Civilian group clears unexploded land mines to help Thais live normal lives

In Photo: IN this August 26, 2009, file photo, elephant keepers assist Motola, a 48-year-old female elephant who lost part of her left front leg after stepping on a land mine 10 years ago, after attaching her with an artificial leg at the Elephant Hospital in Lampang province, northern Thailand. The Thai Civilian Deminer Association is helping government soldiers clear an area in Chong-prik temporary border pass, Buached district of the northeastern Surin province, for land mines.

BANGKOK—A Thai civilian group said recently that they have found some 2,971 land mines in an area near Thai-Cambodia border since last September and was helping the military clear them all in several days.

This area, marked Suspected Hazardous Area (SHA) 397-01-2AD and located in Chong-prik temporary border pass, Buached district of the northeastern Surin province, is just one small share of mine-contaminated lands along Thailand-Cambodia border. These mines dated back to the Cambodian civil war.

Amornchai Sirisai, project manager of the Thai Civilian Deminer Association, who knew this part of history and these mines very well, said many forces had buried mines here.

“The history and these war remnants just keep us in mind how terrible the war is and what the importance right now is to clear them all and return this contaminated area to local people,” Amornchai said.

These contaminated areas, mostly forests, are traditionally “supermarkets” for local people, as they like to go inside to pick up mushrooms, vegetables, etc. Many of them had stepped on these mines leaving crippled and even losing their lives.

“I am so happy that they came here to clear these mines,” said Teerapong Chandam, a 50-year-old local resident who lost his leg 30 years ago when picking up mushrooms in the forest.

From Monday to Saturday, some 12 members of the civilian group climbed a mount and went into SHA 397-01-2AD to detect the land. Once they find a mine, they will mark the place with a wooden stick and a small red board reading “Danger! Mines.”

Officers of the third Humanitarian Mine Action Unit of the Thai army will then stand in to clear the mines.

During five months, Amornchai’s team has found 2,971 land mines in the sultry tropical woody area, where, according to them, was a battlefield between various forces.

Many red boards could be seen sometime dense in the field.

According to Kan Rittiplang, field manager of the group, all these 2,971 land mines would be cleared soon and those which are dangerous to move will be destroyed at the site where they were buried.

“I am not afraid, we are familiar with this job,” said Khamfai Yaowasri, a member of the civilian group. Khamfai, who was born in Sisaket province, a border province next to Surin, said he began to learn how to clear mines because one of his relatives died after stepping on a mine long ago.

Many members of the civil group established in 2010 had experience of addressing of unexploded land mines along the Thailand-Cambodia border for more than 10 years, as they worked with Thai military and Thailand Mine Action Center before.

Local people, like Teerapong, also told officers about the location of these mines according to their knowledge.

Amornchai’s team also mentioned their gratitude for China for the help in training them to deal with mines for three months in 2005 in a Thai sapper school and giving Thailand many related equipment.

Amornchai said after these areas are cleared, local residents can go inside to collect forest products and the development of border trade will be promoted.

The group has already finished a project from April 2014 to September 2015 in Surin province, removing some 2,729 land mines, and thus, clearing an area of 2,445,513 square meters, he told Xinhua.

According to the Thailand Mine Action Center, an estimate until September 2016 showed there are still 304 SHAs in 13 provinces, covering an area of 421,403,072 square meters, 83.3 percent of which is in the seven provinces along the Thai-Cambodia border.

“After we finished the clearance here in Thailand, I think we will go to Laos, a country severely contaminated by unexploded cluster bombs,” Amornchai said.


Image Credits: AP