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Members of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre search for mines using a metal detector on the K5 mine belt in Battambang province.
Members of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre search for mines using a metal detector on the K5 mine belt in Battambang province. Heng Chivoan

Deminers to tackle K5 strip

The government plans to remove explosives from more than 130 kilometres of mine-riddled land along the Thai-Cambodian border this year, including from the notorious K5 mine-belt, according to a statement marking National Mine Awareness Day yesterday.

The Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC) said it would target 21 districts in western provinces along the Thai border, deeming it the most dangerous mine zone.

The border area is also home to the Kar Korpier (K5) minefield, which was constructed using forced labour in the mid-1980s by the Vietnamese and People’s Republic of Kampuchea – key leaders of which, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, are still in government – to stymie Khmer Rouge fighters’ bid to regain territory.

But Halo Trust, a British-based demining NGO, said the government had blocked a number of their plans to remove the destructive devices in the area.

“They say that [they want to clear land mines] in the meetings, but when we want to remove mines from the ground to prevent people becoming injured, they still say ‘not yet’,” Halo Trust chief of ordnance destruction Smann Makara said.

Makara said he believed the government prioritised areas closer to populous villages. “We want to do more than that,” he said. “We hope to find a lot of mines, especially in the K5, because of the accidents there.”

However, CMAC director-general Heng Ratana said drawing a link between the government’s K5-era plans to mine the area and present-day demining efforts would “confuse the people”.

“During the fighting, there were four factions. Every one of them used land mines to protect their positions. The K5 was very important to defend against the Khmer Rouge reoccupying the area,” he said.

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