Landmines were laid in Cambodia during the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and continued until its 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 these defensive plans (Kar Korpier pram) has become known as “the K5”. Further landmines were laid by State of Cambodia forces, to defend towns, villages and supply routes from attack by opposition forces. In addition, Khmer Rouge and monarchist opposition forces used landmines to protect newly won ground or to contaminate the interior of abandoned Vietnamese defensive positions.
Although 50% of Cambodia’s minefields have now been cleared Cambodia is still one of the most landmine impacted countries in the world with over 64,000 casualties recorded since 1979 and over 25,000 amputees - the highest ratio per capita in the world.
More than 80% of the total population live in rural areas, in communities dependent on agriculture. 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.
Despite a reduction in casualty numbers over recent years, Cambodia’s mine and explosive problem is still a major impediment to the social and economic development of the country. The landmine threat is now largely concentrated in just 21 border districts in the rural north-west of Cambodia. It prevents development by hindering access to land, water sources, roads and health services and it imposes financial and emotional hardship on families needing to care for a landmine survivor.
HALO was the first organization to respond to Cambodia’s landmine problem in 1991. We have over 1,100 national staff working in the provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Otdar Meanchey, Siem Reap, Pursat and Pailin. To date, HALO alongside other international operators and the national capacity CMAC, have cleared over 50% of Cambodia’s minefields. We recruit and train female and male deminers from the mine-affected districts so that the landmine contaminated communities are part of the clearance process as well as ensuring donor funding, in the form of salaries, reaches some of the most marginalised communities in Cambodia.
Alongside our clearance work CMAC and HALO’s survey teams have established the nature and magnitude of landmine contamination in Cambodia. They regularly collect information to update the national IMSMA database, which provides the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) with accurate information to manage the landmine clearance process and return land to safe use as efficiently as possible.
We are grateful to the governments of the US, UK, Ireland, Finland, Canada, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands for funding our work to date in Cambodia.
Now that the majority of interior minefields have 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.
With continued donor support HALO will ensure Cambodia’s minefields are cleared as close to the 2025 deadline agreed under the Mozambique donor agreement.