FIFTEEN deminers and one interpreter from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) returned
to Cambodia on September 8 after two months' service in Kosovo.
Nhek Samorn, a MAG supervisor and also the Cambodian team leader in Kosovo, said
his team concentrated on demining high priority areas such as schools and factories.
He said it was a different experience working in Kosovo - climate, food and
culture were all alien to the deminers.
"We had difficulties all the time when we arrived because the weather was hotter
than our country during the day and so cold at night, with lots of rain," he
Another problem was food. The Khmer deminers, used to eating fish and pork, had to
change their diet for beef and chicken. Fish are not abundant and pigs are not common
in the Muslim areas of the country.
Samorn said that Kosovo was still dangerous despite the presence of the NATO Kosovo
force - "K-FOR". He said in addition to land mines there were still revenge
killings between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. He said it wasn't until they arrived
in Kosovo that they really understood the political situation there.
"I didn't know about the details of the situation over there and that NATO was
trying to make both peoples cooperate," he said.
Cooperation had not begun yet and there were still small fights, however the Khmer
deminers never felt threatened.
"We never thought to take special precautions," he said. "But we brought
our working materials such as helmets and the blast shirts."
Samorn, who has eight years' demining experience in Cambodia, said his team couldn't
go out at night or carry weapons, but they were guarded by K-FOR troops.
Cambodian demining work in Kosovo was not under the supervision of NATO. The Khmer
team cooperated with Handicap International and other NGOs.
"We were altogether working for the United Nations, so we were not under the
supervision of NATO but we met NATO soldiers everywhere," he said.
When the deminers arrived in Kosovo, they got one week's special training on house
mine clearance and learned about the mines of Yugoslavia, because all the mines were
He said most of the houses and gardens in Kosovo had been occupied by Serbs who had
planted mines before fleeing.
Samorn said they had a warm welcome to the area, with locals, young and old, treating
them the way Cambodians treated UNTAC when it arrived
"They welcomed us everywhere we met them," Samorn said, adding that "I
never encountered any racism or prejudice, except between Serbs and Albanians."
During the two months' service in Kosovo, MAG deminers defused 60 mines and unexploded
Samorn said the mines they defused were more technical than the ones they were used
In Cambodia the Khmer Rouge often used very powerful "homemade" mines and
bombs made from fertilizer, and oil.
"We didn't encounter any mines like that but we saw modern mines."
Samorn said that his team didn't defuse mines or booby-traps inside the buildings
but concentrated on those out of doors.
He said many locals came and asked for help but they could not assist them directly
because of their other work.
However, MAG personnel provided two training courses for locals, who then began to
demine their properties themselves.
"We faced many dangers for our demining work in Kosovo because we defused by
sight or using a stick to find mines," he said. The metal detectors could not
be used to find mines because the amount of metal in the area meant they gave too
many false alarms
Samorn estimated that there are one million mines still in Kosovo, which will take
at least five years to clear.