Thailand: 40 years after the conflict in Trat and Chanthaburi, innocent mine victims bear the scars of war

Thailand: 40 years after the conflict in Trat and Chanthaburi, innocent mine victims bear the scars of war

Article 04 January 2022 Thailand

People continue to suffer the consequences of weapon contamination long after a conflict ends as unexploded ordnance (UXO) kill and injure unsuspecting victims.

We may think that the process of rebuilding communities happens right after hostilities end but just as physical wounds leave scars, people affected by armed conflict and violence cannot simply go back to how things were.

Even after 40 years, over 100 people in Trat and Chanthaburi provinces, the two south-eastern corners of Thailand, still bear the scars of the conflict and violence that they had no involvement in.

Mr. Ampon tells the story of how one moment in time changed his life forever when he stepped on a landmine while working in the hilly fields behind his makeshift house. When he regained consciousness after surgery he realized his leg had been amputated. Fortunately, Mr. Ampon is able to turn to local and national authorities for assistance and support.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an independent, neutral and impartial organization, also works closely with national authorities to help mine victims. However, despite these assistance programmes, challenges still exist and most mine victims will have to draw on extraordinary will and determination to overcome them.

Photo: Kunlawat Chittarat/ICRC

"I was devastated when I regained consciousness only to realize my lower leg had to be amputated, but I didn't have time to worry about it. I was hungry and my mother was hungry. I knew if I didn't brace up, we'd starve to death," says Mr. Ampon.

Photo: Kunlawat Chittarat/ICRC

Listening to Mr. Ampon's recollections of life before and after stepping on a UXO, we catch a glimpse of a man with extraordinary determination.

"Just because I am physically challenged doesn't mean I will let myself depend on others for everything"

Photo: Kunlawat Chittarat/ICRC

A UXO survivor shows us around his makeshift home at the foot of a mountain separating Thailand and Cambodia, which is littered with UXOs.

Photo: National Geographic Thailand

"Life is a series of fights. They never end, they just get more complicated. There is no point in feeling sad, because sadness can't feed you," says Mr Ampon. While there has been a delay in getting prosthetics from the government's victims' assistance project, he has planted a vegetable garden in his backyard to grow his own food.

Without the prosthetic leg, Mr. Ampon has to crawl to get around his house and the garden but that does not deter him. "Just because I am physically challenged doesn't mean I will let myself depend on others for everything," he says.

Photo: Kunlawat Chittarat/ICRC

A communication officer with the ICRC's regional delegation in Bangkok, looks out towards the border between Thailand and Cambodia after hearing the stories of the quietly buried yet lingering dangers of war.

Photo: Kunlawat Chittarat/ICRC

Mr. Ampon shows that many mine victims have to rely on their own remarkable strength and determination to overcome the challenges they face, and the support of the ICRC helps them along their journey.