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Blast from the past: clearing Cambodia's landmines

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Blast from the past: clearing Cambodia's landmines

Cambodia's fertile soils conceal indiscriminate killers. But despite being one of the most heavily landmined countries in the world, 85 per cent of Cambodians depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and many run the daily risk of living and working on contaminated land.

Grounds for concern

Pok Kim is a 59-year-old smallholder from Sek Sork village in the country's western Battambang province. As part of a government-run pro-poor resettlement programme, she received a plot of land for smallscale production - a golden opportunity to grow food for herself, her children and grandson. But, while clearing land for a vegetable garden, she unearthed a live UXO (unexpoloded ordinance); realising her new land was located on a minefield, she raised the alarm and abandoned the plot.

Kim's experience is shared by countless villagers across the country and several NGOs have been making steady progress clearing Cambodia of mines to free-up land for agriculture. In the area around Kim's home, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) discovered and cleared 11 anti-personnel mines and 34 items of UXO. With the threat removed, Kim now grows pumpkins, wax melons, arum, gourd, and yams for her family, with surpluses traded locally.
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Mines laid by opposing factions during three decades of civil war have left huge areas of Cambodia effectively out-of-bounds. Secret US bombing raids during the Vietnam War also saw tonnes of munitions dropped on the county to flush out the Viet Cong, many of which failed to explode and remain buried.

Around 50,000 civilians have been killed or maimed in landmine and UXO incidents in Cambodia since the early 1970s. After nearly a decade of peace and international efforts to clear this deadly detritus of war, up to six million mines and UXO remain buried in the countryside, often just below the surface - a hazard to harnessing agricultural potential.

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