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Cambodian deminer proud to serve his country

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090108_17.jpg

Since he first learned how to demine in 1992, Kim Piseth has been putting his life on the line to clear thousands of mines in Battambang province

Photo by: Mom KuntheAr

Kim Piseth at work in Battambang province.

Instead of living a quiet, stress-free life as a farmer in his hometown of Kampong Speu, 38-year-old Kim Piseth has chosen to risk his life and help his country by clearing the deadly mine fields of Battambang province.

Kim Piseth said that when he started demining in 1992, he did not expect to master his task, but that dealing with "thousands of mines" over the years has made him capable of handling anything that may come his way.

"I was very frightened the first time [I cleared mines] because I was afraid they would explode," he said. "But now that I have demined for many years I feel comfortable with the job. It has become a very easy task."

"To be a deminer is not as easy as other jobs because I have to put my life on the line in dealing with mines every day, but I [always have to] believe that I will succeed in my work," he said.

Legacy of war

Roughly six million land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) that still lay buried throughout Cambodia continue to claim about 800 victims a year, according to a report by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC).

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) states that between 30,000 and 40,000 Cambodians have to live with the consequences of UXOs, having lost legs, arms and other body parts to the deadly devices.

Anti-personnel mines and UXOs are the legacy of almost 30 years of civil war that lasted with interruptions from 1968 until 1998, when the last Khmer Rouge troops laid down their arms.

The most heavily mined areas run along the Thai border, where the communists made their last stand, and in the east of the country, where mines were an integral part of American and Vietnamese efforts to weaken the other side during their war.

According to CMAC, over 26 square kilometres have been fully cleared of land mines and UXOs in 2008, which is more than twice the area cleared annually during the 1990s. Since systematic demining began in 1992, over 220 square kilometres have been demined, and over 400,000 devices have been destroyed.

Reaping rewards

With the skills and experience he has acquired over the years, Kim Piseth said he usually has no problem clearing 70 to 100 square metres a day of mines.

I don't want other countries to call cambodia a mine country any more.

The rewards that come from demining may not be easy to understand, but Kim Piseth says he is motivated by a deep sense of pride in what he does.
"I cannot become rich because my salary is not high enough to improve [my family's standard of living], but we don't die either," he said. "On the other hand, I think that as a Cambodian I have to help my country and not just think about money."

Kim Piseth is adamant that he will never get fed up with his work. "I don't have other work to do and I don't want other countries to call Cambodia a mine country anymore," he said.

"It is my hope that in the future Cambodia will not have mines anymore, but we don't always know where they are," he said.

The work of JICA is substantial in facilitating the demining efforts of Kim Piseth and his colleagues. "I think our work goes faster because we have modern mine-searching machines and the support from JICA Cambodia," he said.

JICA uses aid money provided by the Japanese government to purchase removal machines, vehicles and communication devices, according to its website. The agency also sends experts to Cambodia who add to the demining efforts with their knowledge of information systems, maintenance and transportation systems.

Kim Piseth says that his commander even granted him an award letter recognising his hard work in the mine fields.

He added that his long years of dedicated work may also finally earn him a place to settle down - on land he cleared of mines with his own hands, no less.

"Being a deminer, I don't have my own land to farm on," he said. "Today, I live in a demining Unit 2 headquarters in Battambang province, but we will get land soon because my commander will give all deminers a piece of land after we remove the mines from it."

But even though he may finally have a place to settle down, for Kim Piseth there is no question of retirement. Indeed, he is even considering helping to demine other countries in the future.

"Throughout my whole life I have worked with weapons because before I became a deminer I used to be a soldier under the Pol Pot regime," he said. "I think I will do this job forever if the country needs my help, and I will be happy to do it."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CORNELIUS RAHN

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