About Ham Hayes

Ham lived in Bellingham while writing for NW Citizen from 2007 to 2011.

By: Ham Hayes (69)

The Way I See It - The gift that keeps on giving

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A news article appeared just before Thanksgiving on banning land mines. The Obama administration has decided not to sign the Mine Ban Treaty after recently completing a policy review according to a State Department spokesman. This caused a bit of an uproar among groups supporting the ban. Initially drafted in 1997 at the prompting of then-President Bill Clinton, the treaty has now been signed by over 150 countries. However neither the Clinton, Bush, or now the Obama administrations have chosen to sign it. Other significant countries who also have not signed include Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Myanmar (the only country apparently known to be still engaged in active land mining). The Obama administration did issue a clarifying statement a day after the first statement, saying it would continue to review the policy and would send observers to a conference being held this week in Cartagena, Columbia. President Obama’s position on the Mine Ban Treaty is difficult for many to understand.

In 2003, I made my first trip to Cambodia. Before I arrived, I had an under-appreciation for the real effects of land mines on one of the most heavily land mined countries in the world. The visible presence of amputees, a museum craft store documenting the numerous types of mines laid in Cambodia, and the visibly marked mine fields located around the town were overwhelming. Those impressions, as well as discussions with our Cambodian hosts, resulted in a commitment to sponsor the construction of a school in Phnom Dek, Preah Vihear Province, Northern Cambodia. This school, the Bellingham Community School, was co-sponsored by many individuals, businesses and at least one private school in Bellingham. It began operation in October, 2005. The purpose of my second trip to Cambodia, in January 2006, was to celebrate the opening of the school with the local Cambodian villagers, teachers, students and province officials. I was joined by a group of eleven Bellingham citizens, parents, students and a teacher to help with the celebration and learn about rural Cambodia. A parallel reason for the journey was to gain a better understanding of the barriers Cambodians face in order to recover their country and society.

The estimates for the number of land mines buried in Cambodia range from 1 million to many millions. A commonly accepted number is between 3 and 4 million, many of which are still in the ground. In fact no one really knows how many there might be as many of the minefields were never recorded, which adds to the difficulty of the de-mining efforts. It is estimated that eighty-five percent of the land mines were placed between 1978 and 1999. This is the period of the civil war between the Khmer Rouge, a Vietnamese-installed government, and later, after 1993, a UN mandated government. Ninety nine percent of the land mines placed in Cambodia were anti-personnel mines of Russian, Chinese or Vietnamese manufacture.

In Cambodia, land mines could have been buried anywhere including in roads, trails, rice paddies and school yards. The locations of most minefields is not known. In 2005, one de-mining agency director estimated most of the rice paddies were probably free of mines, as casualties among farmers and their livestock were no longer being reported. Even then, in 2005, almost 1000 casualties per year from land mines or unexploded ordnance were being reported. It should be noted that much of the unexploded ordnance is a result of the extensive U.S. bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Eastern Cambodia during the Vietnam War. And a number of the current casualties are a result of that unexploded ordnance as well. Cambodia has about the same area as the State of Washington. Imagine the impact on our lives of hundreds of thousands or millions of undetected land mines and a thousand casualties a year.

As far as the Bellingham Community School in Phnom Dek goes, yes, the land it sits on had to be de-mined. Essentially every project in Cambodia has to go through a de-mining process, which is still largely done by hand. By one agency’s estimate it costs from $1000 to $1500 to remove ONE mine. The effort to remove the highest priority mines, if funded, will likely take many decades. Once the land mines are removed, the economic and societal benefits can begin to take hold.

The United States, other countries and many private groups and citizens have done much to aid de-mining efforts in Cambodia and elsewhere. The unspeakable legacy of pain, suffering and deconstruction of society due to land mines used on such a massive scale is now recognized by most countries on the planet. We Americans purport to be the “shining light on the hill,” yet in this matter we have blinked once again. The consequences to those who must try to survive, live, raise their families and work in a heavily land mine polluted environment are extreme. There may be good reasons why the United States has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty. And if there are good reasons, the Obama administration needs to explain to the American people and the world what those reasons are. Our country has a dilemma: we are telling countries like Cambodia we won’t ban mines, but we will help them remove land mines sometime in the future. I think we need to show more leadership than that.

About Ham Hayes

Closed Account • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Ham lived in Bellingham while writing for NW Citizen from 2007 to 2011.

David Camp

Dec 02, 2009

How are Land Mines different from IED’s and car bombs? All are passive instruments of terror, killing and maiming innocent civilians.

If the United States Government labels the perpetrators of car bombs and IED’s as terrorists, and declares war on them, how are we to think about this same government’s endorsement of land mines?

Who is the terrorist here?

And why does the US Government hate America so much?

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The Way I See It - The gift that keeps on giving

By Ham HayesOn Dec 02, 2009

A news article appeared just before Thanksgiving on banning land mines. The Obama administration has decided not to sign the Mine Ban Treaty after recently completing a policy review according [...]

1 comment, most recent 10 years ago

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