Samlout Protected Area – Digging for Land Mines

haloBack in late May, as part of our jaunt into Cambodia to catch Angelina’s Tomb Raider footsteps  at Ta Prohm, the Diplomat stayed on a little longer than travelswithadiplomat to do a Diplomatic project by following the philanthropic actress’ footsteps into a more realistic setting. In this case the Samlout Protected Area, vast areas of which are undergoing the painstaking, laborious task of land mine clearing.

The Diplomat wasn’t alone, ushering Canadian Ambassador Calvert into Cambodia to observe the de-landmining work that The HALO Trust is undertaking on the Cambodia-Thailand border. Canada funded part of this important initiative through their Global Peace and Security Fund (GPSF).

SamloutIn 1993 the Kingdom of Cambodia created 23 protected areas across the land covering more than 20% of the Kingdom, including the 400 sq km of Angkor Wat. This one is the Samlout Protected Area, covering more than 60,000 hectares, located in the most northern range of the Cardamom Mountains which provides a gateway into Thailand. In 2003 the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (MJP) entered Samlout and worked with the Cambodian Ministry of Environment to develop a conservation programme including the recruitment and training of local rangers and police to prevent the illegal timber trade and wildlife poachers. MJP is managed by Stephan Bognar, CEO of the Maddox Jolie Pitt Foundation – MJP website.

By 2009, Samlout merged with two Thai parks – Khlong Kreua Wai Wildlife Sanctuary and Namtok Khlong Kaew National Park to create an international peace park (the first such park covered the Canadian-U.S. border in 1932; a union of the Waterton Lakes Park and the Glacier National Park). The area was now about 110,000  hectares housing the Asia elephant and used to be a home to the Indochinese tiger (not seen since 2006). It is now known as the SKN Park.

Samlout 2This SKN Park was created to widen the habitat types for wildlife, to border landscapes that do not have legal protection, to restore traditional migration routes for wildlife and work under a more unified strategic park management system. It is working: with a species count of at least 521 birds, 127 mammals, and 116 reptiles, natural resources in the park like the Srong Kro Horm (elev 1164m) mountain, 46,000 hectares of mainly evergreen trees and the Stung Sangker River provide abundant sustenance to both the wildlife and 1 million people living in the towns of Battambang and Pailin. Rosewood-Tree3Samlout has a special tree named rosewood – a giant tree both tall and wide with a stunning red colour used to make both martial arts weapons in the past and now for luxury furnitures.

However, the Diplomat was there, not just for MJP, but to see how the HALO Trust’s painstaking task of landmine clearing was going. With estimates in the region of 6 million unexploded mines left in the Kingdom, Samlout sits on the Thai-Cambodian border, and has, therefore, a high density of four types of landmines: anti-tank (which is a danger to local farmer’s tractors), and three types of anti-personnel which inflict varying degrees of damage to soft tissue. Once the land is de-mined, squatters move to farm with a better degree of safety. However, families tend to push their farming borders out of basic economic necessity which means they can go into still-land mined areas resulting in tragedy.

halo 2The Trust has over a hundred people in this small area of Samlout looking for mines inch by inch. They work by using two types of metal detector to painstakingly walk in rigid lines. If you think about the vastness of a country, now imagine having to scan it inch by inch to find mines, fuse the mine, retreat away and then detonate. So six or seven are found a day. This is why it takes years. You can see Ambassador Calvert (the tall one) at the site with the necessary protective gear.

So….for all the fun of seeing Ta Phrom and Angkor Wat, I am reminded pretty often that there is a serious reason for our travels in Asia: a reason that the Diplomat works tirelessly to achieve with her diplomatic colleagues and NGO associates throughout the region.

There’s a belief out in the Canadian Press (and other forms of media; both social and professional) that diplomacy is all about cocktail parties. Well, rest assured, I have first hand evidence that they party less hard than the rest of you taxpayers at 6pm and work just as hard you at their jobs representing us all…for the common good. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Keep it up, DFATD et al.. You do a grand job.

Is this what diplomacy is all about?



Categories: Cambodia

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