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Week of July 15, 2003

Program 0328


Kosovo Education | Transcript | MP3

Kosovo’s Uncertain Future | Transcript | MP3

Kosovo Power | Transcript | MP3

Cambodia Landmine Museum | Transcript | MP3

Kien Khleang | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

LORIKA: The lights don’t work. In the morning, like in winter, it’s very dark and we can’t learn and we have to go to another classroom where there is lots of light.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the challenges of rebuilding the education system in post-war regions.

KEITH PORTER: And governing a post-war country.

TOM CAROTHERS: Somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the population of Kosovo are ethnic Serbs, who live in the northern parts of the country for the most part. Some of those people would like to be part of Serbia and would like to partition off the northern part of Kosovo and actually fold it back into Serbia.

PORTER: Plus, Kosovo’s power crunch.

AVNI KRASNIQI: Lately, it’s been four hours without, two with power.

MCHUGH: Four hours without?

KRASNIQI: Without power and two hours with power.

MCHUGH: Every day?

KRASNIQI: Every—more or less every day.

MCHUGH: Our special report on post-conflict reconstruction—coming up next.

[Musical interlude]

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Kosovo Education

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. This week we’re examining the trials and tribulations of rebuilding after war. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. We begin with Kosovo. The war that devastated the region nearly four years ago has largely disappeared from the headlines. Rebuilding after any military conflict is a monumental task. Kosovo, for example, is still recovering from an ethnic cleansing campaign, civil war, and NATO bombing which brought quasi-independence to this little region still technically part of Serbia and Montenegro. When Kristin and I visited Kosovo late last year, one of things we hoped to learn was how the education system had survived through all of the trauma. What we found are schools, teachers, and students still struggling against enormous odds.

[The sounds of children at school.]

PORTER: Before 1990 Serbian children and ethnic Albanian children in Kosovo would often attend the same school, but study in segregated classrooms. Besi attended school in the town of Gjakova.

BESI: At that time we had Serbs in our school, and we couldn’t do nothing. We couldn’t sing our tradition songs, which was really bad. We couldn’t express our feelings. We couldn’t say our feelings. And that was the worst. We usually got beaten up from the Serb teachers but our teachers couldn’t do nothing to them or even just tell them, “Don’t do this. This is wrong. Go this way.” They could give back to our teachers. They could like, maybe, treat them in really bad ways. I mean the pupils. And I just don’t want to talk about the teachers.

PORTER: But by 1990, Serb nationalism was being fueled by Slobodan Milosevic. Soon many Serbs decided that even having Albanians in the same school buildings with them was unacceptable.

REZA BASMANI: [via a translator] It was a terrible time to live and work. The Serbs shut down the Albanian schools. They wanted teachers to teach a Serb curriculum. They kicked out the Kosovo Albanian school directors so we had no choice but to create a parallel, underground education system.

PORTER: Today, Reza Basmani is Kosovo’s Minister of Education. But back then he was head of the underground Albanian teachers’ association. The so-called parallel schools operated in garages and basements.

BASMANI: [via a translator] Kosovo Albanian teachers were beaten and arrested. One school director was killed. Three parents were killed. I was arrested and spent two months in prison for creating the parallel school system.

[Sounds of combat from the Kosovo War.]

PORTER: Then the real war started.

[Sounds of combat from the Kosovo War.]

PORTER: Kosovar Albanian separatists battled with Serbian government and paramilitary forces. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo or hid in the mountains to escape the fighting. Yet education continued. Actress Vanessa Redgrave visited one of the makeshift schools and described it to me in 1999.

VANESSA REDGRAVE: On the day I went there, there was about 444 men, women, and children. I visited the school shifts being run under plastic with the supple branches of young trees that had been stripped and stuck into the ground and bent over so that the plastic was over them like greenhouse panes. And this teacher had been teaching the children in four shifts a day when there was a possibility of doing so because they were continually shelled.

PORTER: Later that year, NATO bombings ended Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing campaign and Kosovar Albanians began returning home. But what they found wasn’t pretty.

The sound of Rezah Belaarle speaking in French.]

PORTER: Here in the town of Vusharii, near Mitrovica, the Serbs used this school building to house refugees from elsewhere in the Balkans. Rezah Belaarle is former director of the school.

REZAH BELAARLE: [in English] All was destroyed here. And the refugees was obliged to take the floor to make fire.

PORTER: They took the wood from the floor to build fires?

BELAARLE: [in English] Yes. Okay, because they had nothing to light.

PORTER: But this school, like many others in Kosovo, has been rebuilt. Here the French Foreign Office, the Rhone Alps region of France, and the French peacekeeping force in Kosovo all contributed to the effort.

PORTER: [reporting from the school’s chemistry class.] Education here in Vusharii has certainly improved since the times that the refugees occupied this building. At the moment we’re in a classroom that is obviously a chemistry class. You can see the periodic table of elements pasted to the front wall. And a chalkboard. Very nice work stations, several of them throughout the classroom. The floor is covered in white tile and the work stations are also covered in white tile as well. And each one of the work stations has a sink and running water, making a very nice chemistry lab for the students here.

[The sound of students in school.]

PORTER: Legally the schools in Kosovo today are integrated. Many Romas and other minorities study alongside ethnic Albanians. But most Serb parents left in Kosovo do not send their children to the public schools. Here at the Faik Konica School in Central Pristina, it is easy to see that the infrastructure has improved somewhat, but not nearly enough for 13-year-old Lorika.

LORIKA: Our classroom is over there and it’s too small and the lights don’t work. In the morning, like in winter, it’s very dark and we can’t learn and we have to go to another classroom where there is lots of light. They don’t, I don’t think they have enough money to make, you know, sports. When we have sport, we don’t have a place to do sports. We have to go outside even when it is snowing.

PORTER: Despite her complaints, school facilities are getting the lion’s share of international donations earmarked for education in Kosovo. But the aid mainly pays for physical repairs and textbooks. Who isn’t getting the money? Teachers.

[The sound of Sonja Sherimiti speaking.]

PORTER: In the faculty lounge of the Faik Konica school, literature teacher Sonja Sherimiti tells us she is so hungry she can barely stand up.

[The sound of Sonja Sherimiti speaking.]

PORTER: Three hundred Euros a month for a one-bedroom apartment. Euros today are roughly equal in value to US dollars. The average teacher in Kosovo makes 150 Euros a month. The teacher salary problem is so bad that last year teachers did something that even Serb aggression and NATO bombing couldn’t make them do. They stopped teaching. The general strike lasted for two weeks.

SIMON HASELOCK: The nice thing in a way about this question is, in fact, it is the sort of discussion that you would have in any civilized society. Because this is a relationship between what do you spend your budget on in a governmental situation. Here you have a finite amount of money. How do you split it up between the various priorities? Do you give more to the teachers or more to the doctors?

PORTER: Simon Haselock is chief spokesperson for the United Nations mission which oversees Kosovo.

HASELOCK: And if the general salary in Kosovo for public service workers is low that is something that only generating economic improvements will actually change rather than actually funding it from direct aid. And they have to decide, if we are going to pay the teachers more, where do we take the money from to pay the teachers more? And this is a decision which they are faced with.

PORTER: The money problem for teachers is two-fold. First, the international community has imposed budget discipline on the fledgling Kosovo government.

HASELOCK: You can’t spend more than you’ve got. And that’s the reality. It is too often easy for them when they are confronted with something which is not easy to solve, to say this is the fault of the international community. Because the international community is going to go. So I would say that budget discipline is about spending only the money that you’ve got.

PORTER: But the other problem facing teachers is rapid inflation, which they say is driven by the high number of international civil servants and workers from nongovernmental organizations who have moved in to help rebuild Kosovo. Many of them get the same salaries they received in the United States or elsewhere in Europe, which drives up prices for almost everything in Kosovo. And many of the best teachers have left the classroom to become translators or even drivers for the United Nations and other institutions, according to the Minister of Education.

BASMANI: [via a translator] The cost of living here is very high. We have a number of internationals getting very high salaries, so the standards went up. And the Albanian teachers cannot afford that standard.

HASELOCK: It is a question which affects every international mission across the world, and it is a problem, you know. I accept that.

PORTER: Again, UN spokesman Simon Haselock.

HASELOCK: The ludicrous thing is that you might have somebody, a local person who works for the international community doing a comparatively ordinary job, let’s say, where they might be being paid more than a high court judge is, on who’s being paid on the local salary. Now this clearly distorts the wage market. It is a problem. It’s a problem that is acknowledged by the international community, and it is a problem which happens in every area where the international community descends and particularly in the, sort of the numbers that they are here. But the, but the UN is also restricted for instance, and internationals by, you know, minimum—I mean if we were paying people, you know, 100 Euros a month for working for us we’d be criticized for slave labor. And so, you know, these are, these are the dilemmas which we have to, we have to account for. On the one hand it distorts the economy in the long term. But it still means that there is more money in the, flying around than there would be—within the general economy. And it is a problem. And I mean, there is no instant solution to it. It’s a widely accepted problem. And it just means it has to be handled sensitively. Yes.

[The sound of students in school.]

PORTER: To end the strike, teachers were promised a small bonus of 44 Euros a month for just four months, but there was no change in their regular salaries, leaving teachers in Kosovo the lowest paid educators in Europe and leaving the Kosovo education system still teetering on the brink of collapse.

[The sound of students in school.]

[Musical interlude]

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Kosovo’s Uncertain Future

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MCHUGH: Kosovo is still technically part of a country now called “Serbia and Montenegro.” But on the ground, Kosovo has been governed by the United Nations ever since the end of a NATO military campaign to stop ethnic cleansing in 1999. Finding a permanent solution for Kosovo’s legal status is causing a major headache for the United States, Europe, Russia, and the United Nations. Tom Carothers is a leading expert on the situation. He is director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Keith recently asked Tom to explain the world community’s long-term plan for Kosovo.

CAROTHERS: Well, there isn’t a plan. That’s part of the problem. The European Union, which is really the main player here, in Kosovo—and I’d say the main player on the diplomatic stage—is torn. On the one hand I think European diplomats recognize that Kosovo can’t be part of Serbia in a sense, in the long term or the larger Serbian entity. And so independence is coming for Kosovo at sometime. And it will become an independent country. On the other hand, right now in Serbian politics, which are quite volatile, if the issue of independence in Kosovo were to be pushed by the Europeans or the United States or others this would probably be a monkey wrench in Serbian politics and might provoke greater nationalist sentiments. So the Europeans have been hoping to kind of push this issue down the road, hope that tempers will cool a little bit in the region and that sometime in the next five to 10 years, perhaps, the international community could address this question and begin to say to the Serbians and Kosovars, “Well, maybe it’s time to come together and make an agreement on the divorce.” But that produces complication in Kosovar politics.

PORTER: What are sort of the broad options? I mean, you mentioned that independence will happen at some time. But independence certainly has a lot of options within it. Borders might be the same, they might not be the same. It might be some sort of quasi-independence. I mean, what are the big options that are out there?

CAROTHERS: Well, the stark option is, should Kosovo be an independent country or should it continue in this somewhat indeterminate, but sort of indeterminate legal status that is has. So the big question is independent country or no. And although there might be intermediate options about a sort of UN protectorate for some period or trusteeship or other things, deep down what people are really arguing about is, should Kosovo be an independent country or not. In real terms one of the most important issues is that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the population of Kosovo are ethnic Serbs, who live in the northern parts of the country for the most part. Some of those people would like to be part of Serbia and would like to partition off the northern part of Kosovo and actually fold it back into Serbia. The international community—again, above all the Europeans—are very much against this for two reasons. First, they don’t want to start getting in the business of rearranging borders in the Balkans because this opens up questions in Bosnia and Macedonia and Croatia and elsewhere. Secondly, they have a strong goal, stated goal, in the region of promoting multiethnic republics. Republics where people of different ethnic groups live together. They would like Kosovo to be one of those places. And if it’s not and is founded on the principle of ethnic exclusion they believe this sets a bad precedent. So they’re very determined to keep the Serbs in Kosovo even if probably deep down a number of those Serbs would prefer to live in Serbia.

PORTER: How can we impose this? If the ethnic Albanians don’t want to create institutions that are inclusive of the Serbs and the Serbs don’t want to join institutions—parliaments, government ministries, whatever you might call them—that include Albanians, how can we impose this upon them?

CAROTHERS: Well, it’s not so easy. But there are examples in Europe of countries where you have 80 to 90 percent of people of one sort of ethnic group or nationality and 10 or 20 percent people of another in which they’ve been able to live together. If you look at Italy, for example, in northern Italy there are a lot of people of German or Austrian descent who live in northern Italy and put up with life within Italy even though they’re not Italians. Why? Well, because they’re actually quite favored by Italian institutions. They’ve gotten a lot of subsidies over the years. They’ve gotten disproportionate representation in Italian political institutions.

And so what you have to do is say to the Serbs, “We want you part of this country. You will be a productive part of the economy and a productive part of the society. And we want you so much that we’re willing to disfavor you in certain ways. You’re a minority. We’ll not only make sure your rights are respected, we’ll make sure you have greater than average representation in our political institutions. You will have a protected place, probably in the parliament in some ways. We will make sure that you are well- and even better-than-average represented.” And make this in a sense, “You have a choice. You could be the poor southern brothers in Serbia who are disadvantaged or you can be the, you know, well treated northern neighbors here in Kosovo. Make the choice. You’ll be better off in Kosovo economically and politically than you would be in Serbia.” So you have to create incentives.

You don’t say “Love us.” They’re not going to love each other. They’re just not going to. And actually, you know, a lot of the people in northern Italy don’t really love the southern Italians either. But they live together because they have clear incentives for doing so. So it’s a question of creating institutions that are based around models that have shown that they can work with this kind of situation.

What’s hard about it is that it says in a sense, “Love thy enemy.” Give the people that you’ve been fighting with a greater position economically and politically. That’s hard to swallow. But, you know, there are leaders in Kosovo who are thinking about the long-term future and realize that they’re going to be better off, ’cause a lot of these Serbs have technical skills. They need productive people, particularly in these northern parts of the country where some of the productive enterprises are. And so I think there will be some statesmen who over time see the value of this. But I can tell you it’s a tough sell.

PORTER: Would you like to make a prediction here on when you think this will play out and when we’ll have a final status?

CAROTHERS: Well, I’ve learned from studying political processes around the world it’s usually a mistake to make predictions. I would say that, you know, I think Europeans are thinking in the five to ten year range. What they’d like to do is get through another round of elections in Serbia. And see the situation, political situation in Serbia stabilized, see what happens with the nationalist forces in Serbia. And then they’d also like to see Bosnia a bit more stabilized, particularly with questions of Bosnian Serbs and Republic of Serbs and Bosnia. Get through that and then turn and face this. Now that’s the rational hope. You can’t always chose the order in which you want to solve problems in the Balkans. But that’s the—so I believe that they’re thinking later this decade they will address these questions.

PORTER: Tom Carothers leads the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington, DC.

MCHUGH: Kosovo’s power problems, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Kosovo Power

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: Today, the slow process of rebuilding the region continues. But as Kristin and I learned during our recent visit, Kosovo’s recovery efforts are hampered by the lack of something we take for granted in the Western world—reliable electricity.

[The sounds of an electrical generator.]

MCHUGH: Walk anywhere in Kosovo and this is the sound you will likely hear.

[The sounds of an electrical generator.]

MCHUGH: It’s the hum of a gasoline-powered generator and it’s a sign Kosovo is in the midst of a power crisis.

JOSEF RIEDER: [via a translator] One is 18 and the other is 19 years old.

MCHUGH: Josef Rieder, a German national, is the new Managing Director of Kosovo’s Electric Company, KEK. He says Kosovo’s two unreliable and outdated power plants are the main cause of the energy shortage.

RIEDER: [via a translator] We also have the sector A, the thermo central producer. It is the older power plant. The older section of the power plant is 40 years old. Where the youngest plant in that sector is 20 years old.

[The sound of jet aircraft, exploding bombs, and antiaircraft fire.]

MCHUGH: In 1999, Slobodan Milosevic’s drive to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of all Albanians and other non-Serb minorities was crushed by a 78-day, NATO-led bombing campaign. Damage from the bombing raids was, for the most part, limited to military installations, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. But Kosovo’s two power generating facilities near Pristina survived. Some say that was a mistake.

TERESA CRAWFORD: It’s funny because my husband was a KFOR soldier. And he was helping with the development of the protected targets list. So the list of the facilities that NATO would bomb during the bombing campaign. And they very specifically said that the power plant is a protected target, so don’t bomb the power plant. Well, when they got here and they realized how bad the power was, they wished they had bombed the power plants.

MCHUGH: Teresa Crawford is Technical Director of the Advocacy Project and a board member of IPKO, Kosovo’s first post-war Internet provider.

CRAWFORD: Just in case the power goes out and the generator hasn’t turned on yet, there’s a really big generator downstairs that runs the power for the lab.

MCHUGH: Kosovo’s two power generating facilities, Plants A and B, were once part of Yugoslavia’s vast energy grid. But now, even on the rare occasion both are fully operational, the two can’t generate all of the power needed to meet demand. Three years ago, Kosovo’s peak power consumption was 500 megawatts. This winter that figure has jumped to 800 megawatts. The consequences are clear—rolling blackouts throughout Kosovo.

[The sound of a busy Kosovo restaurant, the Metro Café.]

MCHUGH: This is the Metro Café, a trendy diner not unlike those in New York or London. Here, Pristina’s hip youth and fashionable executives gather to drink coffee, catch up on the latest news, or to watch MTV on satellite television. All of this requires electricity.

AVNI KRASNIQI: Lately, it’s been four hours without, two with power.

MCHUGH: Four hours without?

KRASNIQI: Without power and two hours with power.

MCHUGH: Every day?

KRASNIQI: Every—more or less every day.

MCHUGH: Metro Café owner and operator Avni Krasniqi.

KRASNIQI: You know, it does affect the business a lot. Before, yes, we had a small generator, we couldn’t cook, we couldn’t get, you know, coffees ready. You know, that’s why people here. There was no heating. But, since we got the massive generator there are no problems.

[The sounds of an electrical generator.]

MCHUGH: Kosovo’s electric company maintains a load shedding schedule, a complicated grid designed to help businesses and residents determine when they will and will not have power. But as Keith and I quickly discovered, power outages are often unpredictable.

[The sound of city streets, then a busy Kosovo restaurant, the Café Monaco.]

MCHUGH: It’s a typical Friday evening here in downtown Pristina and Keith and I are now headed to dinner. The power is on. We’ll see if it stays that way.

[The sound of a busy Kosovo restaurant, the Café Monaco.]

MCHUGH: We are sitting here at the Café Monaco and we were enjoying a nice drink of diet Coke, waiting for our dinner to be served. We’ve ordered a local pizza and the power just went out. And so now we have one temporary light and a bunch of candles and we’re waiting to see what happens at this point. And I’m not sure we’re going to get dinner tonight.

[The sound of a busy Kosovo restaurant, the Café Monaco.]

MCHUGH: Well, it’s about 9:10 and we just finished our dinner and we enjoyed a wonderful pizza by candlelight. Actually, the power has not come back on here in the restaurant. Now, Keith, you just had an interesting experience.

PORTER: Yes. We asked for the dessert menu and he was able to tell us what was for dessert. And I also asked for a macchiato, a coffee drink with a little chocolate in it. And he told me that that’s unavailable now because of the power outage, they’re not able to make one of those.

[The sound of a busy Kosovo restaurant, the Café Monaco.]

MCHUGH: It’s now 9:20. They just served me my dessert and the power just came back on. We’ve been sitting here probably about 25 minutes in the dark with just candlelight.

MCHUGH: Roughly $500 million has been spent to renovate and update Kosovo’s aging power plants. Much to the chagrin of local officials—stop anyone on the street and most will tell you it was money wasted.

SIMON HASELOCK: They are basically breaking down every minute. We’re keeping these together with a wing and a prayer.

MCHUGH: Simon Haselock is Public Information Director for the United Nations Mission In Kosovo, or UNMIK.

HASELOCK: That requires a lot of money, a lot of investment., and some people are, you know, would question whether investment was wise or not. That, the decision was to rehabilitate the existing infrastructure. And that has been difficult. People need to understand the cost of these things. You know, they say, how much money has been wasted on rehabilitating these power stations. Firstly, if you had wanted a new power station built here it would have taken a lot more than has been spent currently on rehabilitating it. Secondly, it would have taken a couple of years to build, so you’d have still had to invest in the existing system. And you are in the home of the conspiracy theory here. And there is a conspiracy about every possible thing you could possibly wish.

MCHUGH: And there are plenty of conspiracy theories swirling around the power situation. All have a common theme—corruption. Last summer, a massive fire swept through one of Plant B’s generating units. Officially, lightning sparked the fire. But Metro Café owner Avni Krasniqi says conspiracy theorists insist the fire was a criminal cover-up.

AVNI KRASNIQI: You know, people talk about how there is somebody behind it. There is people who don’t want this thing to work. But, I just think it’s too old, and probably they should get into the system and maybe buying a, rather than using the old system that we have.

MCHUGH: IPKO’s Teresa Crawford wants to believe the official investigation of the Plant B fire—but even she has her doubts.

THERESA CRAWFORD: I don’t, I mean, there’s always a conspiracy theory about everything so, I’d like to believe it was just an explosion and it wasn’t that somebody set something there, or, you know, did something. I don’t believe this theory that it was lightning. Somebody said, “Oh, it was a lightning hit.” I said, “Oh, I really don’t think lightening could cause quite that much damage.”

JOSEF REIDER: [via a translator] What reason would they have not to tell the truth?

MCHUGH: KEK Managing Director Joseph Reider insists Mother Nature is to blame for the Plant B fire.

REIDER: [via a translator] International professionals did the research, and established that this was an accident caused by the lightning. The examples where control rooms burned are not only in Kosovo. I know two other cases where this happened in Germany.

[The sound of a city streets, then a busy Kosovo restaurant, the Café Monaco.]

MCHUGH: That’s little comfort to shop owner Avni Krasniqi. His last electric bill was $890 Euros, roughly $900. The generator he must have to operate his business can run twice as much.

KRASNIQI: We spent about 11,000 Euros in the generator. It costs 5 Euros an hour. Plus, you have the service that you gotta pay every 200 hours the generator works is another 100 Euros, that’s how much it works. There is no guaranteeing it. If it goes wrong, you gotta pay still for the parts.

[The sound of city traffic.]

MCHUGH: [reporting from the city] Just behind the UNMIK headquarters in downtown Pristina there is a wall which has been hastily painted over with white paint. Underneath the paint you can faintly see what used to be graffiti, and it says something to the extent of, “In Kosovo we used to have power but now….” Obviously folks here are frustrated with the power situation.

MCHUGH: [now narrating again] KEK is purchasing electricity from Bulgaria to try to ease the energy gaps, but even this, it seems, is generating more talk of corruption than actual power. Last month, a former KEK official was arrested and charged with stealing and misusing more than $4 million worth of international aid. The money was originally earmarked to purchase power from Bulgaria.

MCHUGH: [reporting from the city] Well, it’s after dinner and we are headed back to the hotel. It’s very, very dark. So I just now took out my flashlight so we can make our way back without tripping.

MCHUGH: [now narrating again] Officials estimate it will cost more than a billion dollars to replace Kosovo’s aging power plants but its unlikely KEK will find the money among the many international donors currently contributing to Kosovo’s reconstruction.

[The sound of a busy Kosovo restaurant, the Downtown Café.]

MCHUGH: Just down the street from one of the Kosovo Electric Company’s administrative offices, the Downtown Café’s band plays on while a countless number of generators hum their own tune across Kosovo. KEK Managing Director Josef Reider is hopeful Kosovo’s aging power plants will be operational at full capacity some time this year. But he knows this is only a short-term solution in a region desperately trying to repair the damage of war.

PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground our special examination of post-conflict reconstruction continues with Cambodia’s story.

AKI RA: Now I clear landmines to save for my country. From the war until now I clear many, many thousand—twenty, thirty thousand, in my life.

PORTER: Plus, Cambodia’s hope for healing.

LARRIE WARREN: Time after time I’ve seen young kids—I’ve seen it with and adults as well, but when we see these young kids come to us in just a very, very pathetic and sad mobile situation and then boy, the old saying about a smile being worth a thousand pictures, we see it all the time. It’s incredible.

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Cambodia Landmine Museum

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MCHUGH: Cambodia is approaching general elections this summer still dealing with the ghosts of post-military conflict. The government and the United Nations recently agreed to create a tribunal to investigate war crimes committed during nearly three decades of civil war.

PORTER: Another step in post-conflict cleanup involves ridding Cambodia of thousands of landmines. Deadly during war, landmines become vicious killers after a conflict when they can spend years, even decades, silently waiting for their victims. When Kristin and I visited Cambodia in January, we found a monument and a man dedicated to solving this problem.

[The sound of birds chirping.]

PORTER: Deep inside Cambodia is the town of Siem Reap. It’s home to the Angkor Wat temples and is quickly becoming a very popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia. But off the beaten path—well off the beaten path—is a tiny little attraction known as The Landmine Museum. It’s a privately owned and operated museum and it’s run by a man named Aki Ra.

AKI RA: Yeah, in the war I am the special army to lay the mine and fighting. I am very young soldier—13 years old. And I lay many, many mine around Cambodia and Thai border.

PORTER: And now you’ve spent how many years trying to get rid of those mines?

AKI RA: Now I clear landmines to save for my country. From the war until now I clear many, many thousand—twenty, thirty thousand, in my life.

PORTER: And you also started this museum. Tell me about the Landmine Museum.

AKI RA: Now I open my Landmine Museum to tell the Cambodian people to know about war and landmine in the past and in the future.

[The sound of chirping birds and barking dogs, followed by the sound of a motorcycle.]

PORTER: The museum, several kilometers outside Siem Reap, is a collection of small buildings made from wood and corrugated metal.

[The sound of a crowing rooster.]

PORTER: Once on the museum grounds most visitors will be afraid to touch anything. There are dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds of mines—everywhere. Aki Ra says they’re all safe. There are large anti-tank mines as big as a skillet, perhaps four or five inches deep; tiny little mines designed to blow the leg off an enemy soldier. There are also unexploded ordinances lying about—bombs half buried in the ground, just the way a child or an adult might find them if they were to come into a post-conflict situation.

[The sound of a crowing rooster.]

AKI RA: My parents were die when I am young. I don’t remember them. My birthday may be ’72 or ’73. Also, I stay in the group with the Khmer Rouge, to work for them when I am 10 years old. And after I am 12 years old they teach me how to use gun, mine, bomb. And many my friends were die, injured, when we learned the real thing, like a mine or bomb and gun.

[The sound of people walking through the museum compound.]

PORTER: As we walk around here we see these mines all over the place. Are they dangerous?

AKI RA: No, all safe. I, I made it safe. I take TNT and fuse already.

PORTER: And what are these mines called?

AKI RA: These are MD-82B, made from Vietnamese for blow up the leg when we step.

PORTER: Yeah, I see above the display here, where you have over 500 of these mines, you have some photographs. And tell our listeners what’s happening in the photograph there.

AKI RA: Yeah. This picture, the man he blow up with this mine, the small one, and lose one leg.

PORTER: Outside of the main small little hut where the museum is located, we’re standing outside of that in an area where you have planted some items to look as they did when they were originally found or…

AKI RA: …yeah, it…

PORTER: …as you might find them.

AKI RA: In the minefield, some place have many, many grass and tree. And we have to know how to walk, how to find it. But for me, I can walk in the minefield without stepping on the landmine. I can walk just normal. Many, many landmine, some place, five or ten mine in one meter.

PORTER: So, in a one-meter area there might be five or six landmines?

AKI RA: Some place. Many, yeah.

PORTER: And you could walk through there without setting off those landmines?

AKI RA: Yeah, I can walk. Because I have experience in lot in the war.

PORTER: And you would also then know how to dig up those mines and defuse them?

AKI RA: Yeah. I know how to dig and make it unscrew and take fuse and then it’s safe.

PORTER: But isn’t that dangerous? I mean, it sounds very, very dangerous.

AKI RA: Yeah, if you don’t know, then dangerous. But I know, not dangerous.

[The sound of people walking through the museum compound.]

AKI RA: Some mine, they are put on the tree with a trip wire. And one mine with a tree and when we walk and touch the wire one blow up and one fall down from the tree, same time. Blow people up.

PORTER: So what we see right here, it looks like a hand grenade….

AKI RA: …Yeah, hand grenade…

PORTER: It’s connected to a wire, to a tree….

AKI RA: …and then from the tree…

PORTER: …and then there’s a bomb hanging from the tree there.

AKI RA: Yeah, when they drop, hit the ground and blow up.

[The sound of a motorcycle.]

PORTER: Now, you are still in the process of cleaning up mines all over this country, right? I mean, that’s still your full-time occupation, is de-mining?

AKI RA: Yeah, now I still clear landmine. Today I just come back. I clear a lot. Yeah.

PORTER: How long do you think it will take? How long will you be doing that? How many landmines are left?

AKI RA: In Cambodia, still many million more left. I think four, five million more left. And when it is finished, I don’t know.

PORTER: I mean, it sounds like it could take the rest of your life to clear all of them.

AKI RA: Yeah, yeah. I think like that.

[The sound of chirping birds.]

PORTER: Aki Ra runs the Landmine Museum near Siem Reap, Cambodia.

MCHUGH: Coming up next, hope for healing in Cambodia. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Kien Khleang

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PORTER: Even when war ends, civilians are still in danger. Perhaps the greatest danger is the prospect for another conflict. Without education, health care, and a strong economy, the seeds for a future conflict can easily take root. This requires aid agencies to find creative solutions for the unique needs of children and adults in post-war situations. During our Southeast Asia visit earlier this year, Kristin and I discovered one American-funded program that is helping to heal the mind, body, and spirit of thousands of disabled Cambodians.

[The sound of ethnic Cambodian music played by a band of musicians with disabilities, at Ta Phrom.]

MCHUGH: A band of disabled men, all dressed in crisp blue oxfords, captivates a steady stream of visitors at the Ta Prohm ruins near Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple.

[The sound of ethnic Cambodian music played by a band of musicians with disabilities, at Ta Phrom.]

MCHUGH: It’s a familiar site here. In 1999 the World Bank estimated nearly 10 percent of Cambodia’s population was disabled, although experts say poor infrastructure makes the actual number of disabled citizens difficult to track.

[The sound of ethnic Cambodian music played by a band of musicians with disabilities, at Ta Phrom.]

MCHUGH: A countless number of the disabled—including these band members—end up begging for food and money at locations popular with foreigners. But less than one mile across Phnom Penh’s Japanese Friendship Bridge, an American-funded medical clinic is helping thousands of Cambodians get back on their feet.

HING CHANNARITH: My name is Hing Channarith. And I’m the site manager of the Kien Khleang Physical Rehabilitation Center of Veterans International Cambodia, and a program of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.

[The sound of Hing Channarith beginning his tour of the Kien Khleang Physical Rehabilitation Center.]

MCHUGH: Hing Channarith manages the Kien Khleang Physical Rehabilitation Center. Founded in 1991, Kien Khleang has grown into a multi-service facility for amputees, landmine victims, and persons with a host of other physical disabilities including polio, scoliosis, and congenital deformities. More than 10,000 legs have been fitted in the past decade. All are made to specifications on-site. And each month more than 250 patients pass through Kien Khleang. Roughly half are children. Every patient’s individual course of treatment begins with an initial screening.

[The sound of Hing Channarith continuing his tour of the Kien Khleang Physical Rehabilitation Center.]

CHANNARITH: All patients physically, physically disabled persons. They have to register and they meet with a screener. And the screener will refer to the prosthetic/orthotic section.

MCHUGH: A gentle breeze moves through the sunlit waiting area today as new patient Soung Chak Chen quietly answers questions about his health.

SOUNG CHAK CHEN: [via a translator] I’ve come to check on my leg.

MCHUGH: Polio has crippled one of the 14-year-old’s legs. Looking terrified, he now sits alone with a physical therapist in Kien Khleang’s large, open air physical therapy room. A semi-circular maze of silver bars fills nearly a third of the therapy room. At the moment, a young boy is carefully navigating the maze. Larrie Warren, the Country Director for Veterans International’s Cambodia Rehabilitation Program, explains.

LARRIE WARREN: This is just what we call gate training. When you put, whether it’s a prosthesis or an orthosis, when you put it on the people have to learn all over again how to walk. We always refer to prosthetics as AK and BK. An AK means an above knee amputation; BK, below knee. If somebody comes in here that’s a below knee amputation, we can do wonders for ’em and have them out the door in a few days. And an AK is a much harder, you know, a whole different project because nobody’s figured out how to manufacture a knee joint that’s all that great. And they really have to learn how to walk all over again.

[The sound of a patient riding a stationary bicycle.]

MCHUGH: Not far from the gait training area, a young girl with a bright smile swiftly rides a stationary bike. When she arrived five months ago, the 13-year-old Deu Sreipheak could barely move.

CHANNARITH: Because of the treatment that our physical therapy and in cooperation with the family, today she can ride bicycle, she can walk, and she can speak. It’s very much improvement that we provide for her.

DEU SREIPHEAK’S GRANDMOTHER: [via a translator] If she couldn’t come here her life would be very different. She wouldn’t be able to move.

MCHUGH: Deu Sreipheak’s grandmother can’t contain her smile as she praises the clinic.

DEU SREIPHEAK’S GRANDMOTHER: [via a translator] They are really concerned about people with this disability. I’m very happy that I brought my grandchild here and that she can walk. I am very happy with the treatment.

MCHUGH: And what part of treatment does Deu Sreipheak enjoy the most?

DEU SREIPHEAK: [summarized by a translator] She likes every part of this section.

MCHUGH: Poverty and malnutrition remain major problems for Cambodia as it slowly rebuilds after nearly three decades of civil war. So every morning, Deu Sreipheak and all other child patients make their way down a short crushed-rock sidewalk lined with bushes to Kien Khleang’s outdoor eating area.

CHANNARITH: At 9:30 am every day we provide a noodle soup for physical disabled children. We want to increase their energy.

MCHUGH: [reporting from the rehabilitation center.] The children are sitting under an open grass roof hut. They’re sitting, if they can sit on the ground, they’re sitting on carpets, and they’re enjoying what appears to be a beef noodle soup. And the children who aren’t able to sit on the mats are sitting in their wheelchairs.

MCHUGH: [again narrating] Although the supplemental meal is only provided for the children, a number of family members are also gathered in the outdoor eating area. On this day, a total of 55 people are staying in Kien Khleang’s on-site dormitory—41 are patients.

[The sound of banging and clanging at a wheelchair factory.]

MCHUGH: In addition to medical treatment, Kien Khleang builds wheelchairs, crafts custom prosthetic devices and braces, and produces a range of artificial feet. Here in the wheelchair assembly area, chairs of all sizes with deep royal blue seats and shiny new wheels line the entrance.

[The sound of electric tools at a wheelchair factory.]

CHANNARITH: We make child and adult wheelchair. We produce tricycle wheelchair for child and adult. We produce walking frame, child and adult also.

MCHUGH: Kien Khleang produces an average of 35 wheelchairs per month. Today, half-a-dozen employees are carefully building individual wheelchair parts, including this man who skillfully places bearings inside the tire spokes.

CHANNARITH: He’s completely blind due to a landmine. And he’s a wheelchair finishing. His main job is to assemble the wheel. And we have 13 workers, some of them are landmine victims. And we have two double amputee and two blind.

[The sound of electric tools at a wheelchair factory.]

MCHUGH: In fact, nearly one-third of Kien Khleang’s production employees are themselves disabled.

WARREN: Our prosthetics is—thank god—our prosthetic work has slowly started to decline which, has you know, certainly something to do with the post-conflict, the peace that has finally come to this country.

MCHUGH: Again, Larrie Warren

WARREN: So each month we’re putting legs on about 70 people. Now, most of those are refittings. An amputee needs a new leg somewhere between every one and two years. So people are constantly coming back to us. It is estimated that there’s probably somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 amputees in Cambodia, which is one of the highest per capita rates in the entire world. And our orthotics, we’re doing just about double the number. So we’re doing somewhere between150 and 160 orthotic braces each month.

[The sounds of the clinic.]

CHANNARITH: Now, our physical therapist and prosthetic/orthotic technologist is fitting the brace for a scoliosis girl. This is the first time that she has received a brace from us.

MCHUGH: Today in the fitting area, a young scoliosis patient with large brown, but fearful eyes firmly clutches a stuffed toy as she is fitted with a brace that covers nearly all of her tiny chest and back. Nearby, an amputee is measured for a new artificial leg. Non Van Turn stepped on a landmine 20 years ago.

NON VAN TURN: [via a translator] I came here because the prosthetic was getting loose. I came here for a tighter one. If I didn’t have this stuff, I wouldn’t be able to do anything at home.

[The sound of electric tools at a wheelchair factory.]

MCHUGH: It will take multiple steps to produce Non Van Turn’s new artificial leg.

MCHUGH: [reporting directly from the factory] Right now, they are wrapping the plastic around the amputee mold that they’ve created so that they can finish off the leg. The plastic has been in the oven for an hour. And it’s a process that has to happen pretty quickly, ’cause it cools very, very fast. It’s a very thick piece of brown plastic that’s been in the oven for about an hour. It’s to resemble the flesh of a leg.

MCHUGH: [Again narrating] A few yards past the oven, a dozen or so rubber feet rest on a worn, red table. They are among the thousands Kien Khleang manufactures each year.

CHANNARITH: And our feet last for one year maximum. One of the example for this feet, it’s old but you look black, black color, and it’s broken.

MCHUGH: [interviewing Channarith with factory sounds in the background] Starting to pull away?


MCHUGH: So the average life span for one of these is a year?


MCHUGH: And that’s why patients come back every year?


[The sound of electric tools at a wheelchair factory.]

MCHUGH: Kien Khleang technicians routinely test newly manufactured feet by machine. They also visit patients at home every month to see how the feet are being used in everyday tasks. It’s all in an effort to improve the product.

CHANNARITH: We are in the prosthetic/orthotic workshop. We have 24 prosthetic/orthotic technicians working here. And some are landmine victims.

[The sound of electric tools at a wheelchair factory.]

MCHUGH: The prosthetic workshop, which is adjacent to the casting area, is bustling with activity today. Work stations fitted with a variety of tools fill much of the floor space. Here technicians craft devices designed to help those with a host of physical disabilities.

CHANNARITH: Now Okaw is making the brace for a polio boy. And he just put a sidebar on the polypropylene brace.

[The sound of electric tools at a wheelchair factory.]

MCHUGH: Kien Khleang is the largest of the four rehabilitation centers Veterans’ International operates in Cambodia. It is also the largest center the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, or VVAF, runs anywhere in the world. Again, Larrie Warren.

WARREN: There’s a couple of other centers that are around the same size as Kien Khleang but it’s the most comprehensive. No other center in the country does prosthetic work, orthotic work, full physical physiotherapy and produces and distributes wheelchairs.

MCHUGH: Since the early 1990’s, Kien Khleang and VVAF’s other Cambodia programming have received nearly all of their financing from the Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund. But the War Victims Fund grant—roughly $1 million dollars a year—is being phased out. Larrie Warren says VVAF is now in the process of setting up a private endowment to keep Kien Khleang and its other Cambodia programs up and running.

WARREN: Our goal is to enhance the quality of life of any patient, any person that comes to us. There are various ways to do that and the key to it all is mobility. Many of the children come to us, just completely lack mobility. In the worst cases they at least need a wheelchair to try to get around. Hopefully we can do better than that and actually put a child who has never walked or who hasn’t walked for quite some time to get them walking again.

[The sound of a wheelchair basketball game.]

MCHUGH: Kien Khleang’s quality of life goal may not be obvious to these young patients as they play an enthusiastic game of wheelchair basketball. But it is obvious that the care these children receive here allows them to experience the joys of youth instead of watching from the sidelines.

WARREN: Time after time I’ve seen young kids—I’ve seen it with adults as well, but when we see these young kids come to us in just a very, very pathetic and sad mobile situation and then boy, the old saying about a smile being worth a thousand pictures, we see it all the time. It’s incredible.

[The sound of a wheelchair basketball game.]

MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh near Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

[The sound of a wheelchair basketball game.]

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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