Future Prosperity of Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) through Cooperation


April 9, 2018

Future Prosperity of Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) through Cooperation

by Takehiko Nakao

https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2018/04/08/securing-the-future-prosperity-of-the-greater-mekong-subregion/

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries have made stunning progress over the past quarter century. Once plagued by poverty, they are now economic success stories.

Image result for Phnom Penh the hub of the Mekong Subregion
Phnom Penh–The Hub of Greater Mekong Subregion, Cambodia

 

The GMS Economic Cooperation Program has contributed significantly to this transformation. Since it was established in 1992 as a means to enhance economic relations and promote regional cooperation, its six member countries—Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam—have built a platform for economic cooperation that has mobilized almost $21 billion for high-priority infrastructure projects. Foreign direct investment into the subregion has surged ten-fold and trade between its countries has climbed from $5 billion to over $414 billion.

But the subregion faces challenges to its prosperity. Further reducing poverty, climate change adaptation and mitigation, energy efficiency, food security, and sustainable urbanization remain priorities of the GMS Program. Countries also face new challenges, including growing inequalities, rising levels of cross-border migration, and the potential impact on jobs of the fourth industrial revolution.

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Tsubasa Bridge ( Neak Loeung ),Cambodia

Moreover, GMS countries have agreed to significant commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

There are also emerging opportunities for the region, including incorporating new technologies in various sectors such as education, agriculture, health, and finance. GMS countries are situated at the crossroads of South and Southeast Asia, and hence they can benefit from the increased momentum for growth in South Asia.

As GMS leaders gather this week in Hanoi to chart the future of the program, it’s a good time to consider how a new generation of initiatives can ensure the GMS Program remains relevant and responsive to the subregion’s needs.

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The Hanoi Action Plan and the GMS Regional Investment Framework 2022, both proposed for adoption at the Summit, provide a platform for countries to strengthen their cooperation through continuous innovation. These two documents will have a sharpened focus on the GMS Program’s strategic goals of enhancing connectivity, competitiveness, and community in the subregion.

Connectivity, the first objective, has been dramatically improved. More than 10,000 kilometers of new or upgraded roads and 3,000 kilometers of transmission and distribution lines have been added under the program. These transport networks have been transformed into an interconnected network of transnational economic corridors, building on 25 years of work to extend the benefits of growth to remote areas. The Ha Noi Action Plan calls for the continued expansion of these economic corridors to boost connectivity both between and within countries.

The subregion’s competitiveness is improving through ongoing efforts to facilitate transport and trade flows, enhance agriculture exports, and promote the GMS as a single tourism destination after receiving a record 60 million visitors in 2016. Looking ahead, it will be important to continue cutting red tape and to remove remaining barriers to transport and trade.

Finally, communities are being strengthened through cross-border initiatives to control the spread of communicable diseases, expand educational opportunities, protect the subregion’s rich biodiversity, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

GMS countries have identified a new pipeline of 227 projects worth about $66 billion under the GMS Regional Investment Framework 2018–2022. These projects will expand economic prosperity by developing cross-border transport and energy infrastructure.

ADB, which has been the program’s secretariat since its inception, expects to provide $7 billion over the next 5 years for a range of projects supporting transport, tourism, energy, climate change mitigation and adaptation, agribusiness value chains, and urban development. This builds on more than $8 billion in financing provided by ADB so far under the program.

To deliver these projects and make headway on other priorities such as infectious disease control and environmental preservation, strong partnerships are vital. The GMS Program depends on the collaboration of many stakeholders, including local administrations and communities, development partners, academia, and the media.

The GMS will benefit from strengthened partnerships with other regional and global cooperation platforms, leading to new opportunities for future development.

Partnerships with the private sector will also be increasingly important, and it is gratifying to see them deepening through the GMS Business Council, the Mekong Business Initiative, the e-Commerce Platform, GMS tourism and agriculture forums, and the recent Finance Sector and Trade Finance Conference.

I am optimistic that the subregion will meet its challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities. By working together, GMS countries can deliver rapid, sustainable, and inclusive growth for another 25 years and beyond. ADB will continue to be an important and trusted partner in that endeavor.

The End of Cambodia’s Ersatz Democracy


February 8, 2018

The End of Cambodia’s Ersatz Democracy

by Author: Editorial Board, East Asia Forumwww.eastasiaforum.org 

In 2017, the world’s attention turned to Cambodia for all the wrong reasons.

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Phnom Penh City

When Cambodians went to the polls to elect municipal councils in July, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) saw a substantial boost in its support, particularly in the rural areas long considered a stronghold of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The local results were seen to put the CNRP in a competitive position in the national election scheduled for July 2018.

 

Rather than prompting the government to become more responsive to the concerns of disaffected voters, the 2017 polls became the trigger for a brazen crackdown on the opposition, the press and civil society. The CNRP has been dissolved in a controversial court ruling, and its leader Kem Sokha has been jailed on trumped-up charges of treason. Media outlets such as the respected Cambodia Daily newspaper and independent radio stations have been shut down. The government is intimidating the largest and most vocal NGOs.

As Astrid Norén-Nilsson writes in this week’s lead article (which is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead), the ongoing crackdown marks no less than ‘the endpoint of Cambodia’s era of electoral democracy — an era in which the opposition may have faced uphill struggles but was nonetheless dependably allowed to contest elections’.

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Certainly, Hun Sen’s Cambodia was no poster child for democracy and good governance before 2017. As political scientist Lee Morgenbesser has argued, after Hun Sen’s rise to power in the 1993 election overseen by the United Nations, the country became a textbook case of ‘competitive authoritarianism’. This is a system in which parties and civil society are allowed enough freedom to maintain the appearance of competitive politics, but where political institutions are so rigged that the opposition has no real path to power. In this view, the mistake of the CNRP was to get too popular, to the extent that a national election victory seemed a possibility — a scenario that Hun Sen could not countenance.

The degeneration of a pretend democracy into outright autocracy also marks the failure of decades of investment in Cambodian democracy and good governance by Western governments and international organisations. It is perhaps a small sense of responsibility for the current predicament that gives urgency to questions about what the world can or should do in response to Hun Sen’s crackdown. At present, targeted sanctions seem ‘the only realistic possibility of a somewhat modified course of government action, though [they are] a highly uncertain one’, writes Norén-Nilsson.

 

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A peaceful and attractive county side in a rapidly developing and stable economy

The note of caution she sounds is appropriate. Cambodia is no economic pariah; rather, millions of Cambodians are beneficiaries of trade with the West. As Heidi Dahles highlights in her review of the Cambodian economy, trade unions representing garment workers have spoken out against Western economic sanctions. Western governments should take such warnings seriously. Any program of sanctions that harms Cambodian export industries would only play into the hands of Hun Sen and his narrative that the West is out to undermine Cambodia. Heavy-handed sanctions not only fail to guarantee changes in the behaviour of the target regime, but can lead to isolation and economic hardship that serves nobody’s interests (the experience of Myanmar under the old military junta is a cautionary tale).

However Western governments respond, there are ultimately larger forces at work aiding the entrenchment of authoritarianism both in Cambodia and elsewhere in the region. Hun Sen’s crackdown takes place in a world where authoritarian leaders are less dependent on the West for their aid and investment needs — and thus have fewer incentives to cultivate support among Western politicians by promising reforms and democracy. As Norén-Nilsson writes, ‘China’s full political and economic support enables Cambodia’s shift to autocracy, which occurs in the context of President Trump’s voluntary handing over of American regional and global leadership to China’.

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Hun Sen and his CPP can expect to win the July 2018 election decisively in a contest compromised by the effective exclusion of the largest opposition party. By closing off avenues for peaceful opposition, Hun Sen has thrown up hazards for Cambodia’s future. As we have learned from the fall of autocrats from Indonesia to Egypt in recent decades, when struck by crises dictatorships can prove surprisingly brittle — and efforts to unseat them typically lead to large-scale violence.

The West will make noises about the illegitimacy of the Prime Minister’s victory, and will likely continue to apply and even extend sanctions. But Hun Sen is here to stay, and the dictates of realpolitik mean that the Western powers will soon revert to pragmatic cooperation with Hun Sen’s regime when necessary.

The EAF Editorial Board is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Amy King, Liam Gammon, Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and Ben Hillman, and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.

Also read: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/11/05/cambodian-democracy-on-the-ropes/

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/01/16/has-cambodias-economic-boom-imploded/

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/03/18/after-thirty-years-of-hun-sen-where-is-cambodia-now/

An architectural beauty and brutality


August 20, 2016

An architectural beauty and brutality

by Julia Mayer

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Can architecture help heal the wounds of Cambodia’s genocide? Julia Mayer takes a look at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia’s new memorial to a dark past, the Sleuk Rith Institute in Phnom Penh. 

Passion and patience make strange bedfellows but are essential when best-laid plans temporarily go awry.

Youk Chhang, founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute and the Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) continues to work tirelessly on his ambitious proposal to reconcile his country’s brutal past with its rich ancient cultural heritage. He is trying to build a multi-purpose centre commemorating Cambodia’s genocide and is doing this in what can best be described as an uneasy present.

Facing numerous setbacks, Chhang, who is also a survivor of the infamous Khmer Rouge era of 1975-79 in which more than two million people perished, remains undeterred.

“We were planning to start building in February this year,” says Chhang. But efforts have ground to a halt. The delay is very complicated involving government bureaucracy, and we are working to resolve it now.”

Designed by the late multi award-winning London-based Iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid, back in 2014, the Sleuk Rith Institute’s design immediately conjures images of a distant future as well as Cambodia’s glorious past. Five towers reminiscent of Angkor Wat rise from the monsoonal mists of the famed and beautiful jungle to inspire yet another allegory — trees of knowledge and life.

“The repression of cultural knowledge during the French colonial era, followed by the Khmer Rouge regime’s ideology as a form of education meant that links to the rest of the world were severed.It was an ideology that almost destroyed us. Today we are still chained to the past, which is why for me, only education can set us free. We should not be enslaved by the past. We cannot escape it; we have to face it,” says Chhang.

The name Sleuk Rith is highly symbolic and refers to the power of leaves, explains Chhang, as he recounts a story of Cambodian intellectuals and activists secretly writing messages on dried leaves during the colonial era to preserve their knowledge and culture.

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The symbolism runs even deeper.

There are distinctive parallels between the ancient regional tradition of meticulously writing Hindu then later Buddhist texts on palm leaves, sastra, to the hundreds and thousands of leaves of paper filled with forced confessions delivered under unabated torture, to reams of survivor testimonies painstakingly recorded and collected by the DC-Cam team since it began its work in 1995.

Chhang is quick to mention that within the concept of the power of leaves exists another meaning — plain paper, or that critical moment before the page fills with ideas and feelings, and which allows for the possibility of new versions of the history of genocide.

“When I was growing up, there was no education, and very few had traveled outside of the country,” says Chhang.

“As a result of genocide, Cambodians are now all over the world, and I think, because of that, people have formed a new version of the history of genocide. Each person comes with a different idea, different ways of thinking and different views, so there’s no singular interpretation.”

The new building is meant to inspire reflection, reconciliation and the restoration of relationships broken by the Khmer Rouge’s near four-year reign of terror. However, unlike other memorials and in situ sites scattered throughout the country offering explicit and undeniably invaluable evidence of the atrocities orchestrated by the regime, the Sleuk Rith Institute aims to tell the same horror story a little differently.

“Many young people look at a skull, a shackle or a blood stain on a wall and feel that it is the older generation who are responsible for the mistakes made,” says Chhang.

“They see the past as remote and have problems seeing it as part of their identity. But if you come in with photography, with beauty, with dialogue, you bring them in, and they start to question.”

Reinterpreting the atrocities in any way as ‘beautiful’ immediately calls for a reevaluation of aesthetics, as does the message that is hoped to be shared and retold by others.

Sites like Tuol Sleng, the notorious prison and interrogation center codenamed S-21, and Choeung Ek ‘Killing Fields’ where the majority of prisoners were executed, all serve as important witnesses to the past.

However, it can be argued that they elicit intense feelings of pity, shame and disbelief, which can be counterproductive when trying to understand what happened and to possibly achieve reconciliation through empathy. And not everyone can visit such places.

“The best memorials evoke reflection and commemoration, but are also living, dynamic places that engage with all generations in the community,” says Chhang.

“A memorial should be enlightening, a place where both the younger and older generation can feel comfortable learning about the tragedies of the past to find new ways to heal, and to move forward.”

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The centre will not only commemorate the lives lost but also serve as a tribute to the survivors via a museum of memory. It will also be an archive of all documents about the period, a library and an international research center for genocide studies, placing the Cambodian experience in context with other atrocities still being perpetuated today despite global outcries.

While such outcries have sadly done little to lessen the frequency and the impact of genocide across the globe, the fact remains that there are survivors and with them comes the arduous and initially insurmountable task of rebuilding a stable cultural identity that helps to heal. These efforts require hope and relentless optimism.

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Architect Zaha Hadid

Architecturally, Zahara Hadid’s futuristic designs embody this kind of optimism, as well as the belief that the past defines the future. The future depends on it, and, so by challenging the more traditional pessimistic practices of memorialising traumatic histories, her designs reach into the future as if to show that this can be, if not already, achieved. In the case of the Sleuk Rith Institute, this can be seen in the shimmering waterways and the warmth of exposed wooden beams that evoke the image of verdant and fertile trees or the themes of the rebirth of knowledge.

By widening the conceptual space for healing, the Sleuk Rith Institute has a profoundly important role to play. It shows that heritage so unequivocally rooted in pain and shame can be transformative through an oddly unsettling yet familiar kind of beauty that has the potential to evoke much-needed empathy and compassion.Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Youk Chhang, founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute and the Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia

“Genocide is part our identity– it is our identity. It just takes a matter of time to accept it,” says Chhang.

Time is a great healer, and after a succession of delays we can only hope that Cambodia will see a building it so desperately deserves — one that will aid a more informed idea of the past well into the future.

Julia Mayer is a Masters of Museum and Heritage Studies student at the Australian National University. She has lived in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea, and has written extensively on traditional arts, performances and cinema in the region. She is also the Asia Correspondent for Metro Magazine Australia.

A building and brutality

Don’t miss the ASEAN bus


May 14, 2016

Don’t miss the ASEAN bus Comment | The Star Online

by Dr. Munir Majid

Phnom Penh: Cambodia is now an emerging ASEAN Tiger with opportunities for investment in hotels, infrastructure, industrial estates, agriculture and tourism  and related services. Don’t miss the boat.–Din Merican

BREADTALK, a Singapore bakery, will open its first outlet in Myanmar in early 2017, in a franchise agreement with that country’s real estate giant the Shwe Taung Group. Breadtalk has spread to nearly 800 locations in primarily ASEAN countries.

A leading Singapore logistics group is looking to extend its trucking reach to Vientiane and as far as Kunming while driving also for the expansion of e-commerce across the region. Thai retail and real estate companies, such as the Central Group, have large footprints, particularly in continental South-East Asia, as they prepare and seek to tap demand and consumption from the growing and young middle classes in ASEAN.

VietJet, a low-cost Vietnamese airline, is fast spreading its wings and wants to fly all over ASEAN, using colors of bold red, albeit with a touch of yellow, made all too familiar by AirAsia.

China has a huge infrastructure development agenda in ASEAN, through the AIIB and One-belt, One-road initiatives, and through financing commitments in more focused areas such as the Mekong sub-region, the most recent, in March, being US$11.5bil in loans and credit for infrastructure under the Mekong-Lancang Co-operation framework.

American investment in ASEAN (total capital stock US$226bil) is larger than that in Japan, China and India put together (capital stock US$202bil), even if the European Union is still the largest foreign investor in ASEAN.

Japanese companies are all over the region, Toyota’s and Honda’s automobile hubs in Thailand being quite impressively well placed to take advantage of the free movement of the supply of parts under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), of the growing market of 630 million (the third largest in the world), and of the single market and production base to export worldwide.

This is ASEAN. That frequently cited combined GDP of US$2.6 trillion, seventh largest economy in the world, poised to become the third largest, after only China and India, in 2030 or just after.

Across the region, proactive companies from within and outside ASEAN, from a range of businesses, traditional and conventional, digital and new world economy, are on the move to realise value from its growth and potential.

There are gaps and gaping holes in the integration process, including in the AEC and in socio-economic and political development, but a company or business would be left behind if it just dwelt on them.

Many Malaysian companies are of course in ASEAN and trading with ASEAN countries, in the financial services sector, in legal services, oil and gas, power, manufacturing and other businesses. However, there are also others who are not engaged and only have many complaints about the AEC’s imperfections.

Many of these complaints are not misplaced. However, in business you cannot wait for the perfect circumstances before you move. You wait and you lose all the first mover advantages. You wait and you don’t develop relationships, and it will be too late and take too long to cultivate them when the time is ripe. You take risks, calculated against potential benefits.

A bakery venturing into a rice-eating country, only just now coming out of the economic dark ages, is not something without risk. But a calculation that the mostly young people in the population of 52 million will form the basis of a growing future sophisticated demand counterbalances it.

Political change is taking place in Myanmar. It is early days. There is no clear succession plan after Aung San Suu Kyi. But is the change not irreversible? Will economic empowerment and the spread of its benefit not act as a check against any reversal?

And, coming back to the region as a whole, will not the imperfections and weaknesses of the AEC be addressed over time? Indeed they are being addressed. As ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) chair last year, we worked very hard to obtain explicit recognition of the private sector role in the ASEAN integration process, and a hard-wiring of the collaboration in that process, rather than just top-end picture opportunity dialogues with leaders and ministers.

As a result, the AEC 2025 Blueprint made extensive mention of the role ASEAN-BAC is expected to play, in association with other ASEAN and non-ASEAN private sector councils, representatives and interested sectoral expert bodies. There are actually 19 such councils and at least 66 sectoral expert bodies.

ASEAN-BAC is already working to ensure effective representation of views in a coordinated manner to the leaders, ministers and officials. Perhaps, more importantly, ASEAN-BAC is identifying expert resources who can make their contribution in official ASEAN committees and working groups in sectors and areas of concern. This bottom-up work is perhaps more important than the big-ticket dialogues whose outcomes are often diffused and dissipated.

Therefore, working both top-down and bottom-up, ASEAN-BAC and all associated private sector groups will achieve better outcomes to address AEC shortcomings and imperfections.For example, in the vexed area of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) there is an understanding with officials to prioritise their removal in four sectors: agri-food, healthcare, logistics and retail (including e-commerce). The ASEAN Co-ordinating Committee on NTBs has to set up the four working groups to get cracking.

As another example, the proposal by the ASEAN Business Club to have a private sector Financial Services and Capital Markets expert group work with the ASEAN Secretariat could be adapted to have the experts work in the relevant committee or working group for faster financial sector integration.

All this takes painstaking work not always compensated by desired progress. There will be frustrations, even recriminations. But it has to be done. The private sector must be committed and involved, even as they complain about the many shortfalls of the AEC.

Having said all this, it does not mean companies should sit on their hands and just wait and see. Those who have not made their ASEAN move should really ponder on what they would be missing and on why those who have, have done so.Everyone is operating in the same ASEAN, warts and all. Those who are still waiting could very well miss out.

Indeed their very business will be threatened as markets become more open and competitive with a more integrated AEC – something which, ironically, they are waiting for.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Cambodia : Making a Difference


March 27, 2016

Cambodia : Making a Difference

by Dr. Michael Mineham

It’s a welcome opportunity where we can do something that actually makes a difference.

This is what happened when I first visited Cambodia. I found out that I could personally pay to have landmines destroyed, along with other explosive remnants of war. Which I did. Other Australian friends are also helping out. Associate Tony Langer explains more:

Cambodia would like to present an image to the world of a peaceful, developing country – largely to promote business and tourism. And yes, this is true, but Cambodia is still one of the countries in the world that is most contaminated by the explosive remnants of war (ERW). Afghanistan and Iraq are high up on the list, but depending on the sources, Cambodia comes in at anywhere between numbers 4 to 6.

A Young Cambodian Mine Victim–Make a Difference for her

This is because Cambodia endured nearly 30 years of international and civil war, from the 1960s until 1998.Part of Cambodia’s western border with Thailand is still one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. This is the K5 minefield that was largely laid by Vietnamese forces after driving the Khmer Rouge into the mountains of the west.

The Khmer Rouge at that time also laid landmines in front of their fortifications and along strategic routes. The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces estimate that on average, there are 2,400 antipersonnel mines per kilometer of this K5 mine belt.

I recently talked to a social worker who told me that in one day, in the western province of Pailin, he met three landmine victims. Each of these victims had both lower limbs blown off by landmines. But get this. The lower legs of each victim were destroyed by different mines at different times.

The eastern half of Cambodia is also contaminated with cluster bombs. US Air Force records reveal that from 1965 to 1973 the US dropped 2,756,941 tonnes of bombs over central and eastern regions of Cambodia. This involved 230,516 bombing sorties, aimed at 113,716 different sites. The tonnage of bombs dropped over Cambodia was more than the entire tonnage of bombs dropped by the Allies in World War 11.

The rationale for this bombing campaign was to disrupt the Viet Cong supply lines to South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. But for various reasons, including jungle foliage and soft ground in the rainy season, up to one third of these cluster bombs failed to explode on impact and they still remain in the ground, fully armed, waiting for a second chance.

Well, I obviously knew that I couldn’t go out on my own and dig up and remove this explosive stuff by myself. But I knocked on doors, and was admitted as a Volunteer Assistant to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre. My job was to help shoot videos and help with CMAC publicity. But along the way, I found that I could pay for one of CMAC’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams.These are 3-man teams that respond to emergency finds of explosives.

This cost 5 thousand dollars over a 3 month period, and I was funding the removal and destruction of unexploded ordnance found outside of the capital city, Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Landmine Museum

It’s largely forgotten that areas around and inside Phnom Penh were the final battlefields between the Khmer Rouge and the government forces of Lon Nol in 1974-1975. The CMAC HQ in Phnom Penh is itself on a former battlefield that was cleared before construction could begin.

This fighting didn’t involve only an exchange of small arms fire and a few rocket propelled grenades. This was war with all of the mechanized might of the 20th century. The Khmer Rouge was then fighting with Russian T54, T55 and T57 battle tanks. These tanks were firing 100mm rounds. Khmer Rouge rockets included the Russian and Chinese 122mm and 130mm long range variety.

On the Lon Nol side were American tanks and really big artillery that included 105 and 155mm howitzers. Not to mention US bombing support 3 times per day from F111s, Phantoms and T28 jets based in Vietnam and Thailand.

Well, the team that works to clear areas surrounding Phnom Penh is called Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team 6. During the period of my support, this team cleared 20,073 m2 of mines and UXO during 86 response calls. The actual numbers of items found and destroyed included 6 antipersonnel mines and 6 antitank mines. I pressed the button to destroy one of the antipersonnel mines, and I also saw some of the antitank mines destroyed. I watched as another one was cut in half to extract the explosives and recycle them as new demolition charges.

Along the way, the team also found and destroyed 2,520 pieces of UXO. This figure was inflated by the discovery of over 500 explosive-tipped heavy anti-aircraft rounds. But, well, those are the figures, and that’s what I paid to have destroyed.

I’m tempted to say that this was a real blast. I felt so good about paying to have all this stuff blown up and recycled, that I later signed up for a second and a third 3 month period to pay for EOD Team 6.

CMAC keeps meticulous records, and the grand total of the ERW that I funded to have removed and destroyed was 5,310 pieces of UXO, 13 antipersonnel mines and 15 antitank mines.

Watching mines being destroyed is better than watching a fireworks display. There’s an enormous brutality about these explosions. Fireworks are pretty, yes, but there’s something that’s also monstrous and hugely destructive about watching military explosives tear the earth and the sky apart.

Also, through my contacts with Australian Vietnam Vets working in Cambodia, I was part of an operation that found and destroyed an unexploded 120mm mortar shell, and a Russian PMN-1 antipersonnel mine. The PMN-1 is also called the Black Widow, because it contains around double the amount of explosive (200 gramrs) used in most other antipersonnel mines.

Both of these remnants of war were found only a short distance away from a school in Pailin province. The school grounds themsevles had been cleared of explosives, but the surrounding area was a former battlefield. There can’t be too many countries with schools in the middle of former battlefields. But, well, this is Cambodia. Before we cleared the area, you wouldn’t have wanted to kick a ball over the school fence and then go running around looking for it. The PMN-1 mine was easily within the distance you could kick a ball.

I later met a 14 year old boy who had stepped on a PMN-1 mine while cutting wood to help extend his house for visiting relatives. He lost both his legs and one arm, and was lucky to survive. This kid has become a spokesman for the anti-landmine movement. He said, “Even though I’ve lost my legs and an arm, I still have my voice to speak out against landmines.”

Well, I can’t claim to have saved a single life with my clearance work. Maybe I’ve just saved a few dogs and cows from the explosive stuff that I’ve had cleared. I’ll never know. But it doesn’t really matter because I feel so good about what I did.

If you spend time in Cambodia, you’ll meet landmine victims yourself. Cambodia has one of the highest rates of amputees per capita of population in the world.

I met a man (the brother of my car driver) who had survived the explosion of a Khmer Rouge rocket propelled grenade. He then received a blood transfusion at a jungle aid station, but the blood he received was contaminated with the AIDs virus. The compensation/assistance he’s received from the government? Zero.

Another story I came across was the winner of the only ever Miss Cambodian Landmine contest. Her first prize was supposed to consist of money for a university education, and a new prosthetic leg from Norway. But the money for her education didn’t turn up, and the new leg, when delivered, didn’t fit.

Most Cambodians in the big cities seem to be largely indifferent to landmines and UXO and the plight of victims. Comparatively few Cambodians contribute money to mine clearance or victim relief, and there seems to be a collective mentality of waiting for overseas funds to fix the problem. Well, so be it. But just a few dollars can make a big difference.

And making a difference, as I discovered, can really be a very simple undertaking. Who knows – like me, you’ll never be sure if you’ve saved anyone. But you’re going to feel really good about helping to make at least part of the world a better place.