Charity workers from Britain clear Khmer Rouge landmines

Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers carry mortars into Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Picture: Getty
Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers carry mortars into Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Picture: Getty
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Forty years after the murderous regime of the Khmer Rouge swept to power in Cambodia, British charity workers are leading the effort to clear the landmines that are still the scourge of the country.

Cambodia is one of the most densely landmined countries in the world – a legacy of decades of internal war – and at one point one in every 235 Cambodians was a victim of them.

Often no bigger than a fist, these deadly weapons can lie dormant in the ground for decades before being triggered and maiming or killing anyone unlucky enough to be in its path.

Susanna Smale, from the Halo Trust de-mining charity, said the scars they leave behind can be seen everywhere – from the locals on crutches with missing limbs, to the large stretches of land left unfarmed because of the landmines just beneath the surface.

She said: “If you are living inside a minefield or beside a minefield, or the farmland that has been allocated to you is a minefield then, obviously, that impact is huge. Both in terms of the injuries they can cause, but also the development it holds back.

“Immediately post-conflict you had huge numbers of people returning back to Cambodia, displaced people, and that was when the accident rate was through the roof, unparalleled anywhere else in the world.”

Beneath the piercing sun a team of de-miners from The Halo Trust, a charity made famous when Diana, Princess of Wales visited their field in Angola shortly before her death in 1997, are undergoing the painstaking task of clearing the mine fields.

They are working on a stretch of land near Anlong Veng, a town famous for being home to the grave of former Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot – who was responsible for the deaths of up to three million Cambodians. The town was the last Khmer Rouge stronghold, and when it finally fell in 1998 it as discovered the area had been heavily mined.

So The Halo Trust, a British charity which has its headquarters in Scotland, moved in to clear the area.