Visiting a minefield

After the Khmer Rouge regime came to an end in 1979, land mines have killed nearly 20.000 people in Cambodia, and more than twice have been injured. A group of Finnish politicians visited minefields in Battambang province in western Cambodia.

  • Visiting a minefield always requires a thorough briefing. When entering the area, vehicles are parked carefully in a way that allows for a quick exit in case of emergency. For security reasons all visitors must also inform their blood group before visiting the field. Thoeun Thor from MAG (Mines Advisory Group), partner organisation for Finn Church Aid, is briefing the group before entering the field.

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  • Deminers work eight hours a day, five days a week. According to local standards the monthly pay is relatively good, approximately 210 euros. Many of the deminers live far from the minefields and are able to go home only on weekends. The journeys are often long, and the roads in bad shape. Travel costs can take up to a quarter of the monthly income. Deminers Sambo Hem (left) and Saray Sa are ready to enter the field.

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  • When following the deminers at work, one can imagine what it is like to do the job with the heavy equipment in hot conditions full time. The normal daily temperature in Cambodia during the winter months is around +30 degrees Celsius. Closer to summer, during April and May, the humidity rises and the thermometer can reach +40 degrees Celsius. A helmet is mandatory equipment in a minefield and the protective visor must be kept down at all times. Chivin Kong from MAG is guiding Paavali Kukkonen how to put on the gear properly.

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  • Working as a deminer is a challenging job, both physically and mentally, and demands precision and good nerves. Before recruitment the candidates´ suitability for the job is tested, and the ones who pass will go through a thorough training. Many on the deminers have a military background. The work is timed strictly and breaks are taken regularly. Deminer Chinda Ear (front) is taking a moment to himself.

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  • The Bour region, which was controlled by the Khmer Rouge and used for military purposes, used to be covered with forests and bamboo. Before the land was cleared there were only 15 families living in the region. Since 1998, the population in the area situated 42 kilometers from the Thailand border has increased to around 3300. Four fifths of the habitants earn their living from agriculture. The villagers have gathered to the village school to tell the visitors about their lives in the demined area.

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  • The demined regions are supported in many ways, including small scale loans directed to agricultural cooperatives. The Bour region is especially well suited for farming, since the wells situated in the region enable watering of the land year round. Still, farming is mostly done using traditional methods, and watering systems are rare. Chivin Kong is explaining the demining process done at the Bour region.

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  • The income and expenses of the agricultural cooperative are closely documented. The figures from 2014 show, that the total income was 5 331 900 riel, approximately 1200 euros. The funds were used e.g. to mutual gatherings and school supplies. Part of the income was divided between the members of the cooperative.

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  • The Bour region has two schools. The elementary school, which covers grades from one to six, has over 600 students. The secondary school has approximately 400 students, half of which are girls. The schools were built with support from Finn Church Aid. Lauri Tierala and Teppo Säkkinen (in the background) are following children having their break.

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  • The land is not safe until the clearing process is fully completed. The flag warns not to enter the field.

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  • Oudounpov village in the Bavel District is one of the many demined areas. The village, situated approximately 80 kilometers from the Battambang town, has over 800 residents. Oudounpov has an active agricultural cooperative and a village bank with over 70 members. In addition to farming, raising pigs and chicken are the main sources of income. Both the agricultural cooperative and the village bank are supported by the Women’s Bank.

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  • Dreams are meant to be fulfilled. This dream home is made of a traditional Cambodian house build on high poles, pig and chicken farms, a fishpond, large vegetable garden and a garden for flowers. Sor Min from LWD (Life With Dignity), partner organization for Finn Church Aid, is interpreting the picture attached to the wall.

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  • Vanna Chan from LWD and Teppo Säkkinen are getting acquainted with the products at a local farm.

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  • Mrs. Chheurt Chhorn (right) and Mrs. Thieng Prak are responsible for the accounts at the Oudounpov village bank. Chheurt is the treasurer and Thieng is the accountant. One of the main aims for supporting the communities is to strengthen the status of women in society. Empowering women strengthens their position both at home and in the communities.

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Cambodia is one of the most mine-littered countries in the world. In the Battambang region, Finn Church Aid conducts demining and education in cooperation with its local partner Life With Dignity, as well as Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a specialist in demining operations. The goal is to inform the people of the dangers of landmines and reduce the risk of injuries, but also to regain secure land-areas for local communities in need of a sustainable source of income.

Text and photos: Ursula Aaltonen