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Allegations of new landmines along Cambodian/Thai border

October 9, 2009

Thailand has accused Cambodia of laying landmines in the land around Preah Vihear temple as part of an ongoing border dispute. Since the French left Cambodia and Thailand in the 1950’s, sovereignty over Preah Vihear and its surrounding land has been an issue of contention and violence between the two countries. The international community has generally sided with the Cambodians, naming Preah Vihear as a Unesco World Heritage site in Cambodia.

Preah Vihear Temple

In the last year and a half though, the conflict has only grown worse, with troops from both countries surrounding the temple. Soldiers from both sides have died by sporadic gunfire. It is generally understood by people in Cambodia, and many in Thailand as well, that the Thai government’s focus on the temple is a political move aimed at stirring up nationalism before the country’s upcoming elections.

I have absolutely no way of knowing whether there is any truth to these accusations, but the suggestion is extremely troubling. Regardless of the political situation, the use of landmines would both illegal and horribly immoral. Legally, the country has signed the Ottawa treaty and therefore is bound by international law to not use landmines. On a human level, Cambodia has among the highest rates of landmine explosions in the world, resulting in overwhelming numbers of deaths and injuries from landmine accidents. Here, one in 290 people has a physical disability from a landmine. Accidents with decades-old landmines still take place every once in a while on land that has yet to be demined.

Every day here, I live and work with people who have survived landmine explosions. Their triumphs are inspiring; they truly are survivors who have not let their disabilities limit their potential. But their entire lives – not just their bodies – have been undoubtedly shaped by the violence they experienced. Thinking of these friends and colleagues, I can only hope that Thailand’s accusations are politically-motivated lies, aimed at stirring up dissension and mistrust among the Cambodian public.

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