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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