kratie province – Four years ago, Yoeun Sam En discovered his children playing with the bomblets, or sub-munitions released from cluster bombs, that litter the verdant rice fields of eastern Cambodia.
He decided to collect the bomblets to keep his five children safe and began placing them in a hole where he intended to burn them. A nearby hoe, however, fell on the pile he had already collected, causing them to explode. After the blast, when Yoeun Sam En, 44, tried to brush dust off himself, he realized that both of his hands and lower arms were missing. He had also lost the use of his eyes.
Such explosions are an all-too-common experience for people living in eastern Cambodia, where deadly cluster munitions remain a threat to villages, particularly in the provinces of Kompong Cham and Kratie.
Many people who live here earn their living as farmers and have no choice but to continue working in fields scattered with unexploded bomblets dispersed from cluster bombs dropped by US aircraft during their war in Vietnam and the bombing of Cambodia, according to an analysis of US bombing data done by NGO Handicap International Belgium.
“[I am] still afraid now every day and night, especially for [my] children…playing with a bomb and exploding,” Yoeun Sam En said Wednesday at his Ankrong village home in Kratie district’s Kantuot commune.
Because of people like Yoeun Sam En, whose lives have been drastically affected by cluster bomb accidents, Kompong Cham and Kratie were visited this week by the UN Development Program’s campaign to ban cluster munitions.
The UNDP, along with several other NGOs, made the journey to Kratie by bus, to raise awareness among people who live in cluster bomb-affected communities of ongoing efforts to ban these weapons.
Cambodia has been very involved in ongoing negotiations to ban cluster bombs through an international treaty that will be signed in Oslo on Dec 3, 2008, according to Alex Hiniker, communications officer for UNDP.
“Cambodia’s really leading the way,” Hiniker said aboard the ban bus as it made its way back to Phnom Penh on Wednesday evening for its final event today.
“They’ve been active and vocal…and people are really looking to them for answers because they do have a lot of experience with UXOs,” she said, referring to unexploded ordnance.
In the meantime, efforts to remove cluster bombs from Kratie and Kompong Cham provinces appear to be under way, although officials with the Cambodian Mine Action Center could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Earlier this year, Yoeun Sam En traveled with Jesuit Relief Services, a humanitarian organization, to represent cluster bomb victims in Cambodia at a conference in Dublin, Ireland, where the treaty was initially adopted.
On Wednesday, sitting outside his home, surrounded by his family, he said he remains hopeful that the ban on cluster bombs would bring positive change to other countries affected by the weapons.
“I went to Dublin because I really don’t want to see such a bomb in the world anymore, especially to affect younger generations,” he said.