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Cambodian landmine survivor shares his struggles for peace

Cambodian landmine survivor shares his struggles for peace

Tun Channareth speaking at the WCC's YATRA event, in Siem Reap. © WCC/Janith Demel

17 June 2014

The life of Tun Channareth from Cambodia was changed dramatically in his early twenties.

A resistance soldier fighting the Khmer Rouge, Channareth’s legs were shattered when he stepped on a landmine near the border between Cambodia and Thailand. He was 22 years old.

At the time, he considered ending his life, he told participants in the World Council of Churches Youth in Asia Training for Religious Amity (YATRA) on 12 June in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Some lives illustrate what it means to embark on a “pilgrimage of justice and peace” - a call issued to churches by the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th Assembly. Channareth’s is one such story.

Despite the landmine accident, along with losing his father and sister to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime and constant struggles to feed his family, Channareth has become a voice for the banning of landmines around the world.

Joining with other landmine survivors, Channareth collected more than one million signatures from Cambodians calling for a ban on landmines. This petition led to the establishment of the Cambodian Campaign to Ban Landmines, a key member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

On behalf of the ICBL, Channareth, along with Jody Williams, the international coordinator, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Buddhist monks and Christian organizations, including the Lutheran World Federation, Jesuit Refugee Service, Church World Service, Caritas, Australian Catholic Relief and Maryknoll sisters and brothers were also involved in the campaign.

There have been more than 64,000 landmine casualties in Cambodia.

“As humans we all have landmines in our hearts,” said Channareth. “But also a flower! What we need is to eliminate the landmine and let the flower bloom. Do you know when we let this flower bloom?” he asked the YATRA participants, replying himself, “When we help and do something for others.”

A Catholic, Channareth works for the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic NGO, which is hosting the WCC's YATRA training in Siem Reap.

Reflections that Channareth shared with the YATRA participants, who make a group of some thirty young Asian Christians, became an inspiration in discussions on how to work for the cause of justice and peace in the multi-religious and politically complex region of Asia.

YATRA continues until 21 June.

Young Christian leaders from Asia begin “YATRA” in Cambodia (WCC news release on 10 June 2014)

WCC programme for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation

Youth in the ecumenical movement

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