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Landmine dangers

Landmine dangers

Dear Editor,

The article "Land mines imperil Siem Reap tourism boom" (PPPost, March

30-April 12, 2001) certainly raises points that should be discussed by all, and frequently.

But holy smokes guys, I thought that I was reading an article put out by the Thai

media, with the shadowy intent being to discourage coveted tourists from spilling

over into Cambodia, instead of the PPPost.

Yes, the numbers of tourists are up and hopefully (for the Cambodian economy) this

trend will continue, but folks have been riding around the rural areas of Cambodia

for a number of years already and every one of these travelers that I have met is

equipped with some sort of information regarding the ongoing land mine problems in

Cambodia and the possible risks that this poses to travelers.

The article states that the Post visited three bike rental shops and not one of them

was able to provide any written or verbal information concerning the dangers of land

mines or UXO (unexploded ordinance). This is not the case, from my experience anyway.

The friendly Mr. Ly of Lucky-Lucky! Renting Motorcycles on Monivong Boulevard is

the person at the shop that always deals with foreigners who rent bikes there. He

asks each and every customer where he or she intends to go with the rented motorcycle,

unless it is the small city-style bikes. I have happened into the shop a number of

times as this gentleman is advising would-be rural Cambodia travelers about the dangers

of land mines in the countryside, giving them tips on how to avoid the mines and

areas that may be best for the more inexperienced Cambodia traveler to avoid altogether.

The fairly recently released guidebook that I co-authored, Adventure Cambodia, contains

information about the land mine problems in Cambodia, with warnings about land mines

in each area of the country (which sadly is all too many areas), what to look for,

and what to avoid.

To sound the alarm bells by implying that this is a new hazard that is putting travelers

to Cambodia at an unacceptable risk is a disservice to Cambodia and the long awaited

and still hoped for economic recovery here.

This country is dirt-poor, as we all know, and there just isn't much in the way of

job opportunities for its people. Having travelers venture outside of the usual tourist

circuit is undoubtedly one of the very few opportunities that Cambodia has at the

present time to get some new money trickling through the regional economies.

The government believes (as reported in the Post numerous times) that tourism is

Cambodia's best shot at bringing money into this impoverished country.

The danger landmines and UXO present to travelers moving about Cambodia is actually

very minimal, provided the traveler follows some basic rules. If followed, you will

be safe in your travels:

ï Stay on the well-worn roads and pathways where you can see that the locals have

been walking, bicycling or driving (footprints, tire tracks). If you do not see this

obvious evidence of people using the road or pathway, stay off it, as there is probably

a reason the locals are not traveling on it. If you come upon a section of road where

the tire tracks disappear, look to the sides as that means the locals have chosen

to detour around a section of road, probably with good reason, such as bad road conditions

or possible land mine concerns. Follow the detour around that section and you will

be fine.

ï Try to obtain information regarding the next section of road that you plan to

travel on from the locals. Get a good guidebook that covers the whole of Cambodia.

If you are in an area that possibly still has undiscovered land mines present or

a marked, but not yet cleared mine field and you must relieve yourself, either stay

on the road or pathway to do your deed or wait until you come to a village or town

with safe toilet facilities.

The article mentioned Angkor Dirt Bike Tours, which is run by a couple of friendly

ex-pats with a lot of experience in traveling around and about the boondocks of Cambodia.

For those folks still spooked by articles like the one that just appeared in the

Post, but still feeling the urge to break out of the typical tourist haunts and explore

the real Cambodia (and meet the extremely friendly rural Cambodian people), this

may be the ticket for you. For information, e-mail Ben or Zeman at [email protected].

I am not affiliated with this outfit, but I know the service they offer is a good

one and it is good for Cambodia as they help in getting some travelers moving around

the countryside.

The Cambodia of today is safer to travel in than most parts of the world, certainly

Latin America, the Middle East and most of the former Eastern Block countries. As

an American, I feel much safer traveling about Cambodia than I do in much of the

United States. So as advocates of a peaceful recovery in Cambodia and for the benefit

of the masses of struggling Cambodian people, let's not scare people away with sensational

looking headlines that don't reflect the whole story of travel in Cambodia. Let's

instead continue the work of building awareness of safety issues, as well as the

very important task of speeding up, for the sake of Cambodians, land mine and UXO

clearing operations. It can all be done.

- Matt Jacobson, Phnom Penh

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