“From April 1975 to January 1979, the Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia committed one of the most egregious slaughters of humanity in modern times.” It is estimated that two million people died from execution, starvation, forced labor, and disease. Approximately twenty-one percent of Cambodia’s population died in a span of three years, eight months, and twenty-eight days. Once the Khmer Rouge came into power under Pol Pot, new rules were put into place banning religion, money, and private ownership. The regime emptied Cambodia’s cities and towns, engaged in the forced relocation of large populations from urban to rural areas, turned many parts of the country into forced labor camps, and targeted political opponents and minority groups. It was not until 1979 that Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, was taken by the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge subsequently fell.
Cambodia is no longer an active war zone but it is certainly war torn. Following the Khmer Rouge rule, there not only exists a land mine issue, but also extreme poverty. According to the Mine Advisory Group (MAG), there is about 4,000 square kilometers of suspect land still left today. Bringing justice to the Khmer Rouge and its leaders has been slow by both the Cambodian and international governments. Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, once suggested that Cambodia, “dig a hole and bury the past.” Cambodia is one of the most heavily unexploded ordinance and mine-contaminated countries in the world.
In August 2007, I traveled to rural Cambodia to document the work of the non-government organization, EMERGENCY, an independent, neutral and nonpolitical humanitarian organization established to provide care to civilian victims of war and of land mines. It provides free, high standard medical and surgical care and promotes the respect of human rights.
For more information on Cambodia and the land mine crisis:
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): www.icrc.org
Mine Advisory Group (MAG): http://www.maginternational.org/
The United Nations Mine Action: http://www.mineaction.org/country.asp?c=6