Western Australian Police Help To Clear Land Mines

01.06.2012

tags: Western Australia Police, Landmines,

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By Detective Sergeant Tony Langer, Western Australia Police

From the June 2012 issue of the Australian Police Journal

Cambodia may well be the most bombed country in history. In the year 2000, then President Bill Clinton became the first US President to visit Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War. During his visit and as a humanitarian gesture, President Clinton released data on the extent of US bombings in Indo China between 1964 and 1975. It turns out that the United States dropped far more ordnance on Cambodia than was previously believed  ? some 2,756,941 tons’ worth  ?  which is nearly five times greater than the previous, generally-accepted figure. To put the sheer volume of the Cambodian bombing into perspective, the Allies dropped just over two million tons of bombs during all of World War II, including the bombs that struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki; all this in a country roughly the size of Tasmania and with a population of around 15 million people.

This information, while shocking, was provided by President Clinton in an effort to help efforts to search for unexploded ordnances, which remain a significant humanitarian concern. The scope of the carpet bombing in Cambodia means that huge areas of otherwise arable land are rendered useless. Poverty-stricken farmers have no choice but to work land which is littered with mines and are often killed or maimed in the process. Injuries also occur when people are trying to earn a living finding and selling scrap metal or carrying out basic but essential tasks such as collecting and carrying water or timber. One third of all casualties are children.

The legacy of three decades of war has taken a severe toll on the Cambodian people. Some 40,000 people live as amputees (one of the highest rates in the world) and at least another 20,000 have died in remote areas before they could be transported to medical facilities, because they were undiscovered, or because of secondary infections.

The effects of all that bombing continue to this day, as Cambodia remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) estimates there are still 6,000,000 mines. Cambodia is also littered with other kinds of explosive remnants of war (ERW), unexploded ordnance (UXO) and abandoned explosive ordnance (AXO). There are many different kinds of bombs and land mines. As well as the US material from the Vietnam War there are Chinese, Soviet and Eastern Bloc materials from the Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s and the decade of civil war that followed in the 1980s.

The landmines laid in Cambodia are constructed from a variety of materials including metal, plastics, nylons and wood. The metal landmines may rust out depending on their location and exposure to the elements which either renders them inert or makes them more unstable. More concerning is that some estimates place the lifespan of the landmines constructed from plastics and nylons at 200 years.

How I became Involved – The Seed is Planted

In 2008 I completed my Bomb Technician’s Course with the Tactical Response Group, Bomb Response Unit (TRG BRU) as part of the Western Australian Police (WAPOL) contribution to the National Counter Terrorism Plan. Since that time I have carried out duties as a Regional Bomb Technician in the Mid West Gascoyne Region, and now provide a support role in the Metropolitan area in addition to my ‘day job’ as a detective.

While training on the Bomb Technician’s Course I noticed that used explosive ordnance disposal gear, including bomb suits, tactical helmets and personal protection equipment stored at the TRG BRU (or simply BRU) was going to be destroyed as newer equipment had been purchased.

Prior to the course I had become aware of a group of Australian Vietnam Veterans who were assisting local volunteers in de-mining villages in Cambodia. I approached the staff at the BRU and made a request for the personal protection equipment to be donated to the Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team (VVMCT) for use in Cambodia. In the meantime, I learned more about the situation in Cambodia.

 

 The Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team  

The VVMCT was established in 2001 by Vietnam Veterans from the Royal Australian Engineer Corp Tony Bower-Miles, Gerry Lyall and Mac McGregor to provide assistance with the landmine clearing effort in Cambodia. The group’s military service had given them personal experience of the tragic effects of landmines on adults, children and families and the impact this had on their communities as a whole. The group, which currently has 19 members, decided that the best way they could help the Cambodian Self Help De-miners (CSHD) was by supplying advice, training and land mine detectors along with financial support.

The VVMCT were directly involved with theCSHD’s accreditation and certification as a de-mining organisation with the Cambodian authorities and they continue to support them with donations from concerned Australians. The VVMCT pay all their own costs and collect no salaries for their work and efforts. All money they raise goes directly to the CSHD. They commit massive amounts of their personal time to raising funds and awareness and supporting the CSHD.

The VVMCT have bought mine lab detectors which are the same model currently being used by the Royal Australian Engineers in the Middle East. Each unit costs $4,000. Tony Bower-Miles and Gerry Lyall have taken these units to Cambodia where they have given them directly to CSHD staff. The VVMCT engrave the names of deceased Vietnam Veterans on to each detector, ensuring their contribution and sacrifice to Australia is not forgotten ...

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