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Mine victims say they are forgotten

Kampong Thom province

Residents of community open to land-mine victims and their families say they do not yet have basic amenities, including clean water, quality housing and access to schools.

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Land-mine victim and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tun Channareth on Monday gives an impassioned speech ahead of National Mine Awareness Day to members of Kampong Thom province's Thmor Samleang community, a tiny hamlet set up for mine blast victims that, while offering them the chance to own property, lies 14 kilometres from the nearest road and lacks basic services. 

ON the eve of National Mine Awareness Day, a group of 500 land mine victims and their relatives gathered at Thmor Samleang to press for improvements to the living standards of the community's residents.

Many residents of the community, which is open only to land-mine victims and their families, do not have access to quality schools and health care, and lack even basic services such as clean water and housing, said 1997 Nobel Laureate Tun Channareth, a spokesperson for Jesuit Service Cambodia.

"I hope one day the Cambodian government will see the suffering here of the handicapped people and see what they really need, and I hope one day they will provide for them," Tun Channareth said Monday.

The community was established two months ago following the government's decision to give the land to the Association for Development of Handicap and Army (ADH), said ADH Director Khun Sokea, who himself survived a land-mine explosion. The area had formerly belonged to the military, which gave it up in 2004.  

The government gave the land to ADH but is not willing to donate funding for clean water and other improvements until it is developed further, said Ny Nhar, a spokesperson for Jesuit Service Cambodia.  

Khun Sokea said the community currently receives funding only from residents' own pockets.

Progress against land mines

The Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) says that land mines and other explosives have killed or injured 6,144 people in Cambodia since 2000.

Though the number of casualties has dropped considerably in recent years - from 858 in 2000 to 266 in 2008 - casualty rates are only one measurement of the effect of land mines on the local population, said Melissa Sabatier, mine action project manager for the UN Development Program (UNDP).

"Rural Cambodians often have little choice when deciding whether or not to use land contaminated with land mines to grow crops, build houses, and construct roads," she said.

"Sustained support from the international community is required so that Cambodians can safely use the land for critical poverty reduction activities."

CMAA says more than 476 million square metres of land in Cambodia has been cleared of mines since 1992.

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Land-mine survivors and their families are living at the Thmor Samleang community, where their only supply of fresh water is a single pump that  must be shared by the whole community. 

But Ny Nhar said as many as six million mines still litter the Kingdom.

Alex Hiniker, a UNDP communications and advocacy officer, said Cambodia has made significant progress but cautioned that it would be unlikely to achieve nationwide mine clearance even within the next 100 years.

"I don't know what the next five years will look like," Tun Channareth said. "I cannot say what the government will provide."

In November signatories to the Ottawa Convention will gather in Cartagena, Colombia to pledge funding for a new five-year plan for land-mine survivor assistance and mine clearance.



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