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Helping Cambodia to become mine-free by 2020

The Cambodian government hopes to make the country mine-free by 2020. The goal can only be achieved with the help of other countries. Germany gives a million a year to a mine-clearing group that employs about 350 people.

Cambodia is still one of the most heavily mined countries in the world

Cambodia is still one of the most heavily mined countries in the world

A German Bundeswehr colonel is supervising the work of a team from the Cambodian Mine Action Center. Peter Willers is 70 years old. He has been in Cambodia since January 2008 and is proud of his job.

"Luckily, we haven't had an accident yet. And if you haven't had an accident over several years then people trust your abilities. So they are not worried," he says confidently.

Demining is an extremely dangerous task that has to be done with great precision

Demining is an extremely dangerous task that has to be done with great precision

The demining missions sometimes last for up to three weeks, during which families are left behind. But the wives and children of the members of the mine clearing teams are aware of the importance of their job.

"Of course, I'm a bit worried when my husband is working but it's his duty as well to clear the mines. For our country and also so that he can provide for our family," says one woman.

Discipline is the keyword

After decades of war and civil war, there are still tens of thousands of mines and unexploded ordnance devices all over Cambodia. The teams use hand-marked maps that show which areas have already been cleared. They then step extremely carefully in mined areas, using sheers to remove vegetation and metal detectors to locate mines.

There are an estimated 60,000 landmine victims in Cambodia

There are an estimated 60,000 landmine victims in Cambodia

"What's most important is discipline," says Willers. "Nobody can afford to take a short-cut. No-one can throw down their equipment in an area that has not been demined. Basically the path to success is to keep strictly to the rules."

When a mine is found there are certain rules to follow. The metal detector has located a Soviet mine that has probably been underground for over 20 years. The 150 grams of explosive could rip off a leg and many Cambodians have lost their legs to such mines.

"What's most important is not to press on the mine from above. This one would have exploded if it there had been a load of five kilos," explains one of the team members Sun Vey.

There are some 60 thousand mine victims in the country still. What's worse is that many people walk knowingly through minefields because there is simply no other route to get back home or to work.

Making agricultural land safe again

When mines are found they have to be set off so that they are no longer a danger. Willers' team alone destroys some 20,000 mines and unexploded ordnance devices every year.

Cambodia is still one of the most heavily mined countries in the world

Villagers rejoice when mines are cleared as they can use the land again

For the villagers, the organized explosions are always a relief. "We're glad that we can finally use the land again," says mayor Seng Sek.

The cleared land will probably be turned into rice paddies after decades of disuse. The demining team members hope that their work will help make Cambodia mine-free by 2020.

Author: Klaus Bardenhagen/act
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein

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