SEKSAK, BATTAMBANG — On the back 7 to 10 percent growth over much of the last decade, Cambodia’s government insists it is trying to build what it calls a sustainable land policy, including reclaiming fertile terrain lost to landmines and bombs — legacies of the country’s years of civil conflict. But others say a corrupt and Chinese-influenced administration is trampling the rights of citizens in the name of economic development in what remains a country still recovering from long-finished wars. Until six months ago, the fields behind Ly Susmat’s house in Seksak village in the western Battambang province were not safe to walk. That was before the NGO Mines Advisory Group pitched down in the village to clear mines and unexploded ordnance, a dangerous and economically-debilitating legacy of civil war in a country where around 80% of the people depend on farming for a living. He has got some land to farm safely now, but that’s just a start. “I need capital to rent a plough, I want to grow highland rice here,” Ly Susmat says, waving an arm toward an 8,000 meter square plot of land outside Seksak, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in the west of the country.
VINH KHE COMMUNE, QUANG TRI PROVINCE — It was a controlled explosion, and shouldn’t have been a surprise, but the boom a couple of hundred yards away in this lush, rainswept district of central Vietnam nonetheless prompted the small group of nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers, locals, diplomats, and journalists there to witness the event to flinch and recoil. Then the relieved-looking group exhaled almost in unison, a nervous-sounding release as if mimicking the puffs of smoke rising from the explosion into the gray sky. Taking the blast in his stride, though not literally, however, was 14-year-old Duong Nhat Binh, a shy-looking, soft-spoken teenager wearing a “FBI”-emblazoned baseball cap. Two years ago he had a much closer encounter with a fragment of the estimated 800,000 tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) thought to remain hidden in the grass and jungles around Vietnam, endangering lives and hindering local economies. “I was on the way back from school, and I saw this metal thing in the grass. I picked it up and put it in my pocket and went home,” he recalls. “I did not know what it was.”