Saturday, August 14, 2010

Unwanted Legacy

As an engineer In the Army Reserves I received training in land mine clearance and wanted to learn about the problems that Cambodians face after decades of fighting. Few of the organisations that we had visited knew much about the issue other than it was a big problem but they talked of groups such as HALO, CMAC and MAG. As part of our trip with Child’s Dream we drove past a mine clearance team in action about 100m from the road and throughout our travels we had seen many signs notifying locals of cleared and uncleared areas.

During one of the village meetings a HALO vehicle arrived and a regional supervisor was briefing the commune leader about the mine clearance activities that were being undertaken. We had an opportunity to briefly speak with him about the issue and he gave us an overview of the hierarchy and reporting structures in place. Each of the mine clearance groups work in different areas of the country and report back to a central government organisation to avoid wasted effort. To decide on where they will clear next they consult with village and commune leaders in the area and classify areas as high, medium or low priorities.

During the previous meeting I had heard a rumble that sounded like a distant explosion and I asked the guy whether this was from the clearance activities and he said that they had found and destroyed 3 anti-tank mines that day by detonating a small charge next to the mines. In addition to the anti-tank mines the other devices they destroy are anti-personnel mines and a wide variety of weapons and munitions classified under the generic term unexploded ordnance (or UXO’s) such as grenades and artillery shells. They detect these using metal detectors from Germany and Australia (MineLabs) and a ground piercing radar unit from the United States.

Aside from the obvious direct danger for children and adults of whom thousands are killed or injured each year in Cambodia, mines and UXO’s also prevent people from farming new land or building on uncleared land, stifling growth in the villages. One thing that struck us as quite morbid was the common use of old artillery shells as school bells – a chilling relic of the past but maybe a daily reminder of the dangers faced each day in this area of the world.

1 comment:

  1. No doubt you've seen many amputees on the streets in Cambodia - we did. The evil of the Khmer Rouge was boundless.