T HE awarding of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize to the global drive to outlaw landmines
was greeted in Cambodia with reactions ranging from joy, surprise and puzzlement,
to pragmatism over the long road ahead to ridding the country of mines.
"I've been shrieking in the office, jumping for joy," said Denise Coghlan,
coordinator of the anti-landmine campaign in Cambodia, when she heard the International
Campaign to Ban Landmines had won the coveted award.
"It will have a great impact on the lives of the people who have worked so hard
on the campaign, particularly the amputees; it will restore their dignity and energy,"
"I'm stunned," said another member of the campaign, Patty Curran, adding:
"I'm sitting here now with a class of landmine survivors and they're all very
The awarding of the prize to the international campaign and its world coordinator,
American Jody Williams, was announced Oct 10.
For 35-year-old Chan Phaly, an amputee former soldier begging on a Phnom Penh street,
the prize meant very little. "I don't know what the Nobel prize is," said
Phaly, who lost most of his left leg to a landmine.
But he supported anything which helped to get a ban on the devices, saying: "I
would ask people to stop laying mines."
Double amputee Tun Chan-nareth, who was slated to possibly jointly receive the prize
on behalf of the campaign at Post press time, was elated. "I feel surprised
about this prize. I think I will receive it within the month in Oslo," Channareth
said. "This is important for the young generation. We want to rid the country
completely of mines. It is a big job with big difficulties."
Channareth lost his legs near the Thai border in 1982 serving with the Son Sann resistance
"When I just got injured, I thought I wanted to die all the time. I think other
disabled people have the same idea."
He recalled how he had wanted to carry out his own crude amputation of one of his
injured legs after the mine blast: "I borrowed an axe from a villager and wanted
to cut one of my own legs off because it was [damaged] and didn't work, but my friend
wouldn't let me," he recalled. "He helped me get to Khao-I-Dang [refugee
camp] and the doctors cut it off there."
Since becoming involved with the campaign in 1994, Channareth has toured several
capitals meeting world leaders. He even rode a hand-cranked tricycle from Brussels
to Paris in June 1997 to shed light on the cause.
"I have traveled a lot," he said. "I felt surprised when I would talk
to people and they would agree with my ideas."
He has addressed the UK Parliament, and met with the Irish Prime Minister and the
Queen of Spain. One of the crowning moments of his travels was a visit to the Vatican
to plead with the Pope for support.
"I only had ten fingers to beg him and encourage him to ban mines," he
said with his palms clasped. "I couldn't count the number of people who came
to see him in that huge building. He blessed us then afterwards announced three times
to support banning landmines in 1995."
Fellow double amputee and campaigner Soun Chreouk spoke of the camaraderie they share
with other mine victims around the world. "We were all hopeless when we lost
our limbs. We didn't want to live," he recalled. "But when we saw others
with the same condition, we became better."
Campaigner Sok Eng, who played a key role in having Cambodia sign the treaty, said
that it had been an uphill battle to convince the authorities to sign the ban. "If
you wait until they open the door, they don't open it," she said. "You
have to jump ... Anytime we can jump, we jump."
In a country where decades of conflict have left an estimated six million landmines
in the ground, experts agree that a mine-free Cambodia will be a long time coming.
"It still doesn't solve the problem of getting the land mines out of the ground,"
said Mark Pirie, of the British mine-clearance agency Halo Trust, of the Nobel prize.
While welcoming the awarding of the prize, and the international campaign's call
for landmine stocks to be destroyed, he added: "It's the landmines in the ground
that kill and maim, not the ones kept in storage."
Demining experts say it will take generations to clear the land mines of Cambodia,
where 2,600 mined areas have been verified, covering 3,600 square kilometers. Less
than 50 square kilometers have been cleared.
Some 40,000 Cambodians - or one in every 250 people - have lost limbs to landmines,
and more than 100 civilians are killed or maimed every month by them.
Borithy Lun, a coordinator for the British-funded Cambodia Trust which cares for
landmine victims, said the Nobel was "very good news indeed".
"But our work is going on. Looking after the victims of landmines is an ongoing
process. You have to care for people for the rest of their lives," he said.
"I hope the prize will give a stimulus in terms of fund-raising. Maybe now there's
light at the end of the tunnel, the problem is ending - that's the glimmer of hope."
Happiness at the awarding of the Nobel was, however, tarnished by the fact that fresh
mines continue to be laid in Cambodia.
The Khmer Rouge's clandestine radio announced Oct 11, the day after the Nobel prize
announcement was made, that they had laid more of the devices in Cambodia's northwest.
Four days later - in a clear response to the Nobel prize - the KR were moved to defend
their use of mines. Claiming that the Vietnamese occupying army in the 1980s laid
most of Cambodia's mines, the KR implied in an Oct 15 broadcast that "the Vietnamese
communists" were still present here.
Citing the United Nations Charter, KR radio claimed that its forces had the right
to use "any type of weapon" to defend Cambodia's sovereignty from "Vietnamese