De-Mining in Cambodia and legacy of the Khmer Rouge

Despite Democratic Kampuchea falling in 1979, nominal pace occurring in 1993 and the final vanquishing of the Khmer Rouge in 1998, Cambodia remains one of the 3 most mined countries on earth after Iraq and Afghanistan. 

With the country recently celebrating 30 years of de-mining, take a look at how the country has come and indeed how much further it must go to achieving de-mining in Cambodia.

Why are there so many mines in Cambodia?

Known as sleeping soldiers mines were heavily utilised by the Khmer Rouge in not only their pursuit of power, but also after the formation of Democratic Kampuchea, particularly along places like borders with other countries, a reason fuelled by the absolute paranoia of the Pol Pot clique.

To read about Pol Pot click here.

Their popularity with the Khmer Rouge was born from several factors. Firstly mines are cheap, secondly they do not need manning, but lastly and particularly with antipersonnel mines it was the sheer effectiveness through barbarity. These mines are not built to kill people, but o maim them, with Cambodia now hosting generations of people who have lost limbs, eyesight, or their lives.

Only this year one female de-miner was called after trying to defuse a mine, only to find out it had been stacked onto another mine, showing that even 40 years after the event the barbarity and shadow of the Khmer Rouge still looms large.

30 years of de-mining in Cambodia, what has been achieved? 

De-mining in Cambodia

From1979 to August of 2022 almost 20,000 people lost their lives to landmines, while over 45,000 had to have limbs amputated, or were otherwise seriously injured. It really is not uncommon to see amputees around Cambodia, with the level of government support they get often being a point of contention.

Yet while this numbers and indeed are high, the Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAA) led by Senior Minister Ly Thuch have managed to clear 2,400 square kilometres of land as well ad destroying over one million anti-personnel mines.

To read an interview with Ly Thuch click here.

Yet despite the achievements, such as deaths and injuries per year averaging less than 100 it was as Ly Thuch put it still “Too many”.  And despite Cambodia being committed to being mine-free by 2025 it is generally accepted that  this date deadline is unlikely to be. achieved.

2o22 say Prey Veng become the first de-mined province in Cambodia, which was quickly followed by two others.

To read about Prey Veng becoming de-mined click here.

The workers on the frontline of de-mining in Cambodia

As with anything as dangerous as de-mining the heroes are not the politicians, but the faceless workers who literally risk their lives daily to make their country safer. These workers earn on average $500 per month, with this not only being a very good salary for Cambodia, but also women being heavily represented within the workforce. 

It is though extremely dangerous work with people dying, or being seriously injured every year. And while there are charities and NGO’’s dedicated to helping them, there is some controversy regrading their work status.

Essentially those involved with de-mining in Cambodia are considered civilian rather than military personnel, meaning they do not receive an army pennons,  a point H.E Ly Thuch has acknowledged needs to be addressed. 

When will de-mining in Cambodia finally be achieved?

While the deadline of 2025 is not going to be met, 2030 might be seen as a more realistic goal, with Cambodia adding de-mining as their 18th sustainability goal on top of the 17 of the United Nations. The effort is also one that is being heavily sponsored and supported by the private sector, such as the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM).

To read about America funding the Khmer Rouge click here.

Sadly though and much like in large swaths of Europe and the rest of the world getting rid of mines is one thing, but when it comes to unexploded ordinance (missiles, bombs and the like) it is likely to be hundreds of years before the country is fully safe from the remnants of war.