Cambodia, August 2010 – Tuktuks gaily decorated with balloons and Ban Cluster Bomb banners rode around Angkor Wat carrying cluster bomb survivors on 1st August 2010. They were celebrating the entry into force of the Convention to ban Cluster Munitions. Led by Tun Channareth in his wheelchair they handed out leaflets explaining the law and gathering signatures of support.
“Bombs out! Balloons in!” said one US tourist. “Yes, and you need to sign the treaty” returned the campaigners! It was a special day of celebration for 20 survivors who travelled from Kratie and Kompong Cham to attend the events in Siem Reap.
After a ban advocates seminar convened by Song Kosal where survivors learnt more about the treaty and honed their campaigning skills and the ride round the temples the survivors celebrated! For many it was their first time to visit a restaurant!
The 2nd of August was filled with activity. An old friend, himself a landmine survivor and his band called all to beat the drum as they entered. Flashes of red from the ban shirts dotted the grounds as children and adults played soccer, balloon football, sack races and hung peace doves on the sweetly smelling jasmine tree in the centre of the labyrinth.
The traditional Cambodian ceremony Chay Yam drummed all to follow in procession to witness the Cluster Bomb Dance created by Tolah of Battambang, herself a child refugee during the shelling of Site 2 Refugee camp years ago, featured cluster bombs, devastated fields, rice farmers and peace doves. Wheelchair dancers singing, “If we all join together we can uproot evil and change the world” touched the hearts of many. Cambodian instruments set on the outside amphitheatre of the Reflection Centre accompanied the dance. Some of the dancers were small girls and boys in 1996 when they joined the dance against landmines.
En Sam Ouern, who lost both eyes and arms in 2004 to a cluster bomb dropped in the seventies called all to the dragon boat to sign the people’s treaty against Cluster bombs. He urged all States, including Cambodia, to get on board and go to Laos to make a strong action plan with immediate effects to clear clusters and uphold the rights and quality of life of those affected by them. More than 1000 people signed on in the afternoon.
Finally the Buddhist monks and Bishop Kike blessed miniature boats of the countries which have ratified the treaty and survivors and campaigners sent them off on our pond as hundreds of balloons flew into the sky.
It was a day of hope as the first disarmament treaty of this century became international law.
Sr. Denise Coughlan, RSM