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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Deminers left to count cost of KR attack

Deminers left to count cost of KR attack

Battle to save villagers from weapons

 

T HE fighting outside Battambang has been a severe blow to

demining teams working in the area, setting their work back by months. They are

now instead carrying out emergency work behind frontlines defusing unexploded

ordnance.

The Mines Advisory Group's five expats in Battambang, all

former British Royal Engineers bomb disposal experts, together with some of

their 160 Khmer staff have suspended routine operations and have been touring

areas behind the front lines trying to avert further tragedies.

Some

areas considered safe after being painstakingly checked will later have to be

re-covered, says Chris Horwood, country director of MAG, a British

charity.

He said: "Mine clearance is extremely painstaking labor at the

best of times and to consider reclearing areas we have already spent months

clearing is very depressing."

The Khmer Rouge's rapid advance along

several fronts to within 15 km of the provincial capital meant that many cleared

areas came under their control for a few days at least and have to be considered

suspect.

Many villages on Highway 10 and the road running along Stung

Sanke river were turned into battlegrounds and troops on both sides left behind

many kinds of unexploded ordnance, threatening refugees as they return home.

There is also the fear that the KR may have left booby-trap mines behind as they

retreated.

There are villages in Battambang and Kompong Thom provinces

which are still empty 10 years after the KR pulled out, Horwood

said.

Villagers are too afraid to go back because of booby-traps left

under doorsteps, hung in trees and put in schools and temples.

People

were trickling back into Snoeng commune on Highway 10 days after fighting

destroyed 70 percent of it. The frontline that day, May 7, lay another 15 km

ahead.

The settlement was littered with unexploded mortar rounds and

anti-personnel mines, when a MAG team arrived. Villagers taped off some and

pointed them out to the deminers.

Bomb disposal experts Russell Bedford,

Norman Stewart and Sandy Powell carefully checked each one for booby traps

before disarming them.

Several times though thoughtless villagers put

their own and others lives in danger.

Bedford had just explained through

an interpreter that an unexploded rocket propelled grenade which had landed by a

tree was too dangerous to be moved.

But moments later a man picked it up

and followed him with it much to the residents' amusement. Luckily it did not

explode as Bedford thought it might.

Another villager stepped out of his

house towards the MAG team carrying two anti-personnel mines in his outstretched

hands.

Stewart ran over to him and yelled at him to put the Chinese made

Type 72 mines on the floor, then lectured the villagers.

The mines,

packed with enough explosives to take off a hand or foot come in A and B

categories. The A type explodes when around 3 kg of pressure is applied to the

top, while the B type has a built-in booby trap of a Motorola computer chip

which detects if the mine is being tilted and detonates it. Anyone handling a

Type 72B after it has been armed is in deadly danger. The stray ordinance is

loaded in the back of the MAG Land Rovers for later demolition.

Bedford

said: "It's a common problem. Some Cambodian men think they are being macho by

handling explosives."

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