War ends for children when the last land mine is cleared

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Kimhong and her mother, Thy, on a football pitch in Battambang province. Thy uses a prosthetic limb after losing a leg to a landmine several years ago. Photo supplied

Kimhong had never played football before, but when she was invited to join a game with the other children living around Stoeng Toch Krom Primary School in Battambang province near Cambodia’s border with Thailand, she joined in.

What made this invitation special was that the school’s football ground had until recently been contaminated by landmines, a legacy of Cambodia’s many years of internal conflict. “I wish there are more safe playfields, so that the other kids can also play with safety,” Kimhong says.

The conflict ended a few decades ago but the remnants of war still claim lives, and limbs. Children are most vulnerable. To clear that deadly legacy of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) scattered across the nation requires commitment, support and resources.

For Kimhong’s mother, Thy, it was a special day too. Thy uses a prosthetic limb after losing a leg to a landmine several years ago. That has affected the life of her family. For as long as Kimhong can remember, she has had to help her mother cook, clean, and do other housework chores after school.

That day, as Kimhong played football with her friends on the new pitch, Thy sat on the sidelines, beaming.

In Cambodia, clearing the land of mines is first and foremost about saving lives and protecting youth like Kimhong. It is also about creating places free from fear, and an environment that is peaceful and conducive to inclusive development.

Once cleared of mines, lands are released to local authorities, as was the case of the football ground, at Stoeng Toch Krom Primary School. More often they are handed back to farmers and their families, many who live along Cambodia’s border with Thailand. The area was the last Khmer Rouge stronghold and is still one of the world’s most heavily mine-contaminated areas.

Among the countries helping the Cambodian government clear landmines is South Korea. A long-time development partner for the Cambodian people, South Korea has become a high-income country in just over a quarter century, about the same time as the conflict in Cambodia came to an end.

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For children like Kimhong and her mother, this is a development story full of hope, peace and the opportunity for prosperity. Photo supplied

South Korea not only brings much-needed financial support but also contributes rich knowledge gained from its own experience of conflict recovery, as well as one of the world’s most remarkable transitions from low- to high-income country status.

The “Saemaul Undong”, or New Village Movement, was a key part of South Korea’s remarkable transition in less than a generation. This national movement was instrumental in improving conditions in rural communities as it strengthened social cohesion. It significantly reduced rural poverty by increasing household incomes, improving basic infrastructure and services, revitalising local communities and empowering women.

South Korea’s approach to mine clearance is not simply to maintain peace, but to build the foundations for prosperity. In Cambodia, through the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), South Korea has partnered with UNDP to support the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA). The initiative is placed within a larger context of village development, following the successful example of South Korea.

The Cambodian government made a mine-free Cambodia their 18th Sustainable Development Goal. In doing so, Cambodia firmly signaled that mine clearance is an integral part of the 2030 Development Agenda. That is a connection that is deeply understood in South Korea and makes the new village model especially appropriate here in Cambodia.

For children like Kimhong and her mother, this is a development story full of hope, peace and the opportunity for prosperity. It is a story that can only be sustained with continued support and resources.

Rho Hyunjun is country director of KOICA Cambodia. Nick Beresford is resident representative of UNDP Cambodia.