Cambodia, Afghanistan and Angola are regard as the world's three most heavily mined countries. An estimated 10 million mines were laid in Cambodia. Most of them were put down after 1979 when the Khmer Rouge battled the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian government. Despite efforts by U.N. mine removers million of mines remain in place. Hundreds are killed or wounded every year. Thanks to land mines Cambodia has the highest per capita number of amputees in the world – one of every 350 people.

The United States dropped 2.75 million tons of bombs, and warring factions placed millions of mines during nearly three decades of conflict in Cambodia. An estimated 4 million to 6 million land mines and other unexploded ordnance still remain in Cambodia from more than three decades of armed conflict. According to the activist group Destroy Land Mines Before They Destroy Us eight of ten families in Cambodia are exposed to land mines and so far only about 5 percent of affected areas have been cleared.

Mine casualties in 2003: 1) Iraq, 2189; 2) Afghanistan, 847; 3) Cambodia, 772; 4) Columbia, 668; 5) Angola, 226; 6) Chechnya, 218; 7) Burundi, 174; 8) Democratic Republic of Congo, 152; 9) Laos, 118; and 10) Sri Lanka, 99.

Most of the mines in Cambodia are Soviet, Chinese and Vietnamese origin. They have been placed everywhere: forests, fields, roadsides. Mines were sewn during the reign of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, the years of civil war that preceded their reign and in the fighting between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese and Cambodian troops that continued until 1998. One former Khmer Rouge fighter told Reuters, “We laid so many mines during the war. The fighting was all over the place.”

Land mines prevent the use of thousands of hectares of farmland, deprive people of places to live and make travel on some roads dangerous. "Don't walk where the cows haven't" is motto often used in places with lots of mines. Cambodia is filled with fields marked with skulls and crossbones, warning villagers of mines, but people still wander through them anyway. A woman, whose husband was killed by mine while gathering straw for mats told Newsweek, "I'm terrified of mines,,. But if I don't go out and cut grass and bamboo, we won't survive." In the 1990s trains in Cambodia had two cars in front of the engine that were weighted down with surplus wheels and steel rails to set off mines along the track.

Types of Mines

Kinds of mines: 1) Blast mines like the VS-50 are designed to maim soldiers, prevent farmers from working in their fields (new plastic models are waterproof and evade metal detectors). 2) Directional mines like the U.S. Claymore M18A1 disperse an arc of fragments that can injure many people (set off by remote control or tripwire). 3) "Bouncing Betty" fragment mines like the Italian Valmura 69 are set off by trip wire and are propelled into the air and explode at the waist level. 4) Stake mines are World War II-era devises that are driven into the ground and release metal fragments in all directs after being activated with a trip wire.

Butterfly mines are the most infamous of the blast effect mines. They fit into the palm of the hand and look like a toy and are intended to blow off the hands of people unaware of them. They were dropped by from helicopters. Now many are buried. They can be detonated by throwing rocks at them from a distance. Other mines have triggering mechanisms that are disguised as pens or popular brands of cigarettes.

Dozens of different kinds of mines are found in Cambodia. The include ones made in Britain, Belgium, China, Pakistan, Russia, Italy and the United States. On average a cheap mine like the VS-5 costs $3 to purchase, virtually nothing to deploy and $1,000 to clear. Some mines are designed to cause a maximum of damage without killing a person so three or four soldiers are tied up trying try to get the victim medical help.

Mine Victims

Land mines and unexploded bombs have killed or maimed nearly 64,000 people in the last three decades, including 286 in 2010, according to the Cambodian Mine/Explosives Remnants of War Victim Information System. By one estimate there are over 40,000 amputee mine victims. At Phnom Penh hospital nearly 70 percent of the patients there in the late 1990s were land mine victims. Those lucky enough to have children often rely on to them to be their legs and arms.

Up to 20,000 people are killed or maimed worldwide by mines each year. There were 8,065 reported victims in 2003. About 86 percent of the casualties are civilians—men, women and children—and 23 percent are children. Many people have lost arms and legs in mine injuries. Most of victims of mines know areas where mines have been placed but went there anyway out of necessity—to finding firewood, fetch stray animals or raise crops. Some children are killed or hurt playing with unexploded ordnance, which they view as toy.

Victims have been blinded, lost arms, legs, feet and hands; and had their faces badly scared. Some have contacted gangrene and awful bone infections. Others still have stunned looks in their faces as if a mine went off just minutes ago. Victims who have limbs blown off and can’t get help fast enough often die a slow agonizing death from loss of blood.

Describing a mine victim, Edward Girardet wrote in National Geographic, “One young man strolled off to gather some firewood so we could brew some tea. There was a loud explosion. My first thought was a grenade or rocket, but then I saw the young man, barely 30 yards away, crawling along the ground. He had stepped on an anti-personnel mine. His mangled foot was amputated on the spot.”

Mine Victim Cases in Cambodia

A typical victim lost one leg below the knee and another leg at the knee after steeping on a mine. Many have been ostracized and need to beg to make ends meet. One victim who lost his right leg told the New York Times, “We are lower than dogs. People feed their dogs.” Another said, “When walk past, people don’t even see us. Like we aren’t there. Even our former officers won’t look at us.”

In February 2004, four young brothers, including an 8-month-old infant, died when a Vietnam-War-era mortar shell exploded when one boy tried to break it open as the other three stood around and watched.

In April 2006, at least 10 Cambodian villagers were killed in the northern province of Oddar Meanchey—a former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge—when their truck hit an anti-tank mine left over from the Cambodian civil war.

In October 2012, AP reported: “Six farmers were killed when their tractor ran over an anti-tank mine left over from Cambodia's 1980s civil war. District police chief Khum Soy said one of those killed was a 12-year-old child. Two other people were seriously wounded by the blast in northwestern Battambang province. He said the group was driving home from a market where they had traveled to sell mushrooms and firewood. The area around Battambang province was a site of intense battles between the former Khmer Rouge regime and government forces. [Source: Associated Press, October 1, 2012]

In November 2010, Associated Press reported: “Fourteen people died in western Cambodia when their homemade tractor ran over an anti-tank mine left over from the country's civil war in the 1980s, an official said. The incident occurred in Battambang province, 155 miles (250 kilometers) northwest of the capital Phnom Penh, while the farmers were on their way back home from harvesting chilies, police Maj. Buth Sambo said. He said 12 of them were killed instantly, including a one-year-old girl, and the two others died on the way to a hospital. The police officer said the area was the site of intense battles between the Khmer Rouge and government forces in the 1980s and early 1990s and thus was seeded with numerous mines.” [Source: Associated Press, November 16, 2010]

Mine Ban Treaty and the Nobel Prize

The 1999 Ottawa Treaty—the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, often simply referred to as the Mine Ban Treaty, but officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction—aims at eliminating anti-personnel landmines around the world. It was drafted in 1997. To date, there are 161 States Parties to the treaty. One state has signed but not ratified (The Marshall Islands) while 35 UN states are non-signatories, making a total of 36 United Nations states not party.

The Mine Ban Treaty originally called for the a ban on the use, production and stockpiling of mine by 2009. As of 2004, 142 countries had ratified it and 42 had not. Among those that hadn’t were the United States, Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Libya, Somalia. Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco. The treaty t has had less impact than its creators would have liked in part because there is no organization or infrastructure to oversee it and no punishment for those who violate it.

The Nobel Peace Prize 1997 was awarded jointly to International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and Jody Williams "for their work for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines." Their work and the anti-mine work of Princess Diana helped bring attention to the land mine issue.

The Mine Ban Treaty summit was held in Kenya in December 2004. That year the United States announced it would make all land mines detectable and destroy all those not timed to self-destruct, but reserved the right to use land mines to defend its forces—a position also taken by Russia, which has been accused of using mines against Chechen insurgents.

Mine Clearing

The Cambodia government has said it would need a dozen more years and tens of millions more aid dollars to complete the job of clearing Cambodia of land mines that endanger lives in nearly half the country's villages. Cambodian and foreign deminers have destroyed 2.7 million mines and unexploded ordnance over about 200 square miles (520 square kilometers) and the number of mine casualties has dropped significantly, but the explosives remain a major threat. [Source: Associated Press, November 16, 2010]

Mine clearing in Cambodia began in earnest in 1992 under the direction of the United Nations and has since been taken over by other groups. The members of the demining teams wear protective overalls, Kevlar blast vests and Plexiglass visors or helmets and use metal detectors and knives to locate mines. Some deminers spend much of their time crawling on their stomachs. In the 1990s deminers were generally get paid about $200 a month, a considerable sum in Cambodia.

In some places mine detecting units, known as sappers, use dogs or carefully probe the soil with long poles or small spades a few centimeters at a time. A typical mine clearing operation clears a 23-meter-wide path between a village and a stream where villagers fetch drinking water uncovers 11 mines, eight pieces of unexploded ordinance—mostly mortar bombs—and 50,000 pieces of metal. With everything from coins to gun wrappers setting off the metal detaors, progress can be slow, with each member of the demning team clearing 20 square meters a day.

Villagers using more primitive methods crawl on their bellies and poke around with a knife until they hit something hard. If they find a mine they throw rocks at it until it explodes. In Afghanistan many of the mines are cleared by men who crawl on the ground on their stomachs, with their chests and faces hidden behind plexiglass shields, using spades and knives to gently probe the ground looking for mines. Every inch of ground is covered and the men work painstakingly slowly. To dig up the mines, the de-miners insert metal rods several centimeters under the ground at a slant and carefully lift it up so it doesn’t go off. It takes about 1½ hours to demine a one square meter area. Most of the material located are spent cartridges and metal scraps. On average a worker finds a mine about once every three months.

Mine-Detecting Dogs

In the early 2000s about 60 percent of all mine detection work was done by dogs. As of 2002, there about 120 dogs employed in mine detecting and around 200 more were being trained. Many of the dogs were donated by countries such as Thailand and Germany. The program cost around $4 million a year.

The dogs worked on a long leash and examined a small plot of land. They can smell explosives through plastic, snow and earth and are trained to respond to the commands of “Search” and “Stop” and sit down when they smell explosives. They can detect mines buried two or three feet underground and are not fooled by tin cans as metal detectors are. Only seven dogs died doing their job between 1994 and 2002.

Many of dogs are German and Belgian shepherds, known their keen senses of smell, loyalty and playfulness. They undergo about two years of training. The dogs are first trained to find buried rubber balls, then they search for balls with metal objects attached to them and, then replicas of mines and finally real mines. The dogs form close bond with their masters and work for 45 minutes in return for 15 minutes of playing time with their caretakers. They dogs work two months at a time and are able to work until the age of seven when their sense of smell begins to fail them.

One program director told the Washington Post, “With dogs mine clearing is safe, efficient and cost effective, bur still dangerous.” The dogs are more mobile and cheaper than heavy equipment. Although the loss of dog is considered better than the loss of a person, great care is take to make sure the dogs are not hurt.

Giant Mind-Finding Rats

Adrian Shaw and Steve Myall wrote in the Daily Mirror: “The international mine clearance charity APOPO is putting the giant Gambian pouched rats through eight months of training to detect the explosive TNT The initiative is part of a new £5million mine clearing programme by the UK’s department for international development over the next three years. [Source: Adrian Shaw, Steve Myall, Daily Mirror, January 1, 2014]

A rat can search an area 14 times larger than a human mine clearer in a day and they are light enough to walk over the mines without setting them off. Britain awarded APOPO £60,000 in 2013 through the United Nations development programme and the country is expected to be mine free within months. The £5million pot of money has been earmarked for the UN development programme, the charity UNICEF and the UN mine action service.

Bart Weetjens, APOPO’s founder, said: “The work of APOPO is all about empowering communities living in limited resources settings to tackle difficult, dangerous and expensive detection tasks more independently. “Using a sustainable local resource - our hero rats - and involving our beneficiaries in the technology design and implementation processes have proven to be critical factors to our sustained impact.”

The giant Gambian rat is ideal for the job because, although it has poor eyesight, it is exceptionally intelligent and has a keen sense of smell. It can grow up to three feet in length - half of which is made up of its long tail - which makes it roughly the same size as a domestic cat. They can weigh up to three and a half stone and live up to eight years and use their large, hamster-like cheeks to store and transport food. Justine Greening, International Development Secretary, said:“Everyone knows rats can sniff out food but it turns out they can be trained to sniff out mines too. “This not only saves lives but frees up valuable, fertile land on which to grow crops and contribute to the local economy.”

Mine Detecting Technology

Mine fields are also cleared with bulldozers, cranes and stone crushers. A variety of other technologies have been developed. They trick is developing devices that will locate every mine over a variety of terrains and not get destroyed in the process.

In Afghanistan, bulldozers that do mine-detection work have their cabs reinforced with scavenged tank parts and have been outfit with giant sieves and steel prongs to sift through soil and rubble. These sometimes miss mines however and can only be used in certain kinds of terrain.

A variety of robots made in Japan have been designed that can detect mines. Among them are a snake-shaped detector that digs underground to detect mines; a bug-shaped robot that can be used in more difficult terrain and uses a metal detector to find mines; and small remote-controlled vehicles that work in pairs and drag a cable across the ground to set off mines. A device made by the Swedish firm Biosensor Applications features smell sensors modeled after a dog's nose. Others use radar technology to locate plastic mines.

Minefield vehicles, which look a heavily-armored bulldozer with a rototiller-like attachment at the front, can clear paths for tanks, vehicles and soldiers. Adapted power shields detonate land mines and are easy to maintain and can be used for other purposes. There are also machines that stomp on mines to detonate them.

The easiest way to get rid of mines and ordnance is to blow them up in place. Sometimes they are carefully removed by hand or dug under with a wooden pitchfork and carefully lifted up.

Developing Machines to Eliminate Land Mines

Masashi Yoshida wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “"You must be Japanese. Please help my country." An elderly woman with only one leg said these words to Kiyoshi Amemiya, who company which sells and repairs construction machinery, in July 1994 at a market in Phnom Penh, inspiring him to develop a machine for clearing land mines. The woman, who was accompanied by an infant girl, said she lost her leg in a land mine explosion and that the girl's parents had been killed by land mines [Source: Masashi Yoshida, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 26, 2011 #].

“On his plane home, Amemiya made a decision: He would use his skills as an engineer to develop a machine to get rid of every land mine in the world. However, he had no knowledge about land mines, so he visited Battambang Province in northwestern Cambodia many times to study them, staying with local people near a minefield. #

“Based on his research, Amemiya devised a method to detonate land mines using a high-speed, rotating drum studded with blades and attached to the arm of an excavator. To accomplish its purpose, the drum needs to withstand heat as high as 1,000 C at detonation. Through hard work and personal sacrifice, Amemiya's project team of six engineers completed the first machine in 1998. #

“It used to take two hours to manually clear mines from one square meter of land, but Amemiya's machine reduces the time to just six seconds. Best of all, the machine significantly decreased the number of workers killed while clearing mines. The first two machines were delivered to Cambodia in 2000. #

“To date, Amemiya has delivered 78 machines to nine countries, including Colombia and Afghanistan. He proudly said: "I expect the total to reach 106 next year. It's the largest number in the world for a nonmilitary land mine clearer." Amemiya also developed a new version of the machine capable of plowing the ground and clearing land mines at the same time so the land can be used for farming. #

“The machines cost between $300,000 and $700,000. yen. In many cases, developing countries buy them with Japanese aid money, but an increasing number of countries have begun to buy them with their own funds. Amemiya said it is necessary for production of the machine to remain profitable so he can continue to develop them. "I hope the 1 billion yen development costs can be recovered by my company's next president," Amemiya said with a wry grin. In 2005, Amemiya received an award from the Cambodian government for his efforts. He was also awarded the 3rd Monodzukuri Nippon Grand Award for Excellence, sponsored by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, in 2009.” #

Jackie Chan and Mine Clearing Organizations in Cambodia

The Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) is the primary Cambodian agency in charge of mine clearing. It is a non-profit, quasi non-governmental organization run by Cambodians that evolved from the mine-clearing during the major United Nations peacekeeping operation in the early 1990s. In the late 1990s the agency had a budget of around $12 million a year and was hampered by a lack of funds and charges of mismanagement and fraud.

In 1999, Two of the largest aid donors for mine clearing, the United States and Australia, cut off funding to the CMAC on allegations of fraud and embezzling. The agency was accused of double billing, de-mining land for profit and other irregularities. The worst allegation was the agency spent more than $1 million to clear land handed over to government officials, wealthy businessmen and army generals. The donors were returned after several staff members in CMAC were fired. Another scandal broke out a year later when it was discovered that the CMAC had designated some areas as cleared even though no work had been done on them.

Britain’s Mine Advisory Group (MAG) is also involved in mine clearing operations in Cambodia. It employs an all-women demining team. One member who wore eyeliner under her face shield told Reuters, “In the beginning I was afraid, but one quickly gets used to it. I’ve been well-trained and I work carefully.” Many of the mine-clearing organizations prefer women because they are regarded as cooler and steadier.

In May 2004, Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan spent a week digging up land mines during a trip to Cambodia to raise awareness about the issue there. Andy Eames of Associated Press wrote: “Chan, a newly appointed U.N. goodwill ambassador, spent three days in Cambodia in late April, visiting land mine explosion victims and HIV/AIDS patients. The 50-year-old actor told reporters he walked through an area once sown with land mines that has since been mostly — but not entirely — cleared. Chan said he wasn't afraid, but "for a week, whenever I had a dream, I dreamt about digging (up) land mines." "A child could go to buy milk and return without legs," he said. [Source: Andy Eames, Associated Press , May 11, 2004]

Video Game Teaches Cambodian Youths How to Avoid Land Mines

Brendan Brady wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “"Turn left, turn right, go back!" her friends urge as she leads her avatar, a pet dog, into a lethal trap and the sound of an explosion rings out from the computer. In the virtual game world, players can always hit restart, but 11-year-old Chamroeun Chanpisey gets the point. "The game is different from real life," she said. "People have only one life." The video game, called Undercover UXO, shorthand for unexploded ordnance, is a new tool aimed at educating young Cambodians about the dangers of land mines and other explosives across the war-pocked Southeast Asian country. It's a lesson that could save numerous lives each year in Cambodia and other post-conflict countries, where millions of land mines and unexploded ordnance — sometimes mistaken for toys — lie hidden under earth, rocks and wrecked vehicles, posing a threat to farmers and wandering children. [Source: Brendan Brady, Los Angeles Times, May 01, 2011 ++]

“The video game, designed by a team of professors at Michigan State University with a $78,000 grant from the State Department, has been piloted in Cambodia by the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, a Woodland-Hills nonprofit group. It tested the game on children such as Chanpisey in its Phnom Penh office before introducing it to rural communities....Meanwhile, traditional efforts to warn children about the danger involve dry presentations using printed materials, "which is of limited appeal to children, and most people, actually," said Allen Tan, who manages Golden West's work in Cambodia. ++

“Tan, an American whose Cambodian father immigrated to the U.S. after surviving the Khmer Rouge's bloody rule in the late 1970s, said his own experience as an infantryman in Afghanistan and as a bomb-disposal technician in Iraq taught him how easily child's play can turn deadly. "If you're a kid and you see something shiny in an environment where things are mostly wooden, you're going to want to pick it up," he said. ++

“The video game uses an engaging platform to turn such mistakes into lessons, he said. Players instruct their pet dog to find food while dodging hidden dangers. They increase their scores by recognizing explicit cues, such as a skull-and-bones sign, or less obvious tip-offs, such as a barbed-wire fence, to save their avatar's life. When an explosion is triggered, a mine specialist character appears onscreen to explain what happened and how to avoid repeating the mistake. ++

“Corey Bohil, a visiting assistant professor at Michigan State University and part of the team that developed the game, said a digital template is being completed that could be tailored to other languages and imagery for a few thousand dollars. In Arab countries where many consider dogs to be unclean, for instance, the avatar could be a goat. And in Afghanistan, roadside bombs could be added to the repertoire of hazards, he said. ++

“The project follows growing popular interest in "serious games" designed to develop life skills and inform players about real-world problems. Michigan State's addition is primitive, with very modest graphics. But its target audience — youngsters in post-conflict countries who are unlikely to have been spoiled by high-tech games — is likely to be forgiving. "I think it's fun, and it teaches me to be more careful," said Chob Sopheak, 14, a tester in Phnom Penh whose neighbor was left maimed and deaf by an exploding mine. Like the two other girls playing that day, Sopheak had never used a computer but quickly adapted to the controls. ++

“Distribution is a significant hurdle for the project, however. The game was originally designed for the XO-1 computer, the "$100 laptop" that actually costs nearly $200 and hasn't really caught on globally. The version of the game that's just been released can be used on PCs and the XO-1. This first version benefits from an unlikely boost: narration in Khmer provided by the silky voiced Chhom Nimol, the Khmer lead singer of the popular Silver Lake-based Cambodian-style rock band Dengue Fever.” ++

Cambodia’s Land Mine Museum

Land Mine Museum (20 miles northeast of Siem Reap) offers information on land mines themselves and the destruction they can cause. Located on a rutted road parallel to the main road to Angkor Wat and also called the Civil War Museum, it is identified by a hand-painted sign and is housed in a shack. The mines and weaponry on display include bouncing betty mines, Russian rockets, Vietnamese fragmentation mines, poisoned spikes and other nasty stuffy. The founder of the museum Aki Ra, often accompanies visitors and offers explanation to visitors as they wander around. Many of the mines in the museum were disarmed by Aki himself. Aki opened the museum in 1999. he speaks pretty good English and Japanese and continues to hunt for mines in his free time.

Also on view are public service poster warning children to stay clear of mines, some Khmer Rouge cut-up-tire sandals and pictures made by Aki Ra that show atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge that he witnessed himself. If asked Aki will do a demonstration on how to look for and deactivate a mine. town. In 2000, local officials forced Aki to take down his sign on the main highway because they did not want tourists to link mines with Angkor Wat (the area has been thoroughly cleared of mines) but allowed the museum to remain open.

Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “With Khmer Empire architectural glories nearby, it would be easy to skip the Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Center. When I visited, I met its founder, Aki Ra, who at the age of 10 was given a gun by the Khmer Rouge and sent into the rice paddies to set explosives. After the war he devoted his life to dismantling 50,000 land mines left in the countryside and to raising maimed and orphaned children, work that last year won him nomination as a CNN Hero.[Source:Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2011]

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. To get there, go past the Hotel Grande de Angkor (on the road to the Angkor ticket checkpoint) about 1 kilometers to a small sign on the right for the Civil War Museum. Turn right, and follow this road to a four-way intersection and turn left. There is a sign for the place here. Go about 1 kilometers and you will see it on the right.

Cluster Bombs and the Vietnam War

Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles, which scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode immediately and can lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colors. A bomblet can kill or maim someone within 10 to 50 yards (meters). [Source: Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press, February 16, 2010]

Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times, Cluster bombs are “one of the most stubborn, long-lasting and cruelly undiscriminating weapons of modern war.” They were scattered by American B52 bombers in the so-called “Secret War” intended to drive back communist guerrillas and block supply lines for US enemies in Vietnam. They are small, innocuous looking, and often colourful – almost as if designed to attract the attention of playful children. And like the bomblet that killed Bounma, they can lie in the ground for a generation until the chance touch of a spade or a curious hand triggers them into deadly life. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times (London), May 4, 2008 /=]

“Cluster bombs consist of an outer casing that splits open to release as many as 700 individual “bomblets” designed to explode on impact, spreading blast and deadly fragments over soldiers and armoured vehicles in a 30 metre radius. But invariably, between 10 per cent and 40 per cent of the bomblets fail to detonate. The first cluster bombs were dropped by the Luftwaffe on Grimsby in 1943, and since then they have been used in more than a dozen conflicts. /=\

The group Handicap International says 98 percent of cluster-bomb victims are civilians, and nearly a third are children.

The Cluster Munition Coalition represents 200 activist groups against cluster bombs.

Cluster bombs

In the 1960s and 1970s, US forces made extensive use of cluster munitions in bombing campaigns in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The ICRC estimates that in Laos alone, 9 to 27 million unexploded submunitions remain, and some 11,000 people have been killed or injured, more than 30 percent of them children. An estimate based on US military databases states that 9,500 sorties in Cambodia delivered up to 87,000 air-dropped cluster munitions.

The United States dropped at least 26 million explosive submunitions on Cambodia during the Vietnam War, mostly in eastern and northeastern areas bordering the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Vietnam. The bombing is estimated to have left between 1.9 million and 5.8 million cluster munition remnants, including unexploded BLU-24, BLU-26, BLU-36, BLU-42, BLU-43, BLU-49, and BLU-61 submunitions. [Source: Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor]

Cross-border shelling by Thailand in April 2011 of Cambodia’s northern province, Preah Vihear, resulted in additional submunition contamination. An assessment by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) immediately after the shelling identified 12 strike sites and contamination by unexploded M42, M46, and M85 submunitions over an area of approximately 1.5km2, impacting four villages and affecting between 5,000 and 10,000 people. NPA said evidence in the area suggested about one in five of the submunitions had failed to detonate.[9]

The BLS, as of early July 2012, had identified 708 areas suspected to be contaminated by cluster munitions covering an area of 327.4km2.[10] An ERW survey conducted by CMAC with support from NPA in eastern Cambodia, focusing particularly on determining the extent of cluster munition remnants contamination more precisely than the BLS, had confirmed hazardous areas of 3.9km2 and identified suspected hazardous areas (SHAs) of 12.2km2 as of early September 2012. The Cambodia Mine/Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Victim Information System (CMVIS) recorded 16 submunition casualties in 2011, including four fatalities.

See Vietnam, Laos

Anti-Cluster Bomb Conference

In 2007, AFP reported: “An international conference seeking a global ban on cluster bombs opened in Lima with delegates pointing out that the victims are often children who pick up unexploded munitions years after the fighting has ended. "We should be worried that most of those killed or maimed are innocent civilians, mainly children who don't know what wars are," Branislav Kapetanovic, himself a cluster bomb victim, said to loud applause from delegates representing some 70 countries.A former Serbian army deminer, Kapetanovic lost his arms and legs as he tried to defuse a cluster bomb in 2000 in Sjenica, Serbia. The three-day conference aims at broadening support for an initiative launched in Oslo February, in which 46 countries called for an international treaty to eliminate the deadly munitions by 2008.[Source: AFP, May 24, 2007 by Agence France Presse]

The munitions contain as many as hundreds of bomblets, also known as submunitions, which scatter over wide areas. Many of the bomblets do not explode on impact, and lie dormant for years or decades. In many cases, they blow up when children pick them up to play with them, delegates said. "For children, these bombs might look like toys, and in some cases they look like bottles of perfume," said Gebran Soufan, who heads Lebanon's diplomatic mission in Geneva.

Cambodia's Sam Sotha told delegates his country remains littered with cluster bombs dropped by US forces during the 1970s, and children were often attracted by their shiny, toy-like appearance. He said 20 million cluster bombs had been dropped on the southeast Asian country. Sotha insisted on the urgency of reaching a treaty banning production, sales, use and storage of the deadly weapons.

Jody Williams and five other female Nobel prize laureates hailed the Lima gathering. "We applaud bold initiatives that tackle such issues — and lend our full support to this new process determined to eliminate cluster munitions," Williams said. "While so many of the worlds arms cause so much human misery, cluster munitions deserve to be singled out as an especially pernicious weapon of ill repute." "They have become synonymous with civilian casualties," the US Nobel laureate read from the statement signed by her and five women Nobel Peace Prize winners: Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemala-1992); Shirin Ebadi (Iran-2003); Wangari Maathai (Kenya-2004); Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Ireland-1976).

China, Russia and the United States, the largest manufacturers of cluster bombs, oppose the ban. At least 400 million people live in areas contaminated by unexploded bomblets weapons, according to groups supporting the proposed ban. The bombs are largely found in the Middle East, where they are used by Israel; in southeast Asian countries, where the United States deployed them in the 1970s; and in the former Yugoslavia.

Agent Orange Deformities in Cambodia

Agent Orange was used — mostly in secret — over parts of Cambodia. See Vietnam

Makoto Ota wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The proportion of babies born with disabilities in eastern Cambodia is more than 50 times higher than in other parts of the country, according to local doctors. While the reason for the higher rate has not officially been confirmed, it is generally believed to result from the use of Agent Orange, a dioxin-containing defoliant, by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. The scale of the damage wrought by use of the chemical in Cambodia is still unclear as there has been little research into the victims. Local doctors have called for an official survey on the effects. [Source: Makoto Ota, Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 16, 2008]

“In Preah Pdaw, Kampong Cham Province, a village with a population of about 1,000, Srey Neang delivered her first baby in November 2005. However, the baby had male and female genitals and three legs, one of which had two toes. "My doctor told me my baby was born like this because of my karma. I was so sad," Srey, 23, said. Meanwhile, in the Ponhea Krek district of the province, a 25-year-old couple had their fourth baby in October 2006. But the couple said it was born with no eyes and that the skin all over its body was chapped. The mother said she had given birth three times before and that all three babies had the same condition and had since died.

“Near the border with Vietnam there are numerous reports of babies being born with disabilities similar to those of Agent Orange victims, such as those with their fingers joined or missing, or with a cleft lip. A doctor at the province's central medical center said, "About 5 or 6 percent of the 200 babies born here each month have deformities." This compares with less than 0.1 percent in Phnom Penh. "In 1966 and 1967, military aircraft flew over almost every morning, dispersing light yellow powder that killed all the trees," said Meng Bang, 67, the village chief of Trameng in the province, about five kilometers from the Vietnam border.

“During the war, the Cambodian government repeatedly complained to the U.S. government about the use of the chemical, prompting the United States to compensate owners of dead trees in 1969, official U.S. documents show. He said they received compensation in 1967, which showed the U.S. government privately recognized the damage caused by the chemical.

“A doctor living in Phnom Penh has been conducting his own research into the effects and victims of Agent Orange in the country. "I'm sure that dioxins have been causing deformities in babies," he said. "So it's important to conduct comprehensive epidermal research in areas near the border to prove there's a relationship between the dioxin and the deformities." But he added, "It's difficult to secure funds and staff for that, so I'm going to have to rely on support from other countries."

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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