Table Speech

“Participating in the RI District 2580 Rotary Clear Land Project Field Inspection Tour”

March 26, 2008

Mr. Michio Hamaguchi,
Mr. Yoshio Okazaki

“Participating in the RI District 2580 Rotary Clear Land Project Field Inspection Tour”

Mr. Michio Hamaguchi,
Chairman of World Community Service Committee,
RI District 2580

 I participated for the first time, from February 7 to 11, in the field inspection tour for RI District 2580 Rotary Clear Land Project in Cambodia The tour members made up a 27 member team; 20 general (non-member) participants and 7 participants from Tokyo RC: 3 from the Special Committee including Committee Chairman Okazaki, 3 other members and myself.

 We entered Cambodia from Siem Liap near the Ankor Watt ruins. As soon as we arrived, we visited the local office of HALO TRUST for orientation. They explained to us that they believe the total number of landmines buried in all of Cambodia to be 4 to 6 million. The number of annual casualties had at its highest point reached as many as 4 thousand, but had been drastically reduced to 300 by 2007. While it is impossible to remove all 6 million landmines still buried in Cambodia, the goal is to bring the number of civilian casualties to zero.

 The following day we took a helicopter 120 kilometers away to Cambodia’s northwest border area, where there is a heavy concentration of landmines. We landed in Prasat Tbeng Village in the Banteay Chhmar District, which is only several hundred meters from the Thai border. First we headed for the village school, which stands just 350 meters away from the minefield. All the students of the school (260 children) stood in line to greet us from the gate to the school building.

 Not all children can necessarily go to school, and many are unable to attend because they need to help the family business or take care of younger siblings. Out in the schoolyard we handed out the bags and stationery that we had brought from Japan. The classrooms have small windows and no lights, just some simple desks, chairs, and a blackboard.

 We finally arrived at the minefield. At the on-site briefing, we were first given warnings on entering the area. Clear Land No. 9 has an area of 3 hectares, or 300 meters by 100 meters. When we observed the work actually being done at the site, we all had to wear helmets and protective gear on our faces and bodies. When we walked, we proceeded in one straight line. You must walk where the person in front of you has walked. The person leading the procession was, of course, from the HALO TRUST.

 The mine removal work was being done by a trained Khmer mine removal specialist, who carefully screened a space about the size of a tatami mat, marked by sticks, with a hand-held mine detector which combines magnetic and ultrasonic sensing devices. When a troop member finishes a screening, the supervisor then performs a check procedure. Another follow-up check is performed by the section commander before the person in charge, called the field commander, finally gives the approval for clearance.

 The screening of landmines is an exhausting repetition of highly minute processes. It also requires substantial patience and stamina to work under the strong sun. People performing the work stand about 15 meters apart from each other, in order to minimize casualties when accidents occur. Lines of red poles indicate the border between where demining work is still in progress, and plates with the scull marks indicate where the minefields are.

 While we were there, a place where the magnetic detector had sensed metal was found in the ground marked with white sticks. The workers dug up the area so that we could see what was there, and we saw part of a landmine. It was not just a metal strip, but a real landmine. Another landmine was found in a separate area, which was not the small anti-personal type, but a large anti-tank type. The larger landmines are destroyed by exploding them in a safe area. We were even given the chance to press the detonator button. At the moment it happened, the enormous sound boomed in our stomachs.

 At the end of the tour, we participated in the ceremony to hand over the eighth cleared area to be completed as a project undertaken by RI District 2580. As the adage goes, seeing is believing. The tour was a truly significant opportunity that enabled us to fully understand for the first time the process of demining work. It is a series of such overwhelmingly patient steps, and we learned how precious these cleared lands, which are the product of these demining efforts, are. It was a truly meaningful experience.

“About the District’s Demining Activities for Anti-Personal Mines”

Mr. Yoshio Okazaki,
Chairman of Special Committee for Anti-Personal Demining,
RI District 2580

 The Special Committee for Anti-Personal Demining was launched by the Rotary Club of Tokyo (Tokyo RC) in 1998, when Mr. Kazuo Suzuki was chairman. The activity was recognized as an official world community service project of RI District 2580 beginning July 1999.

 The first Clear Land was completed in 2000, and mine removal work is currently in progress for Clear Land No. 9. The “Tokyo RC Clear Land”, which was developed and funded by the Tokyo RC through a special donation from the district, was completed two years ago.

 Mine Field No.8, which we visited this time, was in Tra Ok Village in Banteay Meanchey Province, located in the border zone between Thailand and Cambodia. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge Army had buried numerous mines there during their retreat from Cambodia. It is an extremely dangerous area where several hundred landmines per kilometer were buried in a belt of land stretching over 700 kilometers.

 Work in this area started from March 2007. In the first 6 months about 490 landmines were removed, and 230 unexploded bombs and 463 firearms of various sizes were disposed of. Schools have restarted at Clear Land No. 8, and 236 students ranging from ages 6 to 17 now study there. Our current plan is to conclude our activities upon the completion of Clear Land No. 10, with an outlook for a completion date of 2010. We are considering organizing a reception at the site that same year.

 The “Rotary Clear Land Cambodia Project Completion Ceremony” (provisional title), has already obtained confirmation of participation from the Cambodian royal family, the Cambodian government, the Japanese Embassy, and the U.K. headquarters of HALO TRUST. There are also plans to construct a monument to commemorate the project.

 The next field inspection trip for the project is scheduled for February 11 to 15 in 2009. We are currently considering the option of hiring a direct charter flight from Tokyo to Siem Reap.

 I hope that many of our members will be able to attend the tour, so that they may deepen their understanding of the significance of the demining activities, by actually experiencing a walk in the mine fields, and the opportunity to interact with the people who live in the cleared lands.