SURIN – Everyday the villagers in this remote district which sits near the Thai-Cambodian border, face the possibility of being killed or maimed whenever they step out of their house.
This grim prospect was due to the presence of thousands of still active landmines and unexploded ordnances, remnants of past conflicts which once ruled this battle-scarred landscape decades ago.
“Although the conflict happened decades ago, the landmines and Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) are still active and posed a great danger to the local population, besides hampering government’s effort to develop the local economy,” said Amornchai Sirisai, President of Thai Civilian Deminer Association (TDA) here recently.
A group of local and international media were invited to witnessed the demining effort by TDA’s team of deminers deep inside Buachet’s jungle, once a hotly-contested strip of land in Surin Province, six hours drive from Bangkok.
Every year according to Amornchai, Thai villagers were either killed or maimed by landmines left by past conflicts, with six incidents recorded last year including one man who was killed instantly when he stepped on an anti-tank mine while farming his land.
“Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) have so far resulted in accidents involving about 3,500 people,” he said.
The fact that Thailand was also a victim to landmines he said, was relatively unknown to the outside world compared to similar but widely reported situations facing Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
As of March 3 this year according to Amornchai, approximately 422.6 square km of the country particularly areas along the Thai-Cambodian border were still contaminated by landmines and other unexploded ordnances.
Besides the Thai-Cambodian border, provinces in northern Thailand which shared boundary with Myanmar such as Chiangmai, Phitsanulok, Uttaradit and Tak were also decontaminated with suspected landmines and unexploded explosives.
Areas that are still contaminated with landmines and unexploded explosives he said could not be develop economically, thus hampering efforts by the government to uplift the people’s livelihood.
“The government’s effort to further develop economic activities between communities at the border were affected as thousands of landmines and other unexploded ordnances still posed great danger to the life and limbs of the local people,” said Amorchai.
To overcome this, TDA with close cooperation with Thailand Mine Action Centre (TMAC) of the Royal Thai Armed Forces has been actively clearing areas especially along the Cambodian border from landmines.
Beginning April 2014 till September 2015, with US$473,055 of financial aid it received from the Japanese government via the Japan-ASEAN Intergration Fund (JAIF), TDA has found and removed 2,729 landmines and UXO in Surin Province.
“We have returned about 2,445,513 sqm of land back to the people, for them to utilize the land for their economic benefits. No landmine accident at that site have occurred ever since,” he said.
Due to the success of the project, the Japanese government he said, provided additional US$806,275 in financial assistance via JAIF to undertake another mine-clearing effort in Sa Kaeo and Surin Provinces.
According to Amornchai, as of Feb 28, 2017 the project which was named “Intergrated Landmine Clearance to Promote Cross-Border Economy” has discovered another 2,971 landmines and unexploded ordnances and safely returned 326,866 sqm to the local people.
He cited the Chong Chom border area near Buachet, which was once off-limit to local people due to the existence of landmines and unexploded ordnances, but has since thrived economically after the completion of a mine clearance project.
“Local population has been reaping the benefits economically when the areas are cleared from any landmines and unexploded explosives. That gives me a huge sense of satisfaction,” he said