Thai army destroys thousands of land mines in jungle

Soldiers clad in protective vests placed stacks of unexploded ordnance in a pit and gingerly laid explosive charges on top. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 August 2019

Thai army destroys thousands of land mines in jungle

  • Local residents who had been maimed by leftover mines were given gifts by the army after watching the operation
  • The border between Thailand and Cambodia is still littered with land mines from decades of civil war

SA KAEO, Thailand: Pulling back to a safe distance atop a hill, Thai troops blew up thousands of anti-personnel land mines on Tuesday with controlled explosions that sent black plumes of smoke high above jungle treetops. Thailand is one of more than 160 countries to have signed the Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits the use and stockpiling of the destructive weapon and aims to clear all mines by 2025.

As part of a dayslong operation to destroy the rest of Thailand’s stockpile, soldiers clad in protective vests placed stacks of unexploded ordnance in a pit and gingerly laid explosive charges on top. “From now on, Thailand will no longer retain any more anti-personnel land mines,” said General Chaichana Nakkerd with the Thai armed forces joint chiefs of staff.

Standing on an observation hill as technicians detonated the charges, he said 3,133 land mines would be destroyed in Sa Kaeo province to “affirm our stance in not using” them. But the border between Thailand and Cambodia is still littered with land mines from decades of civil war in Cambodia, where the remnants of the defeated Khmer Rouge retreated in the 1980s.

Chaichana said Thailand, which signed the treaty in 1998, still has a long way to go to clear a 360-kilometer area along the border by its deadline of 2023. “The problem we still have is... the border with neighboring countries are in rural areas and on hills,” he said, making them challenging to remove.

Local residents who had been maimed by leftover mines were given gifts by the army after watching the operation. The Ottawa treaty has helped eliminate 51 million land mines over the past two decades since it was enacted in 1997. But the United States, China, Egypt, India, Israel, Pakistan and Russia have not signed it.

A recent Landmine Monitor report shows that the number of people killed or injured from land mines nearly doubled in 2015 to 6,461 from 3,695 the year before — making it the highest recorded total in a decade.


Afghan writer’s book of poems gives voice to refugees stranded in Indonesia

Updated 28 February 2020

Afghan writer’s book of poems gives voice to refugees stranded in Indonesia

  • The book is titled after the red ribbon Haidari untied from his dead sister’s hair while fleeing an attack on his village

JAKARTA: An Afghan writer who fled war to Indonesia six years ago has penned a book of poems giving voice to the plight of his fellow refugees.

“The Red Ribbon,” by Abdul Samad Haidari, tells the story of asylum-seekers stranded in Indonesia and their protracted wait for resettlement to a third country.

Launched on Sunday, the book is titled after the red ribbon Haidari untied from his dead sister’s hair while fleeing an attack on his village, Dahmarda, in the Arghandab district of Zabul province.

Having worked as a freelance journalist in his country, Haidari, of Hazara ethnicity, told Arab News he had sought solace in poetry when he realized there was little else he could do while a refugee in Indonesia.

He described the book’s publication as a miracle, given the challenges and limitations he has faced.

“It took me more than five years to complete it, with persistence, faith, sweat, tears, and an empty stomach in a humid room some 60 km away from Jakarta, in a remote village,” he said during a launch event at a cultural center in Jakarta.

The poems chronicle Haidari’s life and the circumstances on the night he fled his home to Indonesia, where he has since suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, loneliness and separation.

One of his verses, titled “Dedication to evergreen Indonesia,” is a tribute to the country which for the past seven years has given him shelter. Indonesia’s arms were “warmer than the arms of those who had thrown me out of my hometown,” the poem reads.

Writer and author Carissa Finneren described the poems as “honest and raw,” while poet Ruby Astari told Arab News that she hoped Haidari would become the voice of fellow Afghan refugees and those who were oppressed.

Haidari arrived in Indonesia in 2014 and in 2016 was granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which makes him eligible for resettlement to a third country.

He is one of some 14,000 refugees — more than half of them from Afghanistan — registered with the UNHCR office in Indonesia, who have been waiting for years to be resettled.

Indonesia acts as a transit country, as it is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Its national laws bar refugees and asylum seekers from working. Some of them have access to basic education and healthcare, although very limited.

Their wait has been stretched further as countries that are party to the convention have reduced their refugee intake. Australia, which used to be the main destination for asylum seekers transiting in Indonesia, froze its resettlement program on July 1, 2014.

“The book is a much-needed manifestation of what refugees bring to the world when they are allowed to, encouraged to, given space and opportunities to do so,” said Ann Mayman, UNHCR representative in Indonesia.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to Indonesia, Faizullah Zaki Ibrahimi, said the poems made readers feel the pain of a generation that had suffered due to Afghanistan’s long and deadly conflict.

A new hope, the ambassador said, was sparked by a reduction in violence in Afghanistan, which has been in place since Saturday, ahead of an expected peace agreement between the US and the Taliban. If extended, it could eventually lead to peaceful dialogue and eliminate the main cause of Afghans seeking refuge around the world, the envoy added.

“We hope that someday peace comes back to Afghanistan and democracy thrives.”