Decades after the end of the war in Cambodia, communities are still trapped in fear
Cambodia remains one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world. Since 1979, over 64,000 people in Cambodia have been killed or injured by the widespread contamination of explosive items throughout the country.
Decades after the civil war, agriculture, schools, and housing are still not safe.
MAG is in Cambodia right now finding and destroying landmines.
Meet some of our team in Cambodia, and people supported by our work
"In 1996, my father had been working in the Government and was on his way to work on his motorbike when he was killed. Because of that, I quit school. I was 19 and joined the army to fight Pol Pot. I was in the army for six years; in Kompong Tom and Preah Vihear provinces. In those days there was a lot of heavy fighting back and forth. There were always landmines. We didn’t have mine detectors; we poked the earth with shovels everywhere we went. We were always afraid of landmines, and I saw many soldiers get blown up. I stood on one, but it didn’t fully explode. Just the detonator went off. I was lucky.
Sometimes soldiers would stand on mines they had laid themselves when they had forgotten where they had put them. We would lay them in the evening and pick them up in the morning. They were used like that sometimes to protect our position and stop the enemy sneaking up at night.
I left the army in 2002 and heard MAG was recruiting deminers and I applied. After training, I worked as a deminer in a small team clearing areas for NGOs to drill water wells. We cleared so many mines, I cleared many hundreds myself. I went to many places and blew up many rockets, mortars, projectiles, and mines.
In 2016 I became an instructor and then a Field Supervisor. Now I oversee five teams including mechanical assets and demining teams. Safety is number one, it is a big responsibility, and the work takes long hours. My job is to support and help my teams and produce daily reports on activities and outputs. I feel close to the deminers and the team leaders. I taught many of them from the beginning – they are all my students - and I feel proud every day to see them grow and develop.
There is a purpose to our work, and we are aware of that every day. I am lucky to see all the changes – the difference we make. Communities have changed so much over the years and our work has been key. We have cleared so much land for people and their lives have been transformed. There was no one clearing UXO here before. I see villages grow and develop and it makes me feel good. When we hand over land people build houses and grow food. We clear land and they build health centres and schools.
I hope donors will continue to support us in our mission. We make such a difference to people’s lives and there are still areas where people live in fear. We must continue to fight the bombs.”
"I joined MAG when I left school at 18, that was five years ago. A friend told me MAG was hiring deminers and I applied. I almost missed the deadline as I found out late, I put my application in at 5pm on the last day. I was very happy to get the job and I have been able to support my family who are poor farmers. We found a lot of unexploded ordnance (UXO) on our land and relatives would even bring bombs to the house. Some were kept outside in a pile; others were inside the house. I had no idea that they were dangerous, so it makes me shudder to think about it now. Someone in the village told my parents that they were in fact very dangerous. My father carefully took them all and put them next to a termite mound. He told me, I was about ten then, and my brother and sister to stay away from them. I think it was about five years later that MAG came and destroyed them. There were so many, and it was a big explosion.
A couple of years ago when I was home on leave, my grandfather found a bomb behind our house. I reported it and someone came straight away and destroyed it. We live with this danger all the time – every day. So you can understand why I value my job so much, we are making a big difference to people’s lives. The area around my house still hasn’t been systematically searched. Hopefully it will happen soon.
I worked as a deminer for two years and was then promoted to deputy team leader. My family are so proud of me and what we do. It is a great job – helping people, saving lives. Communities can farm safely when our work is done. Also supporting my family is very important. I only take 20% for myself, the rest supports my family and helps my younger sister go to school.
The most important aspect of my job is safety. I must make sure the teams are working as they should be, following the procedures. This keeps people safe. The job can be dangerous, so this is very important. I try and support the staff I manage as much as I can, supporting them and helping them where I can. In MAG women have the same rights as men, it is really good like that. So working here as a women is normal, it is just fine."
“I am from Kompong Speu province and came here in 1998. In this area there are less people and that is very different from where I come from, where it is crowded, and land is very expensive. My dad was working with the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), and we initially came here because of his job. I was 14 or 15.
We didn’t know this area was mined. Everyone knew the other side of the road was mined but thought this side was safe. But after I built a house and a cow shed, we hired a tractor and ploughed some of the land. Then we started planting cassava, that’s when we found the mines. We found two uncovered by the plough. I couldn’t believe it. I knew what they were because my father was a deminer and educated me. I had been risking myself and my family without realising. I was very scared and terrified. We left immediately and went back to my parents. I was very sad and worried.
Now MAG is clearing the land I am very happy. I hope soon we will be able to move back and farm. We were very lucky that the tractor didn’t blow up, that would have been terrible. We have two children, and my wife had a baby seven days ago.
I already spent a lot of money here; I hope MAG will be able to clear the land. If MAG wasn’t here my life would not be successful. Now I have hope that MAG will save us.
I want to grow bananas and durian fruit. I want to be able to send my children to school and to be able to invest in their education. Education is important, without it you can’t succeed.”
Khont Som and family
“I am so happy to see MAG, we are all relieved. We hear explosions all the time so they are finding a lot of bombs. It makes me feel safer.
I have been here for four years. I came from Stung Treng because there wasn’t enough land. The area is very busy, I used to live near the airport there. I worked hard to save money to build this house and then my mother came and joined me. I met my husband in 2015, he also came from a different area.
The land here was cheaper, and we have a chance of a future here. I knew about the dangers; villagers told me when I came. I didn’t quite realise how dangerous it was though. I found out many people had died here – that made me feel scared working in the farm. I was so afraid for the children.
But MAG is here, and I am very happy. Soon I will be able to let my children be free. We have been so worried for them. They are just children. MAG gave us lessons and that helped. MAG has cleared the area where we grow rice but other land, we have is not safe yet. When MAG clears it, we will grow bananas. We are too afraid to use it now.”
It’s time that the people in Cambodia truly experienced the safety promised by peace, but denied to them by the lethal landmines that remain in the ground, as powerful today as the day they were placed.