Off to Kosovo:
from left, Mom Vanna, Uch Saram, Koeun Noeun, Koy Sovy and Phan Sophin
t is Friday, June 19, and the office of the Mines Advisory Group is a flurry of
activity. Deminers in smart green uniforms, suitcases stuffed to bursting, and boxes
of demining equipment fill every available space; hastily completed visa forms spill
It may be the Queen's birthday, but for one team of Cambodian deminers, today is
no holiday. They are off to Kosovo on the 20th, to help demine land to which refugees
are returning - the first team of Cambodian deminers to work abroad.
With only a week's notice before their deployment, many of the team expressed surprise
about their new assignment.
"I was not really aware about the Kosovo situation, only a few minutes I saw
on TV," says Teng San, 37. "I don't feel so excited to go, but I'm impressed
that Cambodian deminers have had the luck to be sent to demine in Kosovo."
MAG Country Director Archie Law says a Cambodian team was chosen for the Kosovo operation
because Cambodia was the most expedient place from which to pull a team on short
"The professionalism of this team, as of all our teams in Cambodia, is unquestioned,"
This particular team, normally based in Kampong Thom, was also the first to be trained
as a multi-tasked Mine Action Team; as well as basic demining, the team is trained
in marking and surveying, explosive ordnance disposal, and mines awareness training,
Demining services are desperately needed now that NATO troops and refugees are beginning
the return to Kosovo.
MAG officials said the British mine group is working under its own auspices, not
under the UN or NATO. The Cambodian team will receive their normal $200-a-month salary,
plus unspecified per-diems, MAG officials said.
Teng San said the 16-person team will go through a week's additional training in
Macedonia before being sent into Kosovo.
"I was told that the situation there is a little bit bad; it's very different
from here. Here we have old mines, but there they are new ones so we must study more."
MAG technical experts are already in Macedonia and Kosovo.
"I'm not afraid [to work with new types of mines]," San asserts. "In
my experience of over three years, I've never encountered any accidents."
San's nonchalance belies the fact that he lost his right foot to a mine in 1991.
As a government soldier, he stepped on a Khmer Rouge Chinese-made mine in Stung district,
near Preah Vihear.
"I was very sad and disappointed soon after my accident," he recounts.
"I did not expect to become a deminer. I was jobless, working as a motodop ...
But now I am happy with my work. I suffered from a mine so now I must do my best
to demine so that others do not step on them."
San is one of three disabled deminers on the team; the others are also soldiers who
stepped on Khmer Rouge mines. The team also includes three women.
"Yes, this is not a usual job for a Cambodian lady," says Nou Sokha, 28.
"I crawl on the ground, I do hard work, everything I do is like the men do."
She says the women members are treated the same as the men.
"I joined MAG to earn a living, to reduce the number of disabled people in the
country, and to help the country," she says. "At the beginning I was nervous
to do the work, but since I've had a lot of experience, now I have the skills ...
I'm never afraid."
Formerly a rice farmer in Bat-tambang, she joined MAG after seeing an advertisement
in front of the office. Her husband is a deminer in the same team, but he is unable
to travel to Kosovo because he has malaria.
"I'm a little worried [about him]; normally a couple takes care of each other,
but it is the mission order [to go]," she says.
"I'm excited," she adds. "Going to Kosovo will help me get more experience
to come back and work in Cambodia."
The team, lugging nearly 400 kilos of equipment, will be in the Balkans for up to
Teng San's wife says she is proud but anxious. "I will miss him," says
Nop Chanaren, 36. "My mind is happy for him ... but I am still a little concerned
For his part, San is ready to get to work. "I'm very proud that MAG has employed
disabled people, ladies and other deminers on behalf of Cambodia," he says.
"I would like to appeal to all armies, newspapers, diplomatic organizations,
to say that people must stop using and producing mines."