Fragments That Remain: February 22, 2023
Romchek Village Srayong Commune Koulen District Preah Vihar Province
Since the induction of explosive ordnances and landmines, the world has been soiled with devastation and chaos. Lives have been lost and families torn apart. War brings about immediate destruction; yet, dangerous fragments remain. The destruction that remains require immediate action; however, the best course of action takes time. Time to identify, assess, and resolve.
Thanks to World Without Mines, we are steadily moving forward in achieving our shared goal. With the assistance of World Without Mines, our Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams are able to carry out tasks; the most immediate task being the demolition of reported landmines and unexploded ordnances. Equally important are our Explosive Ordinance Risk Education seminars. Every month, our EOD teams work around the clock to spread the word and bring about landmine awareness across Cambodia.
Requesting local authorities to gather neighbors within a village or reaching out to principals/teachers at a school are some approaches. Our teams conduct educational seminars on the topic of unexploded ordnances and landmines. Some of these seminars comprise of ten to fifteen individuals; while those conducted at schools, may consist of hundreds.
On February 22, 2023, an Explosive Ordnance Risk Education seminar was held at Romchek Primary School. 303 individuals attended the seminar. Amongst the crowd gathered, stood 12-year-old Saroun Soknee. After the seminar was conducted, Soknee approached our team and asked us to take her to her grandparent’s home to have a look at a potential unexploded ordinance.
Arriving to the scene, EORE Team 6 identified a 120mm OF-462 Soviet artillery wedged in the ground. Immediately, EORE Team 6 filed the report and sent out word for EOD Team 2 to deal with the situation. With a warning sign put in place, Soknee and her grandparents are aware not to approach the item. EOD Team 2 has since dealt with the situation. This is a prime example of how our teams work in conjunction with one another.
With the funding provided by World Without Mines, we are able to spend time conducting Explosive Ordinance Risk Education seminars. In doing so, students like Soknee, are able to identify dangerous fragments that remain from Cambodia’s war-torn history.
Hidden Away for Decades: February 16, 2023
Khna Village Kantout Commune Svay Luer District Siem Reap Province
From 1982 to 1985, Svay Luer served as a secret base of operations for the Khmer Rouge. Occupying the northern regions of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge communist regime required shelter and water to prolong their acts of atrocity. During this time, Svay Luer was heavily forested and access to water was readily available making it an ideal concealed base. Fighting in the area lasted well into the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Svay Luer was a small community at the time. With a population unknown, it was only officially declared a district in 1985.
Today, Svay Luer consists of seven families and a population of about thirty individuals. It has been an agricultural area for over a decade now. For the past ten years, cassava has been a stable crop grown by the local villagers. Traditional methods of ploughing soil with cows have been the standard up until this year.
Having now adopted the use of a tractor, villagers stumbled across explosive ordnances hidden away for decades.
Midway through the month of February 2023, farmers in Svay Luer discovered 59 explosive ordnances. Local authorities were immediately contacted and our Cambodian Self Help Demining EOD Team 2 went to assess the situation. Below are images of what they found.
On February 15th 2023, with the help of World Without Mine’s funding, CSHD’s EOD Team 2 were able to successfully demolish a total of 59 explosive ordnances. That being said, more work needs to be done towards eradicating explosive remnants of war and that is made possible thanks to World Without Mines. In the meantime, the farmers and villagers of Svay Luer can carry on farming cassava more efficiently and without worries of dangerous items hidden away for decades.
Generational Adversity: August 10, 2019
This is Lon Yong, aged 56. She was born to a peasant farmer family in Krakor Village, a village of Dac Siel, a base camp of the Khmer Rouge. One day in 1982, she came to Trapeang Run village to look for mangoes. However, it was a dangerous spot to do so. Unfortunately, the windmill (Mung Kok) near the mango tree trampled her and left her leg paralyzed.
By 1987, she had been living with her first husband in a quiet, secluded village until one day in 1991. A group of Khmer Rouge soldiers asked her for a short stay. When the Khmer Rouge saw that her house had Khmer Rouge troops, they also fired bullets at her home. Her family, innocent people, had to run for their lives. It was the hardest thing they ever had to do. Her ex-husband died. She suffered a broken shoulder, and heart.
Currently, Lon Yong lives in Trapeang Run village, Russey Lok commune, Chi Kraeng district, Siem Reap province with her husband, Khou Kim, and three grandsons. Her house is 1,600m2, and living conditions are poor. Chi Kraeng is made up of 14 villages, and the primary industry for families here is agriculture and local business. It is also a former mine site, which has put her and her family at risk of landmines. In addition, due to poverty, she has been forced to relocate more than once.
On the 10th of August, 2019, EOD Team 5 received two requests from Lon Yong’s village, and found two items. The first was a 70mm Launcher Model.2 B-40. The second was a 85mm Soviet Union rocket, and was deemed unsafe to move. Both items were safely destroyed.
The effects of war in Cambodia have lasted for generations. This woman lived through the war from beginning to end, but her life is still affected by it. Her grandchildren were not alive for the war, but feel the repercussions. They might ask “Why does our land hurt us? Why are loved ones getting harmed?” While we know the answers, it is heartbreaking the questions are still being asked. Cambodia is a battleground that has not been cleared yet. We can only do that with your help.
To Protect and Educate: August 13, 2019
On August 13th, 2019 EOD Teams 3 traveled to Robonh Village, Morokot Commune Choam Ksant District, Preah Vihear Province. This province is to the east of Siem Reap, bordering both Thailand and Laos. It was one of the last areas the Khmer Rouge held power over as the Vietnamese and Cambodians pushed back against them. Feeling the pressure, the Khmer Rouge spread mines and munitions all throughout the land. To retaliate, the Vietnamese and Cambodians did the same. Ever since, even until today, innocent people have and killed and injured by these dangerous remnants of war.
EOD Team 3 had received one request from villagers for help. To get to the village, the team had to travel through some harsh roads and transportation difficulties, due to the lack of infrastructure in the province. This, however, is not uncommon for them.
When they arrived, they found not just the reported UXO, but a second one. This goes to show how prevalent the danger is here, how close it can be and go unseen until it’s too late. The first item was a grenade launcher, the second was a rocket, both of Chinese origin. They were found near the farmland that the villagers work in every day. Both were safe to be moved, but still needed to be destroyed.
The team took the opportunity to give an MRE class to seven young boys who live in the village. The kids spend a lot of time outside on the land, whether working or playing, and need to be aware of the danger. They are taught how to be safe. The most important lesson is DO NOT TOUCH a foreign object. MRE is a pillar of demining because it truly decreases the amount of UXO incidents. It keeps people safer, until we are able to clear the land for good.
International Landmines: September 7, 2019
On September 7, 2019, EOD 3 responded to a call-out in Trapeang Bei Village, Preah Bralay Commune, Trapeang Brasart District of Oddar Meanchey Province.
Oddar Meanchey Province is in the remote northwest of Cambodia, bordering Thailand. It was formerly under French control, returned to Cambodia in 1946. A district in Oddar Meanchey, Anlong Veng, is where the Khmer Rouge were based from 1989 and where they made their last stand in 1998. Here you can see Pol Pot’s grave, hideouts of Khmer Rouge leaders, and execution sites. Oddar Meanchey is still very landmine ridden. However, the province is rich in natural resources; residents focus on farming and fishing. Some work in Thailand as factory workers.
The EOD Team had received the call-out request from the police. Villagers often will alert the police when they find something, because the police can more easily contact our team. These villagers had found the UXOs on their farmland, their livelihood. They fortunately knew to clear the area and not touch the objects. When our team arrived, they were shown the location pertaining to the call. They found twelve Chinese 82 mm HE type 30 mortars, sixteen Chinese Fuze MP 6, two Vietnamese 60 mm MBV 78 A1 fragmentation mines, one Soivet 60 mm POMZ2M fragmentation mine, and one Soviet 112mm PMN blast mine. All items were safe to move.
This shows just how many countries have a legacy here in Cambodia.
Rockets in Siem Reap: October 22, 2019
On October 22, 2019, four call-out requests were reported by locals in Thmey Village, Svay Leu Commune, Svay Leu District, Siem Reap Province. All four requests were ERW, none garbage, which sometimes happen. Even if what the team finds is scrap metal, we thank the villagers for reporting it. Better safe than sorry.
The Items found by EOD Team 5 were
- Two Chinese Rockets 107mm Type 73, unsafe to move
- One USSR recoilless 82mm BK-881, safe to move
- One Vietnamese Launcher 70mmB.40 Model 2, safe to move
Safe to move means the team can physically move the object to a better location to destroy it. Unsafe to move means they destroy the ERW in the spot it is found. This depends on the type of item found; our teams are trained to know the difference, and on how to safely move the object if determined.
These ERWs were found in Siem Reap Province, only an hour and a half away from the center of Siem Reap City. We don’t say this to scare off tourists; any areas tourists frequent were cleared a long time ago. However, this example demonstrates that landmines and UXOs are an issue still close to home. The family who found this in Svay Leu Commune live so close to a bustling, quickly developing [landmine-free] city center that has everything any tourist could want. Yet they are walking around outside their house wondering if it is safe. The juxtaposition is jarring. Some people from this commune might even go to Siem Reap city to work, but look at villages further and further away from the main cities and the contract becomes even stronger.
It is not because these rural areas are forgotten, in fact RSVP focuses specifically on them, but it is because of the sheet amount of landmines and UXOs that are leftover. Furthermore, in some areas they may not have enough mines to be considered a “mine field,” which pushed it to be cleared later on. The spread out nature of the contamination of ERW much be kept in mind. There isn’t always a large amount of explosive near each other. This is what our EOD teams can focus on. One UXO left on the found is still one life that can be taken.
A Mine with a Nickname: October 21, 2019
On October 21, 2019, EOD Team 3 received a request from villagers in Tumnub Commune, Trapeang Brasat Distrcit, Oddar Meanchey Province. They traveled from Preah Vihear Province, where they had responded to a call the day prior. When the team arrived, they found not one, not two, but SEVEN landmines All seven were the same make: Bounding Mine 60mm Type 69 from China. Bounding mines, nicknamed “Bouncing Betties,” “Jumping Jacks,” or “Frog mines,” are perhaps the most deadly of all anti-personnel landmine. Their notorious nature and unique detonatoin earned them these nicknames. These mines can be triggered with direct pressure or a trip wire, with just 1.5kg of pressure. When triggered, the mine launches 3-4 feet in the air, around waist height, then the main charge detonates. This is why they are especially dangerous: the chest and abdomen are targets. Metal fragments shoot out in a 360 degree arc, and can kill 35 meters away. The firsts German version of this mine was used in World War II, and was a significant weapon. It has since been remade by France, the United States, China, the Soviet Union, Finland, Sweden and Italy.
We do not always find multiple of the same type of mine on one call-out. The most common is finding two of a kind. On this day, these mines were safe to move, so were able to be moved together for a picture. Safe to move means out team knows they can safely move it to a better location to destroy. It looks a bit crazy when they pick it up and walk across the field with it in their palms, but keep in mind they are trained to do so. It a villager did this without knowing about the mine and how it is triggered, it would be much more dangerous.
Dangerous Work: October 12, 2019
40% of the workforce in Cambodia is farmers; they breed stock and grow crops. Our EDO Teams are often called to farmland that people work on, or areas near it. This is what happened on October 12th, 2019. One request was reported by police and EOD Team 3 arrived in Trapeang Brasat District, Oddar Meanchay Province not long after. The police took the team to where the villager was that reported it, they began searching the location.
They found 31 items, all fragmentation mine 60mm MBV 78 A1 from Vietnam. Fragmentation mines are a type of anti-personnel ines, as are blast mines. While blast mines are designed to cause severe injury to one person, fragmentation mines are designed to project fragments across a wide area, causing fragmentation wounds to multiple nearby personnel.
Fragmentation mines are generally much larger and heavier than blast mines, and contain a large amount (often several kilograms) of ferrous metal. As such they are easy to detect if the environment is not too heavily contaminated with iron. These mines are deemed to be more efficient than purely “blast effect” mines, because the shrapnel covers a greater area, potentially injuring more combatants.
Back to our team, 31 mines, 31 lives. Even if the people living nearby spotted 1 or 2, or TEN, and avoided them, there was still 21 more in the ground. This wasn’t even a designated minefield that a full demining team would be sent to clear. They is why the team also does a thorough search of the area, because there might be more than what is first seen.
As mine incidents decrease, a great thing, people are generally becoming less cautious as we can see injuries increasing the past 2 years (2018 and 2019). Surely the people who found these mines are re-affirmed of the danger they potentially face every day when they work. Hopefully one day that isn’t the case.