Education And Debate

Cambodia—after the killing fields

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 04 April 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1082
  1. Vivienne Nathanson, head, professional resources and research group
  1. BMA, London WC1H 9JP

    The BMA has campaigned in Britain and internationally through the Commonwealth and World Medical Associations for a worldwide ban on landmines for more than three years. As part of this campaign the British Red Cross invited me to visit Cambodia in January.

    Arrival: Bomb craters and cigarette hoardings

    Bomb craters and cigarette hoardings are the most obvious influences from the developed world. I noticed the many small round ponds in the fields as I flew into Phnom Penh. The water filled bomb craters stand out from the irrigation ponds and are a stark reminder of the frequent fighting around Cambodia's capital over the past 50 years.

    I was reminded of France: wide boulevards lined with mature trees; grand decorative houses and civic buildings set back behind ornate cast ironworks. But many are scarred with shell marks and others are decaying. There are many small motorbikes, but few cars, most of which carry the logos of non-governmental organisations or aid agencies.

    Political snapshot

    • 1860-1954 Cambodia under French control

    • 1970 United States and South Vietnamese forces invade

    • 1969-75 A US supported regime holds power

    • 1975-8 Pol Pot in power and between one and three million people killed

    • 1978 Vietnam invade, Pol Pot toppled, and US and Thailand support Khmer Rouge rebels against Vietnamese backed government

    • 1990 United Nations peace keeping forces move in until the 1993 election

    • 1998 Next general election due in July when Cambodian People's party expected to win a majority

    Day 1: New injuries occur every day

    My first working day began with a visit to the prosthetics factory run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), where the components, except the rubber feet, are made for all the prosthetic workshops in Cambodia. The local workshops, run by the ICRC and other care providers such as Handicap International, buy centrally and then fit and customise the prostheses for individual patients. Many patients …

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