SIEM REAP - Demining is a crucial part of the international campaign to restore
the Angkor monuments and a French NGO is leading the effort to make the area
safe for development.
COFRAS (Compagnie Fran-caise d'Assistance
Specialisee) group has 64 UNTAC-trained Cambodian deminers clearing mines in
Krol Ko temple, 16 km from Siem Reap town. Their work on the three hectare site
is supervised by two French experts and a doctor.
"Our task is to clear
mines in tourist, agriculture and development zones in areas related to the
Angkor complex," said COFRAS official Gerard Dufrechou, a commander of the
Krol Ko is on the route of the big circle, north of Angkor
Thom. It sinks in the middle of thick bush, its walls eradicated or showing
evidence of bullets and shrapnel. A trail of trenches and mines recently removed
were behind the temple's northern wall facing a stream from where enemy troops
The temple has a history of military involvement. Siem Reap
residents and deminers at the site said it was used as a military position by
Lon Nol, the Khmer Rouge and by Vietnamese troops during the civil
COFRAS is seeking to end that by making the area safe for tourists
but it is a tense job requiring strict discipline. Dufrechou said any misconduct
or disrespect for safety procedures would affect the entire mine-clearing
operation and deminers would lose their jobs.
"When we enter mine fields
we don't know what we will find. It is a very dangerous job," he said. "You must
obey 'safety first'." The strict rules apply to everyone and he warned the Post
about visiting the site without authorization.
"Demining is not a
business. We are not gun or grenade dealers but we are professionals," he said
before allowing the Post to see a demonstration of mine-clearance.
Dufrechou was proud that his team had suffered no injuries.
"Statistically, there must be at least one casualty but I hope it will last like
this," he said.
Deminers receive $100 a month and $60 for food. They are
covered by social welfare benefits, such as free medicine, social security and a
payment of $3,000 if they die on the job. They also have four-weeks paid holiday
At the site, their search for explosive items proceeds strictly
in every square inch and each movement is determined by a red rope which marks
the line between searched and unsearched areas.
The task is complicated
by irregularities between the amount of mines supposed to be planted at sites
and the actual amount found, said Col. Mean Sarun, a liaison officer assigned to
the team by the government.
"In one site, reports said there were more
than a thousand mines but we found around 200," he said.
Sylvain Petitpas said only five mines, including an anti-tank one, had been
found since demining at Krol Ko was launched on Jan. 4.
However, at each
site where an operation had been completed was considered free of mines. "We are
100 percent sure that this site will be clear when we finish," he
Petitpas said French demin-ing procedures were the best in the
world. French experts supervised the safe removal of 6,500 of the 11,000 mines
recovered by Cambodian deminers working for UNTAC, he said.
But the team
looks overseas for its equipment, using Schibbel metal-detectors which are made
in Austria. They can detect up to 50cm below the ground and can also detect
metal in water.
The metal-detectors are often the deminers' only
protection as they fan out in small groups keeping well away from each other in
case one of them accidentally sets off a mine. Working space of each small group
spans a 50 m distance for fragmentation mines and 25 m for anti-personnel
Field doctor Bertrand Desplats said: "We are very strict about
'safety first', especially with fragmentation mines. They are difficult and
deadly dangerous because of the many tricks in planting them."
must imagine why mines were laid in this or that way. They must follow the
string connecting the pin to the tree until they spot the mine. Accident happens
when deminers unconsciously disrupt the string," he explained.
the COFRAS mission began last August and was due to end this February but a
further six month contract had been approved by the French government, funded by
the European Community.
COFRAS works within the framework of the
International Coordinating Committee set up to administer the Angkor site. The
committee comprises the Cambodian government and 20 foreign nations.
first meeting last December was co-chaired by the French and Japanese
ambassadors in Phnom Penh with UNESCO as secretariat. Delegates agreed on the
need to rehabilitate the site and develop tourism.