After the endeavours and sacrifices of officers from the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), the once explosives-contaminated Malai district in Banteay Meanchey province is now safe for development, particularly in agriculture.
A major front line in the Cambodian civil wars of the 1980s and ‘90s, and surrounded by the Khmer Rouge until its surrender in 1998, Malai district was once riddled with landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Located in Cambodia’s far northwest, Banteay Meanchey province borders Thailand to the west, Siem Reap province to the east, Oddar Meanchey to the north and Battambang to the south.
Malai district consists of six communes, Tuol Pongro, Ou Sampor, Ou Sralau, Malai, Boeung Beng and Ta Kong, and the efforts by CMAC have made the area safe for residents to farm and set up plantations to improve their livelihoods.
CMAC director-general Heng Ratana said many of the organisation’s officers had lost their lives and been injured removing landmines and UXO, ensuring the land safe was safe to return to the people.
But he expressed happiness that the demining efforts in the area had resulted in the lives of residents being made safer, more secure and more prosperous, contributing to the further development of Cambodia.
Former minefields in Malai district have become plantations for the cultivation of coconuts, mangoes, longan and tamarind, as well as many other types of farming, after the endeavours of CMAC officers.
“Malai district is undergoing rapid changes, with development in the agricultural sector, such as the growing of cassava, mangoes and coconuts. The real estate sector has also been growing rapidly as people flock to buy plots of land there because it is near the Ou Chrov area and the land is safe.
“Malai is now a thriving district with a high GDP. The former district governor had worked hard to develop Malai. Cooperation with Thailand, in particular, has seen a lot of progress,” Ratana said.
As the head of CMAC, Ratana conveyed pride at Cambodia being peaceful, allowing for the explosive remnants of war in Malai to be removed, with it now a safe and secure area of growth and development.
“We are proud that the peace brought about by the Royal Government has led to progress for Malai district, with people’s lives in the area now much more prosperous,” he said.
‘People live without fear’
Ben Sam Ath, a Malai district police officer, also acknowledged that Malai district had been made safe under the care of CMAC, with the removal and destruction of UXO allowing for the land to again be used for the farming of crops, such as mango, fragrant coconut and longan.
“Now there are a lot of plantations, especially rice fields in Ta Kong commune, with almost all communes having water supply and infrastructure.
“Currently people live without fear and their livelihoods are improving because their farmlands no longer contain mines. This is a source of pride for Malai district,” he said.
He said that while in the past people had feared encountering UXO and landmines, with many being killed or losing legs and hands, this was no longer the case.
When people found mines or UXO, they always reported it to the authorities to alert CMAC, he added.
Phea Moninith, Ta Kong commune police chief, said the discovery of mines was now minimal, with any remaining UXO likely buried deep in the ground, and were it to come to the surface, CMAC would be called to remove it.
He praised CMAC officials for Malai district being safer than it was just a few years ago, noting there had been no accidents recently from mines or UXO.
Almost everywhere in Malai district people were now farming rice and other crops such as tamarind, cashew, rambutan and longan after CMAC had overcome all obstacles to make the land safe, Moninith said.
Mey Samorn, a farmer living in Malai commune, expressed happiness that there had been no recent reports of exploding mines from tractors ploughing the land, unlike in the past when such cases were frequent and caused injury and death.
Such an environment allowed people the opportunity to grow crops with peace of mind, he added.
He said that while explosions had been caused in some places by people encroaching land before CMAC had reached it – usually near the border areas – such occasions were rare.
Malai district governor Svay Chaa told The Post that Malai currently has around 50,000 residents – with most involved in agriculture – thanks to CMAC officials having cleared the landmines and UXO that contaminated the land.
“For the people in my district, their livelihoods are now much better. Now thanks to invaluable demining work of CMAC, there is more land on which to grow crops than before,” Chaa said.