110th Anniversary Activities: Supporting the Elimination of Landmines in Cambodia.
As one of the projects to mark our 110 year anniversary in 2000, we provided financial sponsorship to the nonprofit organization JAHDS (Japan Alliance for Humanitarian Demining Support), through the Tokyo Rotary Club. JAHDS is an organization working to eliminate anti-personnel landmines in Cambodia.
The problem of anti-personnel landmines is one of the deadly legacies of the twentieth century. At the time of our involvement in this project, it was estimated that, in over 60 countries, including Angola, Iraq, Afghanistan and Cambodia, there were more than 100 million landmines left buried, causing death or injury to about 30,000 people every year, mostly women and children. These brutal weapons, which maim and kill innocent civilians, are one of the great hazards of civil war and continue to pose a hazard during post-conflict reconstruction.
Amidst growing international concern about the landmine problem, the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines came into force in December 1997. Japan belatedly became the 45th signatory to this convention under the administration of Prime Minister Obuchi.
In 1998, the year after the treaty was signed, members of organizations such as the Tokyo Rotary Club were responsible for the founding of the nonprofit organization JAHDS, who commenced their activities with support from many leading companies. Using a new type of mine detector developed by Geo Search Co. Ltd., specialists in underpavement sinkhole detection, and with technical and financiales support from the world of business, this project has gathered together Japan's outstanding technological capabilities.
Until now anti-personnel mine detectors have mainly been metal detectors which respond to all buried metal objects, such as nails, for example, but are unable to detect the many anti-personnel landmines that are made of plastic. In addition, with over 300 types of landmine in existence, it used to be impossible to identify the type of landmine prior to excavation. The "Mine Eye" detector, developed by Geo Search, uses electromagnetic waves to determine whether a mine is made of metal or plastic, and analyses the reflected waves to determine the shape and composition of the mine and even the depth at which it is buried. This innovative equipment promises to be the most efficient and safest demining method developed so far.
JAHDS initially designated the villages of Cambodia's Siem Reap province, near Angkor Wat, as being in most urgent need of help. According to the findings of the UK NGO Halo Trust, specialists in mine clearance, there were about 600,000 unexploded landmines in this area. In February 2002, having eliminated these landmines, the "Clear Land Plan" was officially launched, with the aim of recreating a safe living environment for local people. This region was the site of the fiercest fighting between Khmer Rouge and Monarchist forces over a period of 18 years from 1980, producing many victims and refugees. Halo Trust, an NGO established with Swiss funds and using the collaboration of British ex-servicemen, started their activities in Angola and now carry out demining in many parts of the world. The organization became widely known due to the support of the late Princess Diana.
Our company's founding member, Katsutaro Inabata, was decorated with the Grand Cordon of the Order by the Cambodian government, and his successor, Taro Inabata served as Honorary Consul General to Cambodia in Osaka until the outbreak of the civil war. Inabata's historically close ties with Cambodia were the catalyst for our support of this project.
The project, which started from zero, has currently eliminated landmines from an area of approximately 4.2 hectare. 11 villages have already been restored to safety, and many people have been resettled. Schools have reopened for the first time in many years, there has been an increase in safe places for children to play, fields can be ploughed, and smiles have returned to the faces of the villagers.
We feel that our main achievement in this project is not just the elimination of landmines, but the fact that we have been able to save countless people from injury, and given families the chance to live happily. The project still has many challenges to surmount in the future, and Inabata's contribution to JAHDS as part of our anniversary celebrations is a modest one, but we feel that our employees can feel proud of the boost that Inabata's contribution has given to the initial stages of this project.