Sunday, November 30, 2003

Now I know this whole video blogging thing works, I nipped out this morning to PC World and bought a copy of Videowave with which to edit the material shot on the Sony PD-150.

Videowave seems cheap and cheerful enough -- and made the creation of my second vlog a breeze.

It was filmed in the Auchamlong Minefield in Northwest Cambodia. The file is 2'45" long and is a 1.65Mb RealMedia file. If people would prefer it in a different format, just drop me a line.

Videoblog: Auchamlong Piece to Camera
Thanks to Lynn for this link to an ABC News story about Paul Esposito, who became a bilateral AK amputee in the Staten Island Ferry Crash.
Jeff Jarvis from Buzz Machine has picked up on the videoblog -- or Vlog as he calls them.

I haven't perused Jeff's site extensively yet as it's far too early in the morning but it appears I've stumbled across an emerging phenomenon.

If you've got anything to say about videoblogs, drop me an e-mail.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Another BNI first -- videoblogging.

Sean has just sent across the rushes we shot on Mini DV in Cambodia for the BBC Wales documentary (now more likely to be documentarys as we're looking good for two programmes) I'm making with producer Tony O'Shaughnessy about my recovery.

I've spent the evening dubbing the tapes onto my hard drive and can proudly present my very first videoblog from the Auchamlong minefield. It's a .wmv file, is less than 400Kb in size and is 1'29" in duration.

There may be more to follow as I process the tapes.

MAG Cambodia 1 (.wmv)

Friday, November 28, 2003

The pony-tailed one wasn't the only person to pick up his OBE from the Palace yesterday.

Oh no.

Veteran BBC Rome correspondent David Willey was also in the queue for his gong -- and last night he held a big party to celebrate the fact.

A fine time was had by all.

Picture: David Willey
Picture: With Diplomatic Correspondent, Bridget Kendall
Picture: With Jo Cayford and Katie Pearson
Picture: Meet My Glamorous Assistants...

The lights are back on at Television Centre.

The BBC listeners and viewers among you might have noticed something was afoot this morning when normal programming was interrupted by a power cut.

I've managed to snaffle one of the few computers working in the building.

It's proving to be a chaotic old morning but the show -- at least for now -- is managing to go on.

Media Guardian: Power cut blamed for Today blackout

Thursday, November 27, 2003


Lesson 1: Contempt of Court.

This preserves the integrity of the legal process and safeguards the dignity of the court. The greatest risk to the reporter is by publishing material which might sway a juror and thereby prejudice a fair trial.

A person can be found guilty of contempt by publication or broadcast, regardless of intent, where a substantial risk of serious prejudice or impediment to proceedings is caused and where proceedings are active.

Full marks, then to Shropshire-based radio station Beacon FM for their nuanced understanding of this absolutely fundamental tenet of broadcast law.

In next week's lesson....Libel: Can you call someone a wanker on air and get away with it?
A shameless request for money.....

If you're Christmas shopping for books, CDs, etc and are putting an order in through Amazon UK, please consider clicking through the Amazon icon on the left hand side of this page.

Every time you do so, and then place an order, I get half a groat to help pay for the hosting and upkeep of the blog.

It's never going to make me a dot com millionaire but every little helps.

I thank you.
An e-mail arrives from Saw in Caliifornia:

"Just a short note to let you that I enjoy reading your daily activities in Cambodia from the jungle of landmines to the places in the city you have noticed.

"What touched my heart was a group of women whose work is to remove landmines. And my heart was broken for those who lost their legs due to landmines.

"You might be wondering who I am and what part of the world I'm in. I'm a graduate student in California studying Social Work. Part of the class assignments is to write papers on a few issues that I'm interested in, and I happened to find a few articles about landmines and amputees in Cambodia on BBC written by you.

"To make the story short, the artcles took me back to my homeland Cambodia which I left 22 years ago. When I was viewing the pictures of Cambodia on your personal website, I found myself viewing one picture to the next. I was lost in the readings. In fact, I became a bit envy of you because I had not had a chance to visit my country since I left in 1979.

Maybe one day I can visit Cambodia and see the beautiful and interesting places you posted on the website. "
Continuing the Simpson-esque theme for just a moment longer, I finally got to watch the Panorama special In the Line of Fire last night, about our assignment in Northern Iraq and the "friendly fire" incident that the team were involved in.

There's a transcript of the programme here.

Cameraman Fred Scott offers his recollections of the incident here, while Panorama producer Tom Giles recalls the fateful day here.

Video grabs of the incident can be found here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003


A grand total of FIVE index references to yours truly (I know because I counted them) in John Simpson's new book, The Wars Against Saddam.

Towards the end of the book he uses the adjective "poor" to describe me -- although whether he's referring to journalism skills or the nature of my accident is unclear.

For vanity purposes alone I should buy a copy, but I just can't bring myself to part with twenty quid for the hardback edition.
Reuters reports on the aid workers still working in Northern Iraq despite the dangers -- including teams from MAG.
"The threat to the civilian population in Iraq from mines, cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance is far higher than that to our employees at the moment," says MAG's Steve Priestley.
Reuters Alertnet: Security scares complicate aid effort in north Iraq

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I like to think I'm a fairly good tempered person.

This year has seen a lot of shit but I've tried to deal with it with humour and optimism. I've been lucky that even the bad things that have happened this year have brought positive outcomes.

However, there are two groups of people out there that I'd like to send nothing but bad vibes towards.

Their motivations bemuse me and their interests disgust me.

I'm not going to link to their websites because frankly these people deserve to fester in their own underground sewers.

The first loathsome group of sickos are the amputee fetishists. Each to their own and live and let live, I agree. But think about it. Would you really want your husband/brother/boyfriend/co-worker to admit he got off looking at images of people with missing limbs? Would you be proud admitting the fact in front of your family?

Amputation is not a lifestyle choice. It's painful and devastating -- and those that revel in it deserve to be isolated and condemned. Don't bother e-mailing me to argue otherwise -- your correspondence will be deleted.

The second group are the "true gore" perverts who, when presumably not hiding their girlie mags from their mothers, collect images of real-life accidents and write comments on bulletin boards like "Man what a weak mine. Looks like he stepped on a sparkler. We need to bring back those vietnam era mines which were so horric they mangled the shit out of people, one of the major causes of psycholgical damage to soldiers in Vietnam."

Through good and bad and in the interests of blogging I've kept writing for the past nine months but I'm beginning to wonder...

While in Cambodia I spent some time with Ffinlo Costain, Campaigns Coordinator for Paul McCartney and Heather Mills-McC's charity Adopt-A-Minefield.

Ffinlo was in the country to see how the money raised by the organisation was being used. It passes funds to charities like MAG and others to do the actual mine clearance on the ground.

The Adopt-A-Minefield website is full of interesting resources and is well worth a look.
I made a deliberate point of not doing a story about the sex trade in Cambodia -- a decision influenced largely by the fact that virtually every expat or NGO employee I spoke to in Phnom Penh asked me "whether you're going to do yet another story about prostitution in Cambodia."

They had a point -- the story, though valid and horrifying, has been done a million times.

That hasn't stopped The Economist, though, which coincidentally has a (rather disappointing) article on the subject in this week's edition.

It's available by subscription only, so here's a copy in Word and .txt formats.

Economist: Prostitution in Cambodia (.doc)
Economist: Prostitution in Cambodia (.txt)

Monday, November 24, 2003

Thanks to the influential Doc Searls for the latest mention -- which should ensure a veritable gridlock of traffic for days to come.

Cheers Doc!
Home safely -- just.

London is reassuringly cold and damp but there's nowhere better to curl under a thick duvet after a few weeks in the tropics. I've returned to a pile of unpaid bills (including two fines for driving in a bus lane -- oops!), letters for missed appointments and a stack of stinking washing that's threatening to overwhelm my flat. It's going to take me a while to plough through that little lot.

The return journey was not without incident. On Sunday I was up at 7, intending to head to the spider market a couple of hours outside Phnom Penh, where traders buy and sell thousands of tarantulas which are then cooked as a local delicacy.

I thought it'd make a great radio piece and Sean was eager to take some photos.

I felt a little off colour as we set out but I thought little of it.....probably the prospect of having to eat a freshly-fried spider for the purposes of the radio report, I thought.

Ten minutes after setting off, however, I stuck my head out of the window of the jeep and sprayed a line of unsuspecting Cambodians with the contents of my stomach. I immediately went back to the hotel and spent the next 10 hours in a state of what can delicately be described as "considerable discomfort." I won't go into the gory details but needless to say it involved toilets, sinks and a lot of groaning on my part. In a reversal of Newton's laws of gravity, what went down very quickly came back up.

I thought there'd be no way I'd make my Sunday evening flight as I couldn't even stand up without liquid seeping from one or other end. I desperately dosed myself up with just about everything I could find in the magic medical pack the BBC issues to journalists travelling abroad -- antibiotics, anti-emetics, Auntie Ediths -- you name it, I took it. Amazingly, it seemed to do the trick.

By the time came to pack I was just about fit enought to fly and the thought of being stranded in Phnom Penh for a week feeling like death gave me the adrenaline boost I needed to get to the airport.

After negotiating check-in, security checks and passport control in a nauseous sweat I thought the best thing to do was knock myself out for as long as possible. An elephant-strength valium ensured that I slept though most of the Bangkok to London flight and I awoke feeling weak but over the worst.

I think I'll live to tell the tale but my weighing scales tell me I've lost half a stone in the process.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Some more Angkor snaps:
Angkor 1
Angkor 2
Angkor 3

Back in Phnom Penh after my excursion to Siem Reap, which was awe-inspiring, if you like crumbling temples. I shouldn’t be such a philistine…it’s a genuine Wonder of the World and all…it’s just that after 2 days of traipsing through the jungle looking at temple after temple, it all becomes a bit of a blur.

While I know they’re only trying to make a living, the crush of women and children hollering “Mistaaaaa – you wan’ buy col’ drink…you wan’ posscard….wou wan’ buy feeelm” at every temple stop became gratingly tiresome. The certain knowledge that I was going to be accosted by the Cold Drink Banshees every time I hopped off the motorbike made me want to carry on going without stopping.

I’ve been left with a mass of sensations – and one very sore stump.

The signs of mass tourism reaching Cambodia are everywhere in Siem Reap….plush new hotels sprouting up everywhere, new tacky souvenir warehouses on every corner, and half the population of Tokyo crawling all over the temples.

The best part of the whole trip was zooming on the back of a moto on the 30km journey out to the temple of Banteay Srei early this morning, passing water buffalo scratching themselves against bamboo trees, kids in pressed white shirts running around their school playground, and families heading out to the rice fields.

While begging from foreign tourists is a fact of life for far too many Cambodians, I have my artificial leg to thank for keeping at least some of the unwashed masses at bay. One look at my milky white skin and the amputee beggars – or chon pika in Khmer – make a crutch-powered bee-line for me, cap in hand. I smile as I roll up my right trouser leg to show off my own war wound. Before I know it I’m usually surrounded by an orchestra of amputees from all corners of the market, cooing and laughing at my prosthesis.

Ethically, I’m not sure what to do. Should I give them money because I know what they’ve been through and can sympathise with their plight – or should I refuse because I’ve lost a limb too but don’t have to resort to begging. It’s an impossible dilemma – our circumstances and places within society are so different that there’s no comparison.

And if I do give to the amputees then what about the street children, disabled kids, mothers in rags with babies in their arms that accost foreigners at every turn.

Begging from tourists isn’t going to improve the quality of life of the estimated 40,000 amputees in Cambodia. The problems run too deep to be solved by a few hundred riels in guilt-money.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

I'm the world's worst tourist.

I find it a real struggle to sightsee for more than half a day -- after a few hours one church/temple/sleepy village merges into every other one I've ever seen.

However, I thought that maybe I'd be doing myself a huge disservice if I came to Cambodia and didn't go and see Angkor Wat.

So, tomorrow at the crack of dawn, I fly to Siem Riep to spend a couple of days Lara Croft style amid the ruins.
There are many beautiful places in Cambodia:
Beautiful Place 1
Beautiful Place 2
Beautiful Place 3

but this bar isn't one of them. In fact, it's downright scary -- in an underaged Cambodian girls wearing crop tops sort of a way.

It does, however, have the best name of any bar I've ever come across anywhere in the world. "The Beauty of Half Blood." What in God's name does that mean?

It's probably best not to ask.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

After confronting the horrors of the Khmer Rouge it was time for a little light relief, in between trying to finish off the piece I'm doing for Woman's Hour next week.

My first ever piece for Woman's Hour...and I'm not even a chick.

So, it was off to the National Museum to see the fine collection of Angkorian sculpture before swinging by the Wat Phnom temple to give thanks to the passport gods.

With GWB in London it's fairly safe for me to enjoy a few days sightseeing and being a tourist without fear of the phone ringing with desperate requests for stories. There are a few around town I could turn my hand to, but then I wouldn't get a holiday, would I?

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

A depressing morning when I came face to face with the banality of evil.

In 1975, the Tuol Svay Pray High School was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and turned into the notorious prison, interrogation centre and torture camp known as S-21.

Between 1975 and 1978 more than 17,000 held at S-21 were taken to the killing fields outside Phnom Penh and executed. Many were bludegoened to death to save bullets.

The Khmer Rouge photographed the inmates as they arrived and the confused, scared and resigned faces of those whose death was assured line the walls of the prison, which is now a museum.

The horrors endured by those penned into the tiny brick or wood cells are unimaginable....chained and shackled to the floor,....manacled to steel beds and tortured and electrocuted, beaten and raped before being driven to the Choeung Ek Killing Field for what must have seemed like a merciful execution.

It's a deeply chilling place.

Read more about the Cambodian genocide here.
The photo story on the female deminers is up and running here on BBC News Online.

Monday, November 17, 2003

An award for this blog...Blogger Forum's Top Site for the week.
The chaps at Blogger Forum say that "Google considers your site important in comparison to other blogs in a one-week period."

I say....hurrah!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

With passport problems behind me, I've been able to turn my attention to more important matters -- like sleeping. Sean and I had planned to head out this morning to work on a story about women who collect spiders and sell them for people to eat -- some are dipped in honey. Yum!

However, a heavy night sampling the underbelly of Phnom Penh put paid to that and we decided to rest up instead.

I did manage to finish off a photo journal for BBC News Online. It'sa day in the life of Seng Somala, the supervisor of Cambodia's only all-female demining team.

We went out with them on Thursday and found them utterly enchanting -- 15 women from their early 20s to their mid 40s, all laughing and joking as they headed out to the minefield to risk their lives. Quite amazing.

I'll be doing a radio piece on them for the week after next, which will run on the Woman's Hour programme.

Meantime, here's an extract from the photo journal:

Photo One: My day starts at six o’clock in the morning with a stop off at the market a few miles from the minefield where I work. The 15 women deminers on my team sit down for breakfast and I buy supplies for lunch. It’s always a bit of a rush because it’s important to start work as early as possible, before it gets too hot.

Photo Two: Every time I go into the minefield in the village of Svay Sor I have to put on a special helmet and flak jacket. 8 people have been killed and another 9 injured just in the small area where we’re working – that’s why we’re here. The villagers can’t be sure their land is completely safe until we’ve checked every metre of land.

Photo Three: Each of the metal detectors used by the women in my team are checked regularly. The detectors need to be finely calibrated if they’re to find every single unexploded mine or bomb. We work to strict operating procedures – although the job isn’t without danger, if the deminers follow the rules they should be safe.

Photo 4: As well as clearing minefields, we educate the villagers living in the surrounding areas about the dangers of landmines and unexploded bombs. We explain to them how to minimise the risks. Here in Cambodia landmines are everywhere – the country is one of the most heavily mined in the world. Less than a fortnight ago 3 people travelling through a field in an ox cart rode over an anti-tank mine. They were all killed instantly. It’s that kind of accident we’re trying to avoid.

Photo Five: This woman is pointing at a bomb similar to the one she found in a well in her field. Her nephew removed it, but by doing so he could easily have set it off. Many people living in Svay Sor know the land they live and work on is heavily mined but they have no choice but to work the fields. It’s the only land they have.

Photo 6: It’s important that the deminers maintain the highest standards and clearly every single scrap of metal. To ensure they are, I regularly double-check the work done by the deminers. It’s vital the land cleared is 100% safe – if even a tiny mistake is made, the results could be fatal.

Photo Seven: I plot the day’s progress on a large map. The green shaded areas represent the parts of the minefield that have been cleared. The areas in white still have to be tackled. We’ve only been working in the Svay Sor minefield for two weeks so there’s still a lot of ground to cover. We expect to be here for a while yet – we’ll stay until the job is done.
The amputee deminers story has been posted up on the BBC News Online website. You can find it here.
The ancient Cambodian passport gods have bestowed their blessings upon me and my lost passport -- complete with the crucial visa to get out of the country -- is back in my possession.

The story is a fine example of the power of the internet. The cleaner in a cafe I visited last weekend picked up the passport -- it must have fallen out of my back pocket while my rear end was exploding like a landmine.

She gave it to the western owner of the restaurant....who wasn't sure how to contact me to give it back. He put my name into Google, found the blog, matched the picture on the passport to the pictures on the site and BINGO!! -- he was able to e-mail me and let me know it was safe.

After he didn't hear from me for a couple of days (because I was up near the Thai border and out of internet contact) he took the passport to the British Embassy.

One call to the Ambo's Duty Officer later and the passport was waiting for me at the guardhouse of the Embassy.

The result -- I can spend next week sightseeing and heading off to Angkor Wat instead of waiting for hours at immigration offices trying to find a way out of the country.

A $10 reward has been despatched to the finder and a bottle of cognac is on its way to the owner of the cafe.

The MAG guys here say they know plenty of people who have lost their passports around Phnom Penh but they've never EVER been found again.

I'm a very lucky boy.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

BREAKING NEWS....It seems as if my passport has been found -- in the toilets of a cafe in Phnom Penh of all places. I kid you not. It looks like someone in high places is smiling at me. More soon.
Another audioblog -- a package I did for the World Tonight and Newshour's five and a half minutes long.
World Tonight/Newshour Package -- MP3
Wrote an audio essay for the Today'll be broadcast on Saturday Morning.

Here's the Essay as an MP3 and, for those unable to download it, here's the transcript:

Almost every aspect of the journey was identical…the same model of four wheel drive… the same rutted mud roads….I was even sitting in the same seat in the vehicle – in the back, to the right of the driver.

Heading towards a minefield………again.

The crucial difference was that at least this time around I had a good idea of where the mines were.

The last time I made this kind of journey, I was heading towards an abandoned defensive position on the outskirts of the Northern Iraqi town of Kifri with the BBC’s Tehran correspondent Jim Muir and cameraman Kaveh Golestan. Saddam Hussein’s regime was in its death throes and, sensing defeat, the soldiers manning the position had deserted their posts a few days earlier. But although the troops had fled they’d left a deadly reminder of their presence behind – a dense ring of anti-personnel landmines.

As I stepped out of our vehicle, I detonated one of the mines with my right heel. Kaveh, instinctively thinking we were coming under mortar fire, tried to run for cover. Instead, he headed deeper into the minefield and was killed instantly by two mines laid a few centimetres apart.

Doctors in Iraq, Cyprus and Britain tried in vain to save my foot and lower leg – and I watched Saddam’s statue come down in Baghdad on television from a hospital bed, recovering from a below knee amputation.

This time around, the minefield was in the village of Auchamlong, a speck on the map in a remote part of northwestern Cambodia, a few miles from the border with Thailand. The area was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting between Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and government forces. The use of landmines was commonplace during the fighting over this strategically important spot between the mid 1970s and the early 1990s. Hundreds of people were killed by them over the years – their bones are still found regularly in the forests.

I travelled to Auchamlong with a 15 strong Cambodian demining team paid for by the mine clearance charity, MAG. I was asked to become a patron of the organisation after I lost my leg – and I found my involvement surprisingly therapeutic during six long months of rehab after my accident.

Even though the area where we parked had been cleared of mines a few weeks earlier, I felt an unsettling sense of deja vu as I stepped out of the vehicle.

The feeling of foreboding grew steadily as I was guided deeper into the minefield, dressed in a flak jacket and safety helmet. Moments before I arrived, one of the deminers had uncovered a type of mine known as a PMN, buried just below the soil. It was a PMN that caused the loss of my limb – and now I was standing no more than a metre from an unexploded one.

At the end of their shift, the demolition experts on the team placed 80 grammes of TNT next to the mine and – with the press of a button – blew it to pieces. For me, it was a deeply satisfying moment.

The inherent dangers of the job have forged a strong bond of friendship between the members of the demining team. That friendship’s particularly strong between the five deminers who are themselves victims of the very weapons they now spend their days clearing.

Their nerves are stronger than mine.

During a meal break, I sat down with them on a log under a bamboo tree. We pulled off our artificial legs as others might kick off their shoes in front of the television. Inevitably, we compared one another’s artificial legs. Theirs, they explained, are specially made by the Red Cross. All the metal components have been taken out so as not to interfere with their sensitive mine detecting equipment.

Weighing my modern carbon fibre prosthesis in his hands, one of the deminers asked me how much it would cost. Somewhat embarrassed I admitted it was worth about five thousand pounds – more than three years’ wages – even for a well-paid Cambodian deminer.

My new friend laughed uncontrollably.

If I had that much money, he said, I’d buy myself a big herd of cows. I certainly wouldn’t waste it on a new leg.

What to buy? An artificial limb or a herd of cows. It’s a tough call.

What a week!

Churning out stories like a sausage factory from the Cambodian/Thai border. You can pick one of them up here on the BBC website, although I transcribed it onto the blog on Tuesday.

Here's the latest story -- again a sneaky peek of what'll be on News Online over the weekend:

Dateline: Auchamlong Village, Northwest Cambodia.

For decades, the earth beneath Leng Chantry’s feet was one of the most fiercely fought patches of ground in Cambodia. Auchamlong’s position alongside the Thai border, made it a valuable strategic prize during the country’s bloody past.

Until recently, Auchamlong and the surrounding area was a Khmer Rouge stronghold, off limits to most Cambodians, let alone foreigners.

It was while fighting against Pol Pot’s infamous army in the area in 1985 that Leng Chantry’s leg was blown off by a landmine.

Seriously injured and unable to fight, Leng Chantry struggled desperately just to survive.

“Life after the accident was incredibly difficult,” he told me.

“I was a single man and I didn’t have a wife and family to look after me or a family to support me. All my relatives had been killed by the Khmer Rouge.

“I stayed with a family and worked in their fields in exchange for board and lodge.

“I was living hand to mouth and I felt completely hopeless because I was so poor.”

Facing widespeard prejudice because of his disability, and with little hope of steady employment, Leng Chantry’s future looked bleak.

He trained as a motorcycle mechanic but could not a permanent job.

But in 1996 he was offered the chance to train as a deminer, clearing the very same weapons that nearly cost him his life.

Fitted with a special prosthetic leg, made completely from plastic so as not to interfere with his sensitive metal detecting equipment, Leng Chantry works with a team of 14 other deminers. They carefully probe the soil, looking for hidden ordnance.

He is especially close to 4 of his colleagues who are fellow amputees. During meal breaks they sit alongside each other on a tree trunk, pulling off their artificial legs to rest in the same way that most people would kick off their shoes.

Leng Chantry and his team find a wide variety of different types of landmines every day – from crude improvised explosives to sophisticated Russian and Chinese-made devices.

Each, though, is dealt with in the same way. A block of TNT is placed alongside the mine, attached to a detonator. From a safe distance, a disposal expert presses a button, triggering an explosion which blasts the mine to pieces.

With a monthly salary of $180 dollars a month, the deminers earn almost ten times the Cambodian national average. For Leng Chantry the money has lifted him up the social ladder and enabled him to pay for a long-planned wedding.

As for confronting the weapons that blew off his foot on a daily basis, Leng says he has no fears.

“I don’t get scared because I’m fully trained,” he says.

“There are special operating procedures for working in minefields and if you follow them correctly the job’s actually not so dangerous.

“Anyway, I’m just happy to be able to clear the mines so that people can return to their land in safety.

“Hopefully fewer people will be injured because of my work and won’t have to go through what I have.”

Photo: Leng Chantry And Team
Photo: Amputee Deminer
Photo: Amputee Demining Team

All photos are copyright Sean Sutton/MAG and must not be reproduced without permission.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

A great photo from Sean taken at the Water Festival.

I'm delighted to be able to upload this stuff from an internet cafe in Battembang -- home of the most ropey internet connection in Asia!
An extremely busy couple of days in Phnom Penh, not helped by the fact that I had my passport stolen while recording some stuff at the water festival on the weekend.

All manner of bureaucratic problems await me before I get out of Cambodia, but I'm pressing ahead with the assignment and am now in Battembang, a four hour drive from the capital.

I'm heading out into the wilds near the Thai border shortly, so this is just a quick update before I disappear for a couple of days.

I've written my first piece for BBC News's a sneaky peak and a couple of pictures taken by Sean Sutton from MAG, who I'm travelling with.

I'll probably be back from the sticks on Thursday. More then.

Chum Sakhorn has no doubts about who was to blame for robbing him of both of his legs.

On one of his two artificial limbs, Sakhorn – a 38 year old father of 7 – has written the words “I was cheated by war” in blue marker pen.

In 1987, Chum Sakhorn was fighting the infamous Khmer Rouge in one of its strongholds near the border between Cambodia and Thailand when he stepped on a landmine.

“I was fighting in Phnom Malay,” he told me.

“I was transporting equipment for my regiment. I wanted to cross a bridge – but it had been blown up by a big anti-tank mine.

“I couldn’t go across, so I took a detour. I spotted one mine and disarmed it but while I was walking along a small path I stepped on another one.”

The resulting explosion blew off both of Chum Sakhorn’s legs below the knees.

He is now among Cambodia’s estimated 40,000 chon pika – or amputees. With a population of around 11.5 million, Cambodia has one amputee for every 290 people – one of the highest ratios in the world.

But Chum Sakhorn says the landmine he stepped on also blew away any chance he had of a successful future.

16 years on from his accident, he ekes out a living selling books and postcards to tourists in Phnom Penh’s central market with a group of other mine-injured former soldiers. A local bookseller lends them the merchandise and pays them a small commission on each item sold.

Most retailers in the market, though, are less sympathetic. They regard the amputees as the lowest of the low.

“Life for amputees in Cambodia is very bad,” Sakhorn says.

“The shopkeepers don’t even like me standing in front of their stores.

“Sometimes the police try to arrest us, or confiscate our merchandise. We’re treated like outcasts – the authorities harrass us because they think we’re below them.”

Outside the main cities, 85% of Cambodians rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Cambodia’s chronic mine contamination problem means the threat of death or serious injury is a daily reality for most people here.

“A recent survey found that more than 40% of the villages in Cambodia have a mine problem,” says Sean Sutton from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), an international mine clearance charity.

“Cambodia was constantly at war from more than 20 years. Landmines were widely used by all sides.

“Each time an area changed hands fresh mines were laid in areas that were already heavily contamined.”

Indeed, Pol Pot – the head of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime responsible for the deaths of millions of Cambodians during the 1970s – described landmines as his “perfect soldiers,” so effective were they at causing fear and death.

Democratic elections in 1993 heralded the start of a period of relative calm in Cambodia and many displaced people began returning home from refugee camps in Thailand.

Yet this population movement brought another wave of landmine casualties.

“Many villagers lost limbs trying to reclaim the land they’d been forced from years before,” explains Sean Sutton.

“Many of them knew their villages and fields were mined but they needed to work the land in order to survive.

“They knew they were risking their lives – but they had no choice.”

Picture: Chum Sakhorn at work
Picture: Amputees ekeing out a living -- Phnom Penh Central Market
Picture: Comparing Legs

Sunday, November 09, 2003

I notice from the traffic stats that dozens, nay hundreds, of people are coming to the site trying to find the gory details of the (strenuously denied of course) allegations about Prince Charles.

Sorry to disappoint, but an injunction is an injunction.

I’ve finally discovered the ultimate long haul flight survival cocktail.

It consists of 2 double brandys, 2 glasses of Merlot, 3 Singha beers and 10mg of valium. It made 11 hours in economy class on the London to Bangkok flight zip by in a dreamy fug.

Arriving at Bangkok Airport it didn’t take long to get a taste of the hospitality for which Thailand is famous. I stopped off at a booth to get some photos for my Cambodian visa. Handing over $5 for the snaps, the assistant asked – completely unprompted -- “You wan’ girl?” Thanks for the thought, but just the four passport photos will be fine.

One short connecting flight later and I thrown immediately into the humid soup of Phnom Penh with its chaotic swarm of motos -- men, women and children hanging precariously off the back.

Our hotel – the Goldiana – may be cheap at $35 a night but the regulations are strict. The front page of the guide left in the room insists that “All kinds of explosive devices are not allowed to be brought into the hotel,” and “prostitutes are not allowed.”

Guess we’ll be looking for new digs tomorrow.

After a couple of hours’ sleep we picked up a moto and headed out to the Foreign Correspondents Club, a fine and welcoming watering hole andd a genuine Phnom Penh institution. As well as smattering of tourists, the clientele was mostly made up of aid workers and journalists enjoying a spot of R & R. We’ve purposely timed our arrival in Phnom Penh to coincide with the festival of Bon Om Tuk – one of the most important celebrations in the Khmer calendar.

The festival marks the reversal of the current of the Tonie Sap river. It’s caused by the onset of the dry season, when the water backed up in the Tonie Sap lake begins to drain into the Mekong.

From our vantage point on the balcony of the FCC we were able to watch the boat races held as part of Bon Om Tuk and cheer on the crews of 30 or more as they hammered down the river – Phnom Penh’s answer to the Oxford versus Cambridge boat race – and enjoy the fireworks display which marked the close of the day’s racing.

And audiovisual extravaganza:

Audioblog: Cambodian Moto Etiquette....with Sean Sutton. mp3

Picture: 3 on a moto
Picture: Phnom Penh Cyclo
Picture: Filming You....
Picture...Filimg Me
Picture: Shopping For Feet
Picture: Cigar Smoking at the FCC
Picture: Fireworks Over Tonie Sap

Thursday, November 06, 2003

If you're an occasional reader of the blog, be sure to check in over the next fortnight.

If you're a regular -- spread the word.

Tomorrow morning I head off to Cambodia for a two-week assignment with the Mines Advisory Group.

We'll be heading to Battembang in the northwest of the country -- one of the most mined areas of one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

I'll be staying with villagers who live with landmines literally on their doorsteps. I'll be documenting and recording their stories and reporting on the landmine clearance efforts taking place in Cambodia.

I've got a host of commissions already lined up for a variety of BBC News outlets....Radio 4, 5 Live, World Service, News Online and don't be surprised if you hear me pop up over the next few weeks.

I'm taking plenty of communications equipment with me and I'll try to update the blog as often as connections allow.

In the meantime, you can read more about MAG's work in Cambodia here.

Tonight the looming Charliegate scandal reached new levels of ludicrousness.

All day the newsroom has been awash with speculation over the identity of the member of the Royal Family who was allegedly seen involved in "an incident" by a former Royal employee.

Who was the Royal? What was the alleged "incident"?

There were plenty of rumours, as there always are with these kinds of stories.

Tonight, the identity of the member of royal family at the centre of the allegations was confirmed as Prince Charles.

In a farcical performance, the Prince's private secretary Sir Michael Peat went on camera to strenuously deny that an incident which he wasn't able to describe -- and which isn't in the public domain -- ever took place.

Peat also took the opportunity to smear the former royal aide who made the allegation "who, unfortunately, has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and has previously suffered from alcoholism following active service in the Falklands."

I fear this rearguard action by Prince Charles's private secretary will backfire....but that's enough innuendos for one night.
Set your video for 2100GMT this Sunday.

BBC One is screening a Panorama special, In the Line of Fire, about the friendly fire incident in which John Simpson and the team with which I worked in Northern Iraq got caught up just a few days after my accident.

If you haven't already seen it, it also features Fred Scott's award-winning footage of the incident.

Apparently I also make a brief appearance.

Here's the publicity poster for the show.

I often discuss the issue of safety for foreign correspondents but TV Week has an interesting report on how local newshounds in California responded to the recent wildfires.

The reporter pictured above -- KNBC newsman Chuck Henry -- put his and his cameraman's life at risk by broadcasting live while the flames were licking around his heels. When his news truck failed to start -- and then burst into flames -- he relied on a fireman to get him out alive.

Henry's egocentric and ratings-obsessed desire to put himself at the centre of the story defies basic news safety principles. Reporting live while the flames are warming your chestnuts isn't brave or innovative journalism -- it's just plain stupid.

He should have fried.
After the Iraq War the BBC commissioned research from Cardiff University to examine how the embedding system worked.

The findings are being released today at the News Xchange conference in Budapest.

The headline: "The criticisms that were made at the time, that the embedded reporters were more likely to give a pro-war spin, do not hold up.

"But we do have some reservations, particularly about the narrative that is created by embedded reports, where the only discussion is about who's winning and who's losing, with little of the wider picture."

Read more here and here.
Steve Earle is God.

That's just fact -- not least because he's an anti-landmine campaigner.

Earle shares his views on the media here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Alex alerts me to the top notch tale of 81-year old Albert Skipper, who has had his finances taken over by Greenwich Council after he spent £6,500 on prostitutes in a 9 week frenzy of geriatric whoring.

"They are stopping my money because they don't want me to spend it on call girls," says the exhausted octogenarian, who now has to survive on £90 a week pocket money. "What do I want to save money for? I'm 81."

Fair point.

If he was capable of blowing (probably quite literally) more than six grand on ladies of easy virtue in a little over two months, a paltry ninety quid a week isn't going to go very far.

I might give him a hand(job)-out and send him a tenner with my best wishes.
A disturbing development for press freedom in Israel.

Haaretz and Reuters report that the Shin Bet secret security service has carried out checks on thousands of journalists holding government press cards.

Israel is the only democratic country where press cards are issued by a government agency rather than by a journalists' organisation but now, for alleged security reasons, the authorities want to be able to decide who can and cannot work as a journalist in Israel.

The concern must be that some correspondents will have their press cards rescinded not because they are a security risk but rather because the authorities don't like what they're writing.

Reporters Without Borders is among the organisations calling for the new rules to be scrapped.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Anyone who's spent any time in Cardiff will be familiar with the Hades-on-Earth that is Caroline Street.

Otherwise known as "Chip Alley", it's a thoroughfare of chippies, kebab shops and pizza places that can diplomatically be described as "lively" after the pubs shut.

It's a genuine slice of Cardiff history, and so I was delighted to receive everyday story of Caroline Street folk involving an assault with a carton of curry. Mind you, six months in the slammer does seem a bit excessive.

Which reminds me of my favourite Cardiff joke....How can you tell when a Cardiff girl has had an orgasm?.....She drops her chips.
A special hello to David Horrocks from MAG, who has put the first pin in the Guest Map from Iraq, where he's involved in the mine clearance effort.

David -- if you want to e-mail me with news of how the work's going there I'd be very keen to post it up here....and your homework for this week is to find out how to say "I have an artificial leg" in Kurdish!

And a reminder that if you haven't put your pin in the guest map you're encouraged to do so without delay.
"This White House is the greatest user of propaganda in American history and if they had a shred of honesty, they would admit it. But they can't" -- Christopher Simpson, professor of communications, American University, Washington (Source: Toronto Star)

On the subject of the propaganda war, the Toronto Star article paints a very different picture of conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre to that depicted in the NBC news report I linked to earlier. The Star claims the crush of casualties in late summer was such that outpatients had to be referred to nearby hotels because the hospital was full.

Thanks for the link, Lynn.
A frustrating visit to the Artificial Limb centre today, where work has begun on making my third prosthesis.

Yesterday my prosthetist, Ian, made a plaster cast which will form the basis of the new limb. Today I returned so that he could check the fit on the new socket. When I put it on, though, it felt too tight -- like wearing a pair of shoes a couple of sizes too small.

The problem, Ian explained, is that I'm "between sizes."

The Iceross silicone liner that I've been using for a while is getting a little bit too big for the much-reduced Mr Stumpy -- so he gave me the next size down to wear when he took the new cast. However, a smaller socket combined with a smaller liner is too much of a tight squeeze at the moment.

It's not too much of a problem. Ian simply took a second cast over the top of the larger liner. It does, however, mean an extra trip to Cardiff when I get back from Cambodia for another diagnostic fitting to ensure everything is as it should be before the leg is finally made.

In the grand scheme of things it's a small inconvenience if the finished product is more comfortable -- and things could be worse...I could have ended up like this bloke.
A BNI Sports Exclusive -- The All Blacks are fielding a player with his left leg amputated below the knee.....and he's so tough that he plays without a prosthesis!

New Zealand's physiotherapists can't be up to much, though -- never mind his cruciate ligament injury. Has no one noticed that half of Tana Umaga's leg is missing? (Thanks for the link, Steve).

Also on the subject of sporting amputees (real ones this time), I came across the story of American footballer Neil Parry -- who, like me, is a below right knee amputee -- while searching for something else....I was actually looking for the video report on NBC's Nightly News a few nights ago about soldiers who have lost limbs fighting in Iraq.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions on how to get RSS Autodiscovery to work on Newzcrawler when you access the site through the domain address.

The upshot seems to be that getting it to work is more trouble than it's worth, so if you want to access the Autodiscovery to work, direct your browser to

And now -- to Cardiff, for new leg construction.
It's all very well saying you had dinner at the Walnut Tree, writes one correspondent, but what was on the menu?

Do you really want to know?

Well, I started with roast pigeon (which was superb) followed by grilled swordfish with pesto.

Aileen went for the Thai crab cake to start, followed by ribeye of beef (half of which I ate -- it was beautifully cooked). I think Aileen chose wisely. I was a little disappointed with the swordfish. I only went for it because I never order fish at restaurants. Now I remember why.

We shared a cheese board and I finished off with a selection of home made ice creams. The vanilla was particularly good.

The wine was a 1998 Viognier.....light, crisp and a little too drinkable for its own good.

In fact, rescued from the bin (because I don't want to remind myself how much it cost until the credit card statement arrives) here's the bill.

Bill-blogging...another first from BNI.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

A quick round up of bits of pieces from over the weekend.

BBC News Online reports on Saturday's "shoe pyramid" event against landmines in central London. News Online also has reports from my colleagues Claire Marshall on the landmine situation in Colombia and John Sweeney on the killing of cameraman James Miller and other internationals by the Israeli Army. The Justice 4 James Miller website also has a wealth of resources connected to the case -- it's a first class site.

Fergal Keane writes in the Independent on Sunday on the cameramen celebrated at the Rory Peck Awards but his column is subscription only. If anyone has a subscription and is able to cut and paste me the article -- or send me a scan of the printed version -- I'd be very keen to read it.

Back from a wonderful weekend in the Welsh Borders to celebrate Ails's birthday.

We stayed at the Allt Yr Ynys Hotel near Abergavenny and made good on a promise we made a long time ago to have dinner at the Waltnut Tree restaurant -- expensive but worth it!

The Black Mountains is one of my favourite parts of the world -- the scenery's just breathtaking -- so we made sure we made the most of it by following up a morning's clay pigeon shooting with a walk up Skirrid Fawr.

It was the first time I'd climbed a hill with my artificial leg and it was definitely the stiffest test so far for the Flex Foot. I'm pleased to say it passed with flying colours....bring on Everest!

This morning we took a couple of ponies from Trevelog Farm for a ride through the Llanthony Valley. The Autumn colours were just incredible -- and the horses made easier work of the hills than I did!

Picture: Shooting 1
Picture: Shooting 2
Picture: Shooting 3
Picture: Shooting 4
Picture: Climbing Skirrid 1
Picture: Climbing Skirrid 2