As nations gather in Geneva for the 12th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty I thought it would be appropriate to post this story as a timely reminder of the great achievements that have been made.
Sam Loth in the far west of Cambodia was, for many years, a Khmer Rouge stronghold and was heavily fought over. Fighting finally ended in 1998 and, overnight, thousands of people left camps for Internally Displaced People nearby and headed home. I remember travelling there myself a day later and being astonished at the level of landmine contamination. Families had tried to demine patches of land on the side of the road to build shelters and there were scores of accidents. Sam Loth became known as the ‘Devil’s Gardens’.
Since then Sam Loth District has understandably been a priority for MAG and many areas have been cleared. In doing so, hundreds of lives have been saved and many communities are now thriving. A few days ago I visited Phlou Meas village, which had been cleared by MAG last year thanks to funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).
Previously, people had been living on tiny patches of land unable to grow food and living in poverty with little hope for the future. The transformation today is stunning. Villagers are prospering and the community is buzzing with activity. Fields full of ripened corn are being harvested alongside banana plantations and fields of sugar cane. This would still be an overgrown wasteland if it wasn’t for the UK Government and the MAG teams and the people here would still be impoverished. It is a truly humbling sight.
I met Yoeurn Bunthoeurn and his family by their new home. Across the yard next to the road there was an older and much smaller wooden house that was not in a good state. “That was our house until a few months ago,” he said. “All we had was the house and this tiny bit of land here. We could not grow anything – when we tried we found mines.”
Bunthoeurn’s elderly mother interjected: “Just there.“ She pointed to a group of small plants three metres away: “Someone stood on a mine just there and died.”
Bunthoeurn continued: “Before, everywhere was mined and we would hear explosions all the time. It is very different now. Before, we felt afraid of getting injured, If I was injured, my body would not be complete, I would not be able to work, I would not be able to achieve anything. Now MAG has cleared all the mines. It is so different. I grow many things and I raise pigs. My livelihood is has improved so much. After MAG cleared, other people came here and helped us develop. I know the British people have helped us. There are remaining places and we must continue to clear Cambodia. The British people have helped develop Cambodia. Thank you.”