Thursday, May 28, 2009

Landmines Still Killing People

First of all, I apologize for all the typos in the last post. There was a terrible storm in Phnom Penh and I got knocked off line several times and could not get back on. I decided to just leave the post as is...kinda gives you an idea....

To the subject....

There were 2 mine explosions in the last week. The first killed a Cambodian soldier and wounded two others. It was in Preah Vahear, near where the fighting has been going on for nearly a year with the Thai Army.

(Back story:) The border between Thailand and Cambodia has always been disputed. In the '60s an international commission established the border, placing the ancient temple at Preah Vahear inside Cambodia, although the access road runs from Thailand. No one ever disputed it until last year when Cambodia had the site declared a World Heritage Sight. At that point the Thais claimed the temple as theirs and sent troops there. Cambodia responded by sending their own forces. As many as 4,000 troops have been encamped in a face off since July of last year. Fighting has been sporadic. The Thais, earlier this year, shelled the Cambodian market outside the temple and destroyed it forcing the villagers to flee. Several Thai soldiers have died from wounds suffered when they wandered into uncleared mine fields. The Thais claim Cambodia is re-mining the area, but the area shows as 'uncleared' in the official records.

Nevertheless, last weekend some soldiers were helping local villagers gather rattan in the forest when they stepped on some anti personnel mines. 1 dead, 2 injured.

On Monday there was another 'incident' (I really hate that term). I haven't found any details of it yet, but will post when I know what happened.

There is fair chance that there will be more fighting in the area. The Thais certainly out-gun the Khmers. They have heavy weapons, tracked vehicles, and jets. But the Khmers have the experience and the jungle. A straight out battle would most likely go to the Thais, but an extended jungle war would favor the Cambodians, many of whom are veterans of the nearly 50 years of war inflicted on Cambodia by a multitude of different armies.

I had lunch last week with an army unit that just returned from a month of duty along the border. They had a Khmer New Years party so that was pretty interesting. They were back for a week and are now heading back north to face-off with the Thais. It's different over here. When the army marches north, the families follow...sorta like 200 years ago. Wives will set up camp, cook for their husbands who will do their 'shift' and come 'home' for the evening. A bit different to say the least.

More as it develops.....

Babu from the jungle.....

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rainy Daze and Running Around

Well, it's rainy season here tight now and when it rains, it really rains.

I'm sitting at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh looking out over where the Tonley Sop and Mekong merge. Well, I'm sort of looking at it, since the rain is hard enough to cut the 25 yard distance to near zero visability.

But it should only rain for about 30 minutes or so and it dows knock down the humidity which is currently running about 80%.

I had to come here yesterday so I could take 3 of our mine detectors in for repair. It sohould take about a week or so and theen we'll be back up to snuff on that. I also had to come down and buy one new GPS unit. We only have one, and we really need about 10, but they cost $550 each and we don't have the cash to buy them. So we'll make do with two. It takes a bit longer to do the work as we have to pass them around between the deminers as they do their work, but we still get it done.

We started our nwest village last week, Daearv. The second day we found an 82B Vietnamese AP mine and an old American hand grenade. Probably used by the Vietnamese from caches we left behind at the end of the war.

I head back to Siem Reap tomorrow morning and will head back here in another week.

In the last 2 days there have been 2 mine3 explosions near Preay Vahear Temple. The first one killed a Cambodian soldier and wounded 2 civilians. There were collecting rattan near the border and wandered into the field. There was a second detonation this morning. I don't have details on that one yet.

More as it develops.

Babu out

Ps: Please don't forget to order your Kokchombok Bracelets. Order at the website:

Friday, May 22, 2009

From the Phnom Penh Post - May 20 2009

(full story and photos at

Former child soldier's demining efforts finally gain recognition
Written by Tracey Shelton
Anlong Veng

As the sun rises between the trees, Akira, president of the Cambodian Self Help Demining (CSHD) team, begins his morning by setting a stick of TNT next to a land mine. The mine lies within a 4-hectare minefield his team is clearing in Anlong Veng.

Local military, police and authorities are notified of the impending explosion. As the rest of the team stop work to take cover, Akira, wiping sweat from under his thick protective clothing, helmet and face shield, counts down. A boom rings out, the ground shakes and debris flies into the air as the land mine is destroyed.

"Before, it would only take me a minute to defuse and remove a mine," Akira says, referring to his former gung-ho method of clearing mines with nothing but a stick and a knife. "I would collect the detonators in my pocket and make a fire at the end
of the day to burn explosives from the mines I collected.... When I cleared the old way, I could wear a sarong and sandals. But now we must follow NGO procedures."

For more than 10 years, Akira was famous throughout Cambodia for his controversial demining methods. Although opposed by government authorities and other demining groups for not following international safety standards, Akira, a former child soldier with the Khmer Rouge, became a local hero, clearing the countryside of more than 50,000 mines, many of which he had once laid.

Earlier this year, with the help of supporters both here and abroad, Akira gained the equipment and training needed to meet international standards and obtained a licence for him and his team to demine, creating the first Cambodian-run demining

"Now we have much support, so there is no more trouble," Akira said, after relating stories of being arrested for his work and the land mine museum he opened in Siem Reap in 1997 being closed down periodically and its contents confiscated. "At that time, I liked to demine alone in the jungle or with my wife. I didn't have the equipment to start an NGO, but I knew how to lay and I knew how to defuse. All kinds of land mines and bombs I know how to make safe, and I have cleared many, many thousands until now."

BACTAC country director Peter Ferguson, who helped Akira prepare for demining zccreditation, said many changes were required.

BETWEEN 4 million and 6 million mines, 6 million to 7 million cluster bombs and countless unexploded ordnances (UXOs) are estimated to remain in Cambodian
soil, according to data from the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority.

Since demining began in 1992, licensed deminers have cleared 829,325 anti-personnel mines, 20,542 anti tank mines, and 1,791,373 UXOs. These figures do not include over
50,000 mines and UXO's cleared by Akira prior to receiving his demining licence. By the end of April this year, 493,488,595 square metres of land had been cleared.

Although formal research has not been conducted, it is estimated that a further 700 square kilometres remain contaminated. Between 2000 and 2008, 6,144 casualties and fatalities occurred in Cambodia due to landmines or UXO explosions. In its ntegrated Work Plan for 2009, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre estimates that it will clear more than 35 million square metres of landmine and UXO fields by year's end. The group's plan further states that as many as 132,000 UXOs will be safely extracted and disposed of.

Fifteen families are farming that land right now. A year ago that land was killing

"The way he used to work was to go into the field, find mines, render them safe and
remove them, often bringing them back for display at the museum," he said. "In
humanitarian demining, you can't operate that way. Particularly with land mines, they
cannot be moved. You locate them and destroy them in place." But after the necessary equipment was donated and training completed, field reports on Akira's methods were excellent, Ferguson said.

Along with his new accreditation has come respect from those who once opposed him.
Two years ago, the Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAA) certified the contents of
Akira's land mine museum in Siem Reap safe - the first time in the world such a museum has been opened to the public.

In an email, CMAA said they welcomed Akira and his team's help in clearing contaminated land. "Akira should be commended for his hard work in educating the greater public about the dangers of land mines," the statement read.

With their workday over and dusk approaching, the CSHD team settles into hammocks
around a campfire, boiling their jungle soup of wild fruit and animal innards. Akira tells how he lost his entire family in the late '70s - all but one aunt, a Khmer Rouge solider, who took him in. Unsure of his birth date, Akira estimates he was between 10 and 13 when he became a soldier for the Khmer Rouge, learning about warfare and weaponry. Later, joining the Vietnamese army, Akira says his job was to control the K5 mine belt that stretched along the Thai border, planting new mines and training others to do the same.

"I never knew anything but war," he said. "It was normal. When the UN came, I met many people from many different places. They explained that in the rest of the world, it is different. They explained about poor and rich, war and peace. It changed my ideas."

He became passionate about seeing his country free from war and the remnants of war,
particularly the land mines he had helped lay.

Bill Morse, president of the Land Mine Relief Fund, an American NGO he established to
support Akira's work, said when he first met Akira in 2003 he was "amazed by how much
one person could do".

As one of many who helped Akira establish CSHD, Morse proudly spoke of the 3-hectare
minefield in Siem Reap province the team completed clearing last month. "Fifteen families are farming that land right now. A year ago, that land was killing them," he said.

Despite the major achievements of CSHD this year, the team received a devastating loss last month with the death of Akira's wife of nine years, Bou Senghourt, due to prenatal complications. Having defused more than 1,000 landmines by hand, the genial mother of three was a key part of CSHD and an inspiration to many.

Richard Fitoussi, director of the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund, which has
been supporting Akira's work since 2002, described her as Akira's right-hand man in the field. "The vision she shared with Akira was of Cambodians clearing for Cambodians, and she extended that to include women," he said. "I have no doubt she was the inspiration for the several women that have joined the demining team."
Back in the minefield in Anlong Veng, Akira explained how people and livestock had been killed in the area for years. While widening the road last year, a work truck hit an antitank mine, killing all on board.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back in the Jungle Again ... I think

22,000 miles in 10 days. Make that daze.

That's what I did at the end of April.

I left Siem Reap and headed home at the end of April. My godson, Adam, was graduating from Clemson University and there was no way we were going to miss that. I was home for 72 hours and we flew from LA to Charlotte.

Adam graduated on the 8th of May. We got to have a good few days with him. He and I played golf on a really beautiful course that Clemson owns. I haven't picked up a stick in over 8 years. And even then I didn't play a full 18. I shot a 105 and beat Adam by 3 strokes. I was pretty pleased. Kids 23....I'm ... well ... a lot older than 23.

Jill and I got to spend a nice weekend at a beautiful B&B in Davidson, NC. Davidson is right out of a tourbook. It is charming. I would move there in a heartbeat. We even looked at condos.

Then we flew back to LA, where I spent the night at LAX and left the next morning for Cambodia. I'm still not sure what day it is.

Things are going better over here.

CSHD has completed clearing its 2nd village, and begins its 3rd this week. Ive been trying to update the website, but for some reason I can't. I'm having to re-import the entire site and that could take me in excess of 8 hours with the absolutely feenominal bandwidth they have here in Siem Reap.

I'm a little annoyed......

We have the Kokchombok bracelets all set to sell, and can't get them on the site. Sheesh.

Our newest village, Daearv, is north of Siem Reap on the way to Anlong Veng. The village chief asked us today if we could raise enough money to help them finish a new Pagoda.

They need $1,000. And you get your name on the Pagoda.

Look at it this way. You're gonna cover a lot of bases here what with the karma you can get for helping a small village get a new pagoda.

Well, I am about out of battery juice and the bandwidth still stinks. So I am gonna go back to my guest house and have dinner.

Babu from the Jungle........