WMU News

Former Cambodian refugee speaks against landmines

March 18, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Loung Ung, author of the national bestseller "First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers" will speak Monday, March 22, at 7 p.m. in Kanley Chapel on the campus of Western Michigan University.

The free lecture is open to the public and is part of Human Rights Awareness Week, sponsored by the Progressive Student Alliance, a registered student organization at WMU.

Ung is the spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans Association Foundation campaign for a landmine-free world. She will address the landmine issue during her speech.

"When I returned to Cambodia in 1995, there was not a place I traveled to where I did not see an amputee. After a little research, I found out how landmines are still killing hundreds of Cambodians every year, 20 years after the war," says Ung.

"VVAF founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in 1991 and was the most influential human rights group working on the landmines issue. Furthermore, they have clinics in Cambodia that manufacture prosthetic limbs for victims of mines."

During her presentation, Ung also is expected to address refugee issues, child soldiers and women and war, among other war-related and women's concerns.

Born into a middle class family at the height of Cambodia's bloody civil war, Ung was just 5 years old when Pol Pot's genocidal Khmer Rouge overran the country and forced the entire population of the capital into the countryside.

By 1978, Ung's parents and two of her siblings were dead at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and the young girl was trained to become a child soldier. Two years later, she escaped and eventually settled as a refugee in Vermont through a sponsorship of the Holy Family Church.

Ung began a career of helping people by working with battered women after graduating from St. Michael's College in 1992. Three years later, Ung traveled back to Cambodia for the first time since her escape 15 years earlier. During the visit Ung attended a memorial service for the victims of Pol Pot's deadly reign and learned that 30 of her relatives had been killed.

Discovering the destruction caused by the 10 million landmines still littering the Cambodian countryside, Ung began spreading the word about the dangers of these indiscriminate weapons.

For more information, contact Andrew Drenth at <ydnastage@yahoo.com>.

Media contact: Thom Myers, 269 387-8400, thom.myers@wmich.edu

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