By Asia Sentinel
Mar 29, 2011
Landmine explosions/casualties still affect thousands, writes Asia Sentinel’s Catherine Wilson
Cambodia remains littered with millions of unexploded devices left over from 30 years of civil war, the brutality of the Khmer Rouge and conflict with Vietnam.
The government itself believes that as many as 2 percent of the country’s 14.7 million people are disabled with landmine casualties a significant proportion.
Poung Mai, who lost both legs when he stepped on a landmine, is one of those victims. He and Chhum Sopheap, who has suffered from polio, are seated on the ground in the midday sun next to the ticket kiosk inside the entrance gates to the National Museum in Phnom Penh with a basket of books to sell, each one carefully wrapped in plastic to lessen the inevitable damage from perpetual sun and dust.
They are among more than 60,000 physically disabled in Cambodia who struggle against poverty, discrimination, unequal access to education and employment and an under-funded and under-resourced state support system.
Cambodia is one of the poorest and most landmine contaminated countries in the world and the challenge of achieving economic inclusion, education and rehabilitation of the disabled is considerable. Numerous demining organisations, such as the Cambodian Mine Action Center, are steadily working to clear the country of millions of unexploded bombs and ordnances in rural regions, especially in the northwest close to the border with Thailand.
With 80 percent of the population residing in rural provinces, the prevalence of landmines has significantly reduced access to agricultural land, forests and water resources, and led to one of the highest rates of disability in the world as people in farming communities are maimed and killed as they go about their daily lives.