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
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.
areas considered safe after being painstakingly checked will later have to be
re-covered, says Chris Horwood, country director of MAG, a British
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
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
There are villages in Battambang and Kompong Thom provinces
which are still empty 10 years after the KR pulled out, Horwood
Villagers are too afraid to go back because of booby-traps left
under doorsteps, hung in trees and put in schools and temples.
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
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
Stewart ran over to him and yelled at him to put the Chinese made
Type 72 mines on the floor, then lectured the villagers.
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.
said: "It's a common problem. Some Cambodian men think they are being macho by