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Risk education and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) operations crucial in preventing death and injury in country where unexploded ordnance (UXO) – including up to 26 million cluster submunitions – poses a daily threat to communities.
The province of Ratanakiri, which translates from Khmer as ‘Mountain of Gems’, has long been known for its natural beauty. Located in the remote north-east of Cambodia, it is also one of the least developed, most poverty-stricken parts of the country.
Indigenous people here rely on the land for their survival. Unfortunately, as the scene of ground conflict between Cambodian forces and the Khmer Rouge, as well as heavy aerial bombardment in the US-Vietnam War, much of this land is contaminated by UXO.
As well as taking lives, UXO restricts access to land that could otherwise be used for agriculture, schools, resettlement, infrastructure and safe access to water.
MAG began work in Ratanakiri in September 2012, working together with CARE Cambodia to distribute risk education materials to communities that had never previously received these vital safety messages in their native language, and to set up a network to enable dangerous items to be reported.
Our role in the province also includes training staff from VSO about the risks of dangerous items and how to report them. The practical benefits of this work was seen recently, when a VSO volunteer from the Philippines met a local man who told him he had found something that looked like a bomb. Having been trained by MAG, the VSO volunteer secured the area and contacted MAG.
The same morning, MAG’s EOD team deployed to the area, near Yeak Loam Lake, three miles from the provincial capital of Banlung.
“We found 11 items of UXO when we assessed the area, all 60mm mortars, which were located in a small man-made stream,” explains EOD Supervisor Bunsarak Morm.
The unexploded bombs had been exposed by recent heavy rains, which had washed away the surrounding soil.
Having marked off the area, the EOD team removed the mortars and checked the area to ensure no further dangerous items were present. They also gave risk education to the community. The mortars were later destroyed at a controlled demolition site in nearby Ou Chum district.
Yeak Loam Lake is the province’s biggest tourist attraction, occupying a 4,000-year-old, 48 metres deep volcanic crater, and boasting exceptionally clean and clear water.
“I must express my gratitude and huge admiration for the extremely professional support we received from MAG,” said VSO Programme Manager, Richard Winterton. “The VSO uses volunteers from all walks of life, all ages, and from a wide range of countries around the world. Some have experience of similar explosive remnants of war, but others have none.”
"It is most reassuring to have MAG as an expert, fearless and supportive organisation to whom we can turn in times of need. Their response was magnificent"
Head of the Yeak Loam police force, Chea Chhun added: “If the mortars exploded and the tourists were scared off it would devastate the area financially. I am so glad MAG was here to respond, and want to thank MAG for how quickly they came to provide safety for the community and visitors.”
For more on MAG's work in Cambodia go to www.maginternational.org/cambodia.