Ten People Killed by Antitank Mines in a Week

An antitank mine killed three people in Battambang province’s Samlot district on Sunday night, less than a week after another antitank mine killed seven people in nearby Ratanak Mondol district.

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Onlookers gather around the crater of an antitank mine blast in Battambang province’s Ratanak Mondol district last week. (Lim Cheavutha)

The danger of antitank mines, the majority of which were laid by Khmer Rouge forces in the 1980s and 1990s, increases every rainy season when soggy soil helps to activate the long-buried explosives, Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), said yesterday.

“During the dry season, the soil is very hard, especially in Battambang, and the mines don’t get triggered because [they] need a lot of pressure and weight,” Mr. Ratana said, adding that they are usually buried 1 meter beneath the surface.

During the wet season, however, the soil is soft, and when the soil is soft the sensors of antitank mines become more sensitive to pressure, he said.

“Every year, we find about 10,000 antipersonnel mines, and less than 500 antitank mines all over the country. But the antitank mines have a much larger impact.”

In what authorities recalled as being the deadliest single blast in recent years, 13 people, including a 1-year-old girl, were killed when their tractor triggered a pair of anti-tank mines in November 2010 in Battambang’s Banan district.

Before Sunday’s explosion, thousands of people had traveled on the small road in Ta Sanh commune, but it was only on Sunday night that the mine exploded, commune police chief Chey Dara said. Several people had been traveling on a homemade tractor when it became stuck in mud. As people tried to push the tractor out of a hole, the antitank mine detonated killing three men immediately. Two more were taken to the hospital with severe injuries.

“We found many pieces of the bodies, the heads, hands, some parts were dashed 200 meters away,” Mr. Dara said, adding that local residents had called CMAC to inspect the area, as they are afraid of more buried antitank mines.

That fear, said Mr. Ratana, is exactly what the Khmer Rouge had intended with their methods of planting antitank mines to ward off government tanks and armored vehicles.

While the antitank mine that exploded on Sunday contained one mine with about 6 kg of explosives, the explosion last week that killed seven people in Ratanak Mondol district involved two antitank mines planted on top of each other.

Five of the victims, aged between 16 and 25, died immediately in the double-mine blast and were buried at the scene. A sixth died on the way to the hospital and a seventh died on Sunday in the hospital. An eighth person is still in critical condition. Six of the seven dead were members of the same family.

“It was psychological warfare during the ’90s,” Mr. Ratana said.

The Khmer Rouge were trying to stop government forces from advancing into their territory and most likely laid the mines that exploded in the past week. At times, Khmer Rouge soldiers would put up to 10 antitank mines in the same hole—more for the psychological impact than anything else.

“They thought that if there is a big explosion, it will make the enemy more afraid,” Mr. Ratana said.

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