Floods Bring Another Danger to the Northwest—Landmines

In the past decade, thanks to extensive demining efforts, few residents of Battambang province’s Rokha Kiri district had seen land mines, millions of which once covered Cambodian soil after decades of civil war.

Now, they are a familiar sight again.

Heavy flooding in the northwest of the country has unearthed long-buried land mines and other unexploded remnants of war, which can float or be pushed along many kilometers before coming to rest at the roots of trees or stuck on riverbanks.

Close to the farmland of 51-year-old Mom Sokhum in Rokha Kiri, the torrents of destructive floodwater delivered a rusted anti-tank mine last week.

“When I was a soldier, it was normal [to see mines],” Mr. Sokhum said on Thursday.

“To see them now was a shock, because I haven’t seen them since the Khmer Rouge. Although I buried some myself, it still made me feel faint” to find the antitank mine, he said.

Mr. Sokhum quickly informed the district’s focal point for the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC).

CMAC explosive ordnance disposal experts safely destroyed the antitank mine on Mr. Sokhum’s land, along with about 30 other unexploded ordnance that have been washed up by flooding in Battambang and Pailin provinces in the past week alone.

Kear Choeum, CMAC coordinator for Rokha Kiri and Mong Russei districts in Battmbang province, said that villagers have reported finding 32 explosive devices—ranging from antitank mines and anti-personal mines to grenades and B40 rocket propelled grenades.

“Villagers have found a lot of mines after the flooding. We have informed them to be careful and to report anything strange to local authorities,” Mr. Choeum said, adding that he expects more reports of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO)  once the water recedes.

“This doesn’t happen all the time,” said Heng Ratana, executive director of CMAC. “We have never seen that many before.”

The washed-up mines and UXO, he said, are still in good condition and pose a danger, particularly if they sink back into the ground.

Mines that have been dislocated by flooding also pose a danger for deminers, he said.

“We believe that they can float quite far, so the position of the mines will be changed once everything dries up,” Mr. Ratana said.

“Normally, we expect the mine to be face up, so the deminer expects the mine to be vertical, not horizontal. But if they are washed up and sink back into the ground, the angle is changed. When it is in a different angle and you push to take it out, you will make it explode,” Mr. Ratana said.

“But we pray that nothing like that will happen.”

Mines moving location through flooding is an even greater concern for local communities, who may find that a previously safe area now harbors new dangers—though no one has been injured or killed yet, Mr. Ratana said.

“Some are found in cleared and safe areas.”

Mr. Sokhum said that seeing the antitank mine wash up had made him worried about farming his plot of land, which was previously free of such dangers.

“We don’t know where the safe areas are for us anymore.”

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