or kindheartedness).

Again, deepest thanks to you, all readers of my stories and Adoptors who continually keep eyes on our poor and mine victim people.

One's heart can buys another one's heart!

Regards,

Sokhon

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