Friday, 18 April 2008

Cambodian mine legacy lives on after Pol Pot

Almost 30 years after the fall of the Pol Pot regime, Cambodians continue to be killed and injured by landmines. (Reuters: Chor Sokunthea)

Landmines continue to injure and kill Cambodians every day, more than 30 years after the end of the Khmer Rouge regime. [Reuters]

Radio Australia

Cambodians have been marking the tenth anniversary this week of the death of former Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot.

He died of a reported heart attack on 15 April 1998 in the remote northern Cambodian outpost of Anlong Veng, the Khmer Rouge's final stronghold.

Up to two million people died of overwork and starvation or were executed under the Khmer Rouge regime, which abolished religion, property rights, currency and schools.

The regime ended in January 1979, when the invading Vietnamese army took control of Phnom Penh.

As a joint Cambodia-UN tribunal set up to try surviving Khmer Rouge leaders continues to suffer delays and funding problems, a senior Australian official says the dictatorship's legacy lives on in the form of millions of landmines scattered across Cambodia.

Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for International Assistance, Bob McMullen told Radio Australia's Cambodian service that landmines continue to kill and injure ordinary people "every day".

"It is a terrible tragedy to see what's happening in Cambodia today, when people are trying so hard to recreate wealth and opportunity in the country," he said.

Mr McMullen says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's government is tackling the problem on two fronts in collaboration with Phnom Penh and international donors.

"One is to remove as many landmines as possible - and the task is enormous, but we have to keep at it - and also to continue to provide assistance," he said.

Mr McMullen says Australia is involved in a series of international processes aimed at regulating the use of mines, cluster munitions and small arms."

All of these weapons cause unnecessary grief and hardship to ordinary civilians," he said.

"It's terrible that wars happen, but if they do go on, they are between combatants and there's a different body of international law that deals with that.

But we are concerned with the impact on civilians, innocent people, particularly children who get caught up in this.

"When I was in Cambodia, I visited some of the projects making prosthetic limbs, and some of them were so small, made for small children, and it showed how serious the problem is, of the effect of landmines on young children playing, in the way that children around the world love to do."

Mr McMullen says Australia supports an international campaign to end the use of landmines "in a manner that will affect civilians".

"People have been very indiscriminate, putting landmines in places that aren't about an ongoing miltary struggle, but designed to impede the lives of ordinary people going about their business," he said.

"So Australia's very much an active player in the international campaign against landmines, and we will stay that way."

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