History of Minelaying
Cambodia is still one of the most landmine affected countries in the world, at one stage with one in 235 Cambodians a casualty of landmines.
The first significant use of landmines took place during Vietnam’s ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and continued until their final demise in 1998. Through a series of dry season offensives in 1984-1985, the Vietnamese military drove the Khmer Rouge (and 230,000 civilians) across the border into Thailand. To impede the return of the Khmer Rouge tens of thousands of local people were forcibly conscripted into constructing a barrier minefield along the entire 750 kilometre length of the Cambodia-Thai border.
This fifth in a series of defensive plans (Kar Korpier pram) has become known infamously as “the K5”. Further landmines were laid by State of Cambodia forces to defend towns and villages, military positions and supply routes from attack by opposition forces, and Khmer Rouge and Monarchist opposition forces used landmines to protect newly won ground or to contaminate the interior of abandoned Vietnamese defensive positions.
Over 64,000 landmine and ERW casualties have been recorded in Cambodia since 1979, and with over 25,000 amputees Cambodia has the highest ratio per capita in the world.
HALO was the first organization to respond to Cambodia’s landmine problem, back in 1991. Despite a considerable reduction in casualty numbers over recent years, Cambodia’s mine and ERW problem still represents a major impediment to the social and economic development of the country.
The landmine threat is now largely concentrated in just 21 rural north-west border districts, thwarting development by hindering access to:
· Land for agriculture and resettlement
· Infrastructure and basic social services
· Irrigation and safe drinking water
· Secondary and tertiary roads
· Land for cattle raising and foraging for forest products
It also places financial and emotional hardship on families needing to care for a landmine survivor and it causes psychological trauma for those forced to live alongside such a threat.
Now that the majority of interior minefields has been cleared, the fastest way to reduce the number of landmine accidents in Cambodia is to target the areas in the 21 districts where most accidents occur.
By supporting these most vulnerable border communities, significant contributions can be made towards the development of some of the country’s most poverty stricken communities.
We have over 1,000 national staff working in the provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Otdar Meanchey and Pailin. Recruiting, training and then deploying female and male deminers from the mine affected districts means that the landmine contaminated communities remain an integral part of the clearance process. Living and working in these communities HALO’s deminers are methodically ridding Cambodia of the landmine menace.
Alongside our clearance work HALO’s survey teams establish the nature and magnitude of landmine contamination in Cambodia. Our survey assets are an important part of the Baseline Survey of Cambodia, a Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) led process to quantify the true nature of the remaining mine threat in Cambodia.
After a decade of relative stability, Cambodia has now entered into a prolonged phase of economic development. Progress has been significant, but poverty and food insecurity are still widespread.
Requirement for Continued Clearance
Findings to date have confirmed that there are many hundreds of km² requiring mineclearance in order that communities can live in safety.
As well as the continued requirement for accurate survey there is a requirement for more deminers to speed up clearance.
More than 80% of the total population live in rural areas, with more than 90% of them depending on agriculture for their livelihoods. Northwest Cambodia has seen a 35% population increase since hostilities ceased and this rapid population growth has meant these areas represent a very high relative percentage of the national total of mine accidents.