Sok Kosal stepped on a landmine in Battambang province at a young age — so young that Kosal’s mother had to tell her later in life how old she was when it happened. She was five, and the explosive device took off one of her legs above the knee.
When Kosal grew older, she joined the fight to rid Cambodia of anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions and unexploded ordnance. Yesterday, she travelled to Phnom Penh to thank the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk for his contributions to the cause.
“I am a victim of a landmine. It is so hurtful. I do not want to see other Cambodians undergo this,” she said.
One of Sihanouk’s lesser-known credentials was his support in the mid-1990s for activists who lobbied the Cambodian government to sign up to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and collected more than 40,000 signatures, including the late King Father’s, in the process.
“He not only signed, he made an announcement to ban anti-personnel landmines, to clear the land, to provide more support for people with disabilities,” said Tun Channareth, who was in his early 20s in 1982 when he lost both his legs after triggering a landmine near the border with Thailand, where he served as a soldier.
Cambodia was one of 122 countries to sign the Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa, Canada in 1997.
Channareth went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the international campaign and now works in survivor outreach.
Using wheelchairs and crutches, the small group of landmine victims paid their respects at the Royal Palace, where the King Father’s body has lain in state.
Landmines, unexploded ordnance and cluster munitions planted in Cambodian soil are the results of decades of conflict that began with the civil war in the 1970s, continued through the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, and dragged on well into the guerrilla warfare of the 1990s.
Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, said his organisation had destroyed 3.5 million mines since 1992.