Minefields, the dangerous jungles between Thailand and Cambodia

Written by Frank on November 24th, 2009

exclusive report for SIAMPEDIA




After the bitter 30-year civil war and unrest ceded just before the Millennium, Cambodia was left with millions of landmines which were put in the ground by a variety of warring armies. The ceasefire didn’t effect the killing and maiming potential of landmines, daily victims occur ever since. Those kept killing or dismembering cattle and people at random day after day and their latent danger doesn’t vanish with time. Mines keep their killing potential for very long times!

Hardest hit are the territories bordering Thailand, that area was also the last stand of the infamous “Khmer Rouge” killer hordes. So many different armies fought the bloody wars, invaders from Vietnam also played a major force in them. Everyone used landmines and no one kept track of where they were put. School-kids were victimized on their way to and from school. No step was safe outside the beaten path and secured zones. NGOs tasked the dilemma and they scored a limited success. mine sweepers were immediately deployed and grid-mapped troubled areas, local units were educated and large areas were cordoned off unsafe, or staked out with red painted minefield markers as shown below:

Most public areas and territories around touristic attractions can be considered safe now. Thanks to the enduring effort of humans involved here. Much has been done and quite some sweeping task accomplished, but mines are an ever present danger and will remain this for a some more decades of intensive mine sweeping. Some areas were cleared and are considered safe now, but experts estimate another hundred years for Cambodia to be considered mine-free again. Next to landmines, unexploded ordnance and bombs or grenades do yield a great danger potential just as well, they also have to be dug out carefully and defused or dissembled by trained specialists.

The area along the Thai border is considered densely mined, some floods or erosion may have even moved the mines and spilled them over on Thai soil. Minesweepers have been visited by the author in the Provinces of Sa Keo and Buriram. There are areas in Chantaburi and Trat as well as in SiSaKet Provinces, which are also considered unsafe to trespass for humans. Mine clearance there is on it’s way. Thai territory will be mine free in the near future.

If you encounter any warning signs, please pay attention and do not venture into the wild. The unsafest spot may be right under your foot doing the next step. If you find any unexploded ordnance, please see immediate help from local authorities, they have the proper personnel and channels to deal with this. The below picture shows me with my Austrian friend Stefan in Cambodia, where he got the crash course in dealing with these matters. Stefan is a professional teacher at some college near Vienna, and a certified commercial pilot instructor in his regular time. He made a tremendously gifted travel companion for me during our excursions into rural Cambodia.

My eldest son Franky is displaying a mock-up built from a defused anti-personnel-mine during another trip in the northern Cambodian provinces. He accompanied me a few years back on a number of trips and had shown great interest in landmines and especially de-mining activities. You can see it won’t take much to hide such a device in any ground and they aren’t any less lethal, as the bigger ones. They trigger at around 10 pounds of pressure on the top part, any human will enforce much more with every step they take.

UXO or unexploded ordnance falls into the same dangerous category. Any fired artillery shell or a grenade remains “hot” until safely defused, dismantled or simply blown up by secondary devices. Field teams of sweepers hate them a lot and extreme caution has to be the utmost priority in dealing with them. Often they cannot be defused on-site, blowing them up or transporting the dangerous explosives to a safe dump or a special lab, are the common valid options. This safety ordnance dump here shows the daily finds from one single specialist-team in Cambodia:

Don’t let a corroded exterior fool you, the dangerous mechanisms and chemicals are well protected inside, just waiting to ignite! Bombs are hard to identify, they are usually partly or completely buried. Call for professional help or notify authorities should you encounter any such objects!

Do never touch or handle them yourself!

Divers, please beware when doing your recreational dives in the Gulf of Thailand near Cambodia or in Cambodian waters. Naval ordnance has been discovered near coral reefs, there is still plenty of it unexploded and rotting away on the sea-bed. Some reefs or even rocks and islands have doubled in the past as naval targets, it can’t be considered safe until checked by professional divers and Navy staff. Unexploded ordnance is nothing you want to toy with!

Any landmine and unexploded ordnance must be handled by experienced de-mining specialists. retired armed forces engineers and explosive-handlers make up a large percentage of the volunteer force that is aiding the NGOs in their tasks to make this country safe again. Other specialists worry about geo-positioning and grid-mapping the questionable turf. Anti-tank mines are rare, and the Cambodian trains from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville don’t require to push a ballast wagon in front of the diesel engine anymore. This was a common procedure up to the Millennium and saved a number of irreplaceble, expensive diesel engines!

The airfield of Koh Kong had an incident, where the domestic inaugural flight from Phnom Penh hit a mine on the dirt runway. Nobody gut hurt then and any damage was restricted to the wheel of the airplane. This incident however marked the end of civil aviation in Koh Kong, just after the inauguration of it. Airplanes are a treasured commodity in Cambodia and minefields don’t make perfect runways.

Modern mines, like the directional “Claymore” mine, were not widely available then. They pose no danger in this scenario. Their added danger is, that they can be triggered by trip-wire, infrared beam or in other sophisticated ways. They rarely are dug in, but can be used in many ways from overhead to any possible upright position. My son Franky is displaying Claymore mines here:

Claymores are not found in Cambodia for a long time now, their defensive character and high price made their presence here a rarity, they pose however a big danger in other worldwide theaters. Due to their massive killing potential, these are a very dangerous object to deal with.

Hundreds of small steel balls or bullets are encased in a single Claymore mine, the load behind them blasts them in a given direction, hence the term “directional mine”.

The 700 steel balls are propelled by the mine’s C4 load to a high speed of about 1200 m/sec. The projected shrapnel pattern is about 2 m high, spreads roughly 60 degrees in an arc-shaped pattern and is very deadly up to 50- 100 m in range. M18A1 is their military code and they are worldwide used and also copied. They are said to be slowing an enemies pursuit-speed and efficient in times, when forward deployed teams are withdrawing or being hunted for instance. Their ease of operation and fool-proof setup with so-called “command detonation options” brought them out of the “victim triggered” reach of international mine-treaties and landmine-bans.

The APM (anti personnel mine) in the picture below, is considered victim triggered.

Most of the horrific landmines in Cambodia are of Chinese or Vietnamese origin, they were used very uncontrolled and deliberately by all war parties. The lack of metal on some models makes it hard for clearance-teams to identify a hidden mine. Areas with a high landmine probability still put a stranglehold on agriculture and the people. Please be careful and use extreme caution, when you see the de-mining specialists doing their hard work.

© by Frank P. Schneidewind


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