Treaty Implementation Director, ICBL

Mr. Mines Action Canada

don’t mess with this sister

The Incredible

Sister Denise in Phnom Penh today informed the campaign that Cambodian mine survivor and ban campaigner Suon Chreuk died this weekend following recurring problems from his landmine injuries that were complicated by pulmonary and kidney issues.

I met Chruek in New Zealand in 1995 when Phil Twyford of Oxfam brought him out to New Zealand to help convince the government that it should permanently renounce antipersonnel mines and work to secure an international ban on the weapon. He spoke very effectively to media and the public. National television ran a story that focused more on him being carried up the stairs on to the press conference stage thereby inadvertently demonstrating how inaccessibility the parliament buildings were!

After losing both legs in the mine incident, Chreuk joined the Jesuit Service’s Centre of the Dove in 1993 where he manufactured their unique wheelchairs. He was one of four war veterans from opposing sides of the conflict who together issued a famous petition in 1994 that garnered more than a million signatures calling for a ban on landmines. We were amazed they managed to did this in Cambodia, a country where less than 20 years earlier people were executed for being able to read and write!

I met Chreuk again in May 1996 when he came to Geneva to lobby diplomats to support the mine ban. John Rodsted took some great photos of him working together passing out newsletters, throwing shoes in a demonstration, speaking to press together with Reth and Man Sokherm, and talking to and inspiring all of us, especially the governments.

Chreuk was only 43 years old when he died and he leaves behind his wife Joaqui, two children and some nieces and nephews that he was bringing up together with his wife. One of them was sold into prostitution and Chreuk went to buy the child back! Sister Denise described Cheruk as a man of “great courage and integrity.” We’re going to miss him. To help support JS Cambodia, go to their website: www.jrscambodia.org

SunsetWe returned to Cairo at about 10pm on New Year’s Eve, changed, and went to the mall for a uniquely Arab experience. Recently in every country I’ve visited from the Middle East (Bahrain, UAE), we’ve done the same thing for leisure – headed to the shopping mall. Hordes of kids clustered in groups according to gender were roaming around and, at 11pm, all the shops remained open. We met some friends of Ayman’s at a Lebanese restaurant in the mall, where we ate a great dinner and smoked shisha to celebrate the new year.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped by the park where the night before police had killed some 26 protestors from Sudan. The demonstrators had set up camp in the park a couple of weeks earlier because it was located opposite the Cairo offices of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). They were protesting a decrease in the benefits paid out by UNHCR as the organization attempted to convince them to return to Sudan following the peace deal with the south. Without warning the Egyptian police moved in to clear the park, killing 20 protestors in the process and receiving widespread international media attention.

As we looked on, a lot of police were still in the park clearing it of clothing and other materials left behind by the demonstrators. A plain clothed officer told us off for trying to take photos and we got out of there. I’ve read enough HRW reports to know that you don’t wanna mess with the Egyptian police and especially don’t want to end up in an Egyptian jail.
After a few hours sleep Ayman dropped me at the airport and 12 hours later I made it home to my apartment (and a hungry cat!). I realized I had spent just 5 full days on the ground in Egypt, a tiny amount of time. No shopping or sightseeing either. The pyramids and other sights have been there for thousands of years and will remain so in’shallah. I can return another time to do the tourist thing. I’m just glad I got to have the experience I did and grateful to Ayman for showing me a side of Egypt I probably would have never gotten to see without him.

Some links: http://www.mech.uwa.edu.au/jpt/demining/countries/egypt/JPT_NOTES/egypt.html

Saturday 31 December was my final day in Egypt and it was pretty packed. We started by meeting with the governor of Matruh at his huge office on the main square. Mohamad Al-Shahat spoke at the Cairo conference earlier in the week inviting the participants to hold their next meeting in his governorate, which encompasses most of the affected Western Desert including Al Alamein. We encouraged him to make this happen and offered our assistance. He went on about the need for the countries that used the ordnance to come and remove it, but moved beyond the rhetoric to make some interesting points.
According to Al-Shahat 148,000 fedans (an Egyptian mesurement of 4,200 m2/fedan) of land in his area has been cleared, but is not in use because of a lack of water. So he said the government needs to look carefully at how the land will be used before asking for millions of dollars to clear it. We expressed concern that the people finding UXO do not report them to police or the Army. Al-Shahat said they can always contact the local government office, but promised to follow-up on our suggestion that he establish a dedicated telephone number for people to report to. We described the many problems faced by the victims we met, including broken prostheses, low or no benefits, and lack of employment opportunities. He said the local government has a small business loan system in place and 240 permanent and 140 temporary jobs available, but has no ability to advertise these opportunities.

After saying he needed to leave, the governor spent 1.5 hours with us meaning we left Marsa Matruh for Cairo later than expected. On the way back, we met up with Saber again who took us abo of ut 20 kilometers into the desert to a location where a bedouin shepherd had uncovered a large cache of WWII-era weapons. When we got there, we found two mortar rounds, several grenades, an antivehicle mine, and bullets lying on the sand. Saber introduced us to a local man named Hamed, who lost most of his right hand and his eye in 1988 at the age of 13 years when he was making a fire for tea while grazing sheep and goats.
On the way back we stopped to chat with some kids about same age as Hamed when he was injured. They were grazing sheep, goats, and some camels. The sun was setting on the desert. It was a pretty scene. I just hope they grow up without going through the same experience as Hamed.

with Zarko Peric

Scene of my last annual ban treaty meeting = Croatia, November/December 2005

Pursuing Peace in Italy (April 2003)

I was feeling a bit out of it after my flight to Rome. I looked out the window of the train taking me into the city and saw rainbow flags flying from balconies and windows of houses and apartments. They all had “PACE” on them.

What did it mean? Something to do with gay rights? Like PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays)?

Finally it clicked: Pace. Paz. Paix. Peace. A fitting theme for my time spent in Rome earlier this month.

Rome marked the culmination of a six-month’s work to produce our fifth annual report. The Italian government had agreed to pay to bring together our global network of researchers together to submit their updates for the report. Our partner, the Italian Campaign to Ban Landmines had volunteered to coordinate all aspects of the meeting. I was going a week ahead of the meeting to early to make sure it would all go as planned.

I worked out of the campaign’s tiny office at the beginning with my colleagues Simona and Giuseppe speaking to me in an odd mix of English & Italian and me answering in English and sometimes Spanish. In Iraq, a story broke about deminers disarming and removing thousands of antipersonnel mines discovered stored in a mosque. I looked online at their photos. These were Italian-manufactured Valmara-69 antipersonnel mines, a particularly nasty-looking device the size of a tin can with three prongs coming off the top. Designed to jump up a meter before exploding, after wires coming from the prongs were tripped. Italy exported these mines by the millions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We had our media hook for the opening press conference.

As our participants started arriving from all over the world, I moved into the venue, a converted monastery in the south of the city. We met, slept, ate and partied in this place for three days straight. I awoke on the first day of the conference to see U.S. soldiers in Baghdad and the Republican Guard running away while stripping off their black uniforms. I wondered if we’d be able to stay focused on our discussions. By the end of the meeting, the U.S. seemed to be “winning” Baghdad. We took the participants outside for a group photograph. They posed with the PACE flags. Later we gave everyone a flag, which they dressed up in for the closing party.

For most of our people, the PACE message was more relevant to their situations back home and not the Iraq war. Conflicts simmering or continuing in countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Burma, Burundi, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Serbia, Senegal, Sudan, Uganda, Venezuela and so on… But Iraq was the overriding theme of the week. We watched the bombs drop and knew the hard work was yet to be done. Who will clean up this mess of mines, cluster bombs and other explosive remnants of war? Why did it have to happen in the first place?

At this time in history, Italy was probably the most appropriate place we could have chosen to meet in peace about peace. Pace, pronounced pa-chey. Back in DC, my flag is flying from the balcony.

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