“My mother had a land-mine accident,” Mr. Yong says. “That’s why I want to clear mines. … We make communities safer.”
Ms. Malis feels the same way: “I don’t want people I know to be injured.”
Cambodia had about 165 casualties from anti-personnel mines and other battlefield leftovers last year, which is just one-fifth the annual toll a decade ago. But greater mechanization of agriculture is causing a steady rise in incidents involving anti-vehicle mines, which are not banned by the Ottawa Treaty and since 2009 have killed more Cambodians than anti-personnel mines.
Recently, a tractor ran over such a mine not far from Sek Sak, killing six people. “Dismembered body parts were left scattered on the ground and in the branches of surrounding trees,” a local news report stated.
A hole the size of a plate has been dug into the earth, revealing the edge of an innocuous-looking plastic disc: a Soviet PMN-2 – deadly and one of the more common mines found in Cambodia.
Delicately, team supervisor Prum Sarin places a small charge below the mine. He fixes it to a cable, then retreats. Yellow pegs in the surrounding ground mark the locations of mines previously destroyed. One peg stands within centimetres of the road, and a deminer explains that, if buried deeply enough, mines can evade detection but still be lethal.
At 15, Mr. Sarin was forcefully conscripted into the Khmer Rouge’s army. He eventually deserted, but not before planting more than 1,000 anti-personnel mines. Now 46, he has cleared twice that many in his 18 years with MAG.
“In Buddhist theory, a mistake is a mistake,” he says, speaking softly in a way that suggests he has weighed these words carefully. Sighing, he adds: “I cannot make up for what I have done.”
A siren warns everyone to take cover. Mr. Sarin presses the detonator, but nothing happens. He turns it in his hands, calls for fresh batteries and presses it again. There is a crack and a plume of smoke. The concussion reverberates off a nearby cluster of low mountains.
“It’s possible to make this country mine-free,” Mr. Sarin says. “I’ll be unemployed, but at least I’ll be happy.”
Will Canada help Cambodia finish the job? “Most of the world looks at this as a great thing that Canada does, and they still look for Canadian leadership,” MAC’s Mr. Hannon says.
But he is skeptical, as is Lloyd Axworthy, even though Canada has a robust economy and Article 6 of the Ottawa Treaty states that every signatory “in a position to do so shall provide assistance.”
“It’s clearly not a priority in [the government’s] idea of what Canada should be doing,” Mr. Axworthy says. And yet, 15 years after seeing the treaty’s birth, he remains active in the campaign – and optimistic.
“Back in the parliaments in the 1990s, it was a bipartisan effort – it wasn’t a Liberal initiative,” he insists, adding: “Wouldn’t it be nice for Canada at some point to say that what we started in 1997 has now been done?”
By the numbers
Syria was the only country to use anti-personnel mines last year, although Israel, Myanmar and Libya did so so in 2011, with accusations against Yemen and Sudan unverified.
Rebels planted land mines last year in six countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Yemen and Thailand.
160 states are now party to the Ottawa Treaty, with Poland declaring last month it plans to be No. 161.
35 nations have yet to sign or ratify the treaty, including the United States, China and Russia.
57 countries are heavily contaminated with mines, led by Cambodia, Afghanistan and Angola.
4,286 deaths and injuries due to mines and munitions were reported around the world in 2011.
$30-million was spent on aid for the world’s 500,000 land-mine survivors in 2011, down 30 per cent from 2010.
225 million anti-personnel mines (minimum estimate) are being stored in more than 100 countries, led by China and Russia. Only 19, including Canada, have destroyed their stockpiles.
$662-million was spent on global demining in 2011. Internationals donations dropped by 3 per cent.
Sources: ICBL, the World Bank, Mines Action Canada, Handicap International