This past Wednesday, six farmers in Cambodia were killed by a leftover landmine from the country’s three long decades of civil war. The six farmers were returning from planting rice, according to a mine clearance official, when they hit the mine.
Heng Ratana of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, a government agency that oversees mine clearing, stated that the farmers had been riding a homemade tractor Wednesday in the northern province of Preah Vihear when the anti-tank mine exploded. A seventh man was critically injured, he added.
In the war-torn country of Cambodia, the deaths of the six farmers brought to light once again the potential for sudden death or dismemberment posed by the estimated 4 million to 6 million uncleared land mines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance that are leftovers from the civil war there.
Since 1979, there have been more than 60,000 casualties. That was the year when the Khmer Rouge, ousted from power, began their long-running insurgency.
According to Heng Ratana, intense fighting between government troops and communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas in the 1980s and 1990s went on in the area where the accident occurred. Both sides used landmines. The live but unexploded ones present a deadly challenge to this very day, as evidenced by the deaths of the six Cambodian farmers.
Cambodia’s civil war began in 1970. It ended only with the collapse of the Khmer Rouge movement with the death of its leader, Pol Pot, in 1998.
Leftover landmines, like the one that killed the six Cambodian farmers, pose a daily threat in many countries, and have caused many prominent political figures and celebrities around the world to call for an end to their use.
Prince Harry of the UK is one of them. He has been vocal in his opposition to landmines in African countries such as Angola. Harry has just returned from Angola where he saw mine clearance projects run by The Halo Trust, the world’s oldest and largest humanitarian landmine clearance organisation.
According to Guy Willoughby, Halo’s chief executive:
He is irritated about the countries that supplied these landmines are not actually putting in any funds to clear them 25 years later.”
The Halo Trust removes landmines and unexploded ordnance from war-torn countries. Only the removal and deactivation of the landmines will allow some of the world’s most vulnerable people to safely plant crops, rebuild homes and raise families.
According to the Halo Trust website,
Despite a considerable reduction in casualty numbers over recent years, down from 875 in 2005 to 211 in 2011, Cambodia’s mine and ERW problem still represents a major impediment to the social and economic development of the country. However, given more than two decades of humanitarian demining, the landmine threat is now largely concentrated in just 21 north-west border districts.”
Cambodia, also according to the HALO website, has “over 25,000 amputees. Cambodia has the highest ratio per capita in the world.”
They are active in aiding with the removal of Cambodia’s landmines. Currently, HALO Cambodia has over 1,000 national staff working in the provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Otdar Meanchey and Pailin. There, they work to train and then deploy female and male deminers from the mine affected districts.
This means that the landmine contaminated communities remain an integral component in the clearance process. By living and working in these communities, HALO’s deminers are methodically ridding Cambodia of the landmine menace.
Unfortunately, the HALO Trust had not made it to the area where the leftover landmine in Cambodia was which killed the six farmers.
Written by: Douglas Cobb