The January 2012 issue of National Geographic features a fascinating article on Cambodia's continuing struggle to clear the millions of landmines placed in the country during 30 years of conflict.
In the warfare that raged in Cambodia from 1970 until 1998, all sides used land mines. There are more than 30 different types. Villagers have prosaic names for them based on their appearance: the frog, the drum, the betel leaf, the corncob. Most were manufactured in China, Russia, or Vietnam, a few in the United States. Pol Pot, whose regime was responsible for the deaths of some 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979, purportedly called land mines his "perfect soldiers." They never sleep. They wait, with limitless patience. Although weapons of war, land mines are unlike bullets and bombs in two distinct ways. First, they are designed to maim rather than kill, because an injured soldier requires the help of two or three others, reducing the enemy's forces. Second, and most sinister, when a war ends, land mines remain in the ground, primed to explode. Only 25 percent of land mine victims around the world are soldiers. The rest are civilians -- boys gathering firewood, mothers sowing rice, girls herding goats.
Despite its horrific history, Cambodia has now become a model for how a nation can recover from the scourge of land mines.
Today, the country has dozens of demining and awareness programs. The number of Cambodians maimed by mines has significantly decreased, and better protheses have improved the quality of life for those who have been injured, according to the magazine.
However, the Cambodian government estimates that 3 to 5 million mines remain undiscovered, and mine survivors continue to face discrimination.
Read the report in the January 2012 issue of National Geographic, on newsstands now.
See the full gallery of photographs by Lynn Johnson here or in National Geographic's January issue.
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