A severe problem that Cambodia faces is the magnitude of landmines littered across provinces throughout the country. This is the legacy of three decades of savage war that raged in Cambodia. All sides used landmines, manufactured in China, Russia, Vietnam and the United States. Pol Pot, whose regime was responsible for the deaths of approximately 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979, purportedly called land mines his “perfect soldiers.” 

 

Recent estimates show that there may be as many as four to six million mines and unexploded devices left undetected in Cambodia although some estimates run as high as 10 million. In the first nine months of 2012, the Cambodian Mine and Explosive Remnants of War Victim Information System recorded 144 landmine casualties, according to a report. Young children account for approximately half of all landmine victims.

 

Across the developing world, there are millions of people with disabilities who need physical rehabilitation services to enable them to go to school, find work and participate in society. However, in many low-income countries there is a severe shortage of staff with the skills and experience to provide the rehabilitation services required. Whilst I have been living in Cambodia, I have met a number of landmine survivors who have been keen to show me what has happened to them, and explain the difficulties they face on a daily basis.

 

Cambodian Mine Action Centre systematically demine the country's provinces striving to eradicate the ever-present threat of Uxo's, landmines and cluster munitions. The North Vietnamese army laid the first landmines in Cambodia in 1967, and continued to do so throughout the Vietnam War period to protect bases and supply routes, which they established along the border on Cambodian territory. The United States responded with covert operations from 1969 to 1973, dropping tons of bombs and laying mines well within neutral Cambodia.

 

Following the coup by General Lon Nol against Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970, war between Khmer Rouge forces and the US-backed Lon Nol regime brought conflict and landmines to the rest of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge used landmines for military purposes and to seal off their harsh agricultural cooperatives in "liberated" zones. Lon Nol forces relied heavily on mines towards the end of the war to strengthen defenses. While in power from 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge used mines extensively along the borders with Vietnam and Thailand, turning the country into what was called a "prison without walls". After 1979 guerrilla warfare continued.

 

All groups’ extensively deployed mines across very fluid battle lines as a weapon of choice to protect territory, channel enemy forces to vulnerable positions, and demoralize communities. Starting in 1985, millions of mines were laid in a 600-kilometer barrier along the Thai border under the notorious K5 conscription program. Throughout the three decades of mine laying in Cambodia, it was standard practice to lay much denser minefields than necessary, and to lay them not only in battlegrounds but among civilian communities. Minefield location maps were generally not drawn, and as a result, mine laying frequently took place in already-mined areas. Wet seasons caused mines to move or become buried, which further complicates the task of locating and clearing them.

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At the current rate of progress, it may take as many as 100 years to clear all the mines in Cambodia, and the UN estimates that with current technology, it will take nearly 1,100 years to clear all the mines in the world. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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Mr Liay Doung aged 61 a former Cambodian government soldier lost his leg whilst on a special mission protecting a high ranking South Vietnamese captain from Khmer Rouge forces in the area at the time. He stepped on a landmine laid by the Khmer Rouge forces near Phnom Kulen mountain, Siem Reap province resulting in the loss of his left leg and heavy shrapnel injuries. He has to support his wife, two sons and two daughters working as a farmer. The Cambodian government in power at present compensate him with small sporadic payments of ten to fifteen dollars at random times throughout the year. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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Pol Pot, whose regime was responsible for the deaths of approximately 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979, reportedly called land mines his “perfect soldiers.” / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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A patient in the process of having a new limb fitted. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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prosthetics hang in a storeroom. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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A young girl sits and watches as her father a former Khmer Rouge cadre receives rehabilitation for his new prosthetic leg. He triggered a landmine whilst patrolling the border separating Thailand and Vietnam in 1989. He believes that the explosive device was layed by the Viet Cong forces recent to the incident. With a family of 6 to provide for, he struggles to maintain a normal life working as a farmer in Kampong Thom. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.
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Head prosthetic technician Men Tharro in the process of making new limbs. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

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CMAC staff plan their days work on the minefield. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

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Former Khmer rouge soldier Mr Brak Socheat  aged 51 triggered a landmine in Prasat Vieng Village, Siem Reap province whilst fighting the Cambodian government forces. He was returning home to his family in Srey Snom province after fighting had ceased in 1995 and lost his right leg after standing on what he believed to be a Chinese made device. Left with a wife 2 sons and a daughter to support he struggles to keep provide his family with the basics of food and clothing. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

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Prosthetic limbs on display in a physical rehabilitation in Siem Reap. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

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CMAC demining unit 2 operative. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there may be as many as four to six million mines and unexploded ordinances in Cambodia. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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A female CMAC mine clearer covers her head with a towel to soak up the sweat in the intense Cambodian heat. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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CMAC staff mapping out areas to later be cleared of all unexploded devices. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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CMAC operations managers look over the minefield currently being cleared of anti personnel mines, cluster munitions and other UXO's. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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A prosthetics technician works putting the final finishing touches on a patients new leg. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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A severe problem that Cambodia faces is the magnitude of landmines littered across provinces throughout the country. This is the legacy of three decades of savage war that raged in Cambodia. All sides used landmines, manufactured in China, Russia, Vietnam and the United States. 

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According to the Landmine Monitor 2013, Cambodia still contains over 700 square miles of UXO-contaminated land. That’s an area roughly the size of the entire city of London.

 

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Mr Liay Doung aged 61 a former Cambodian government soldier lost his leg whilst on a special mission protecting a high ranking South Vietnamese captain from Khmer Rouge forces in the area at the time. He stepped on a landmine laid by the Khmer Rouge forces near Phnom Kulen mountain, Siem Reap province resulting in the loss of his left leg and heavy shrapnel injuries. He has to support his wife, two sons and two daughters working as a farmer. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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Over 40,000 members of Cambodia’s population, including many children, have lost limbs due to landmine explosions, according to UNICEF. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.
 

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Landmine victims take a rest after their morning’s rehabilitation session. Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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CMAC staff mapping out areas to later be cleared of all unexploded devices. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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A landmine survivor takes a rest after his morning’s rehabilitation session. Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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Prosthetic technicians at work welding patient’s new limbs. Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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For a family with a very low income, to have a member lose a limb and no access to good health care, and no governmental aid makes the dangers of land mines a much heavier burden on the Cambodian community. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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Another day of the long road to rehabilitation is complete. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

 
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Terevada buddist Monk Oun Cheam and former Khmer rouge soldier lost his leg on the 2nd June 1988, in Siem Reap, at a now very beautiful part of the Kingdom called Angkor Thom. This is his first prosthetic limb for nearly 30 years. The number of landmine-related casualties in Cambodia has decreased in the last ten years, but still remains one of the highest in the world. / All rights reserved © George Nickels.

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