5 days in the life of; CLARE SHORT

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Monday: Set off from Heathrow at 9.50am. The flight is 17 hours long and Cambodia is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. We won't get to Phnom Penh until tomorrow.

Tuesday: We arrive at midday badly jet-lagged. I slept on the journey but my brain still thinks it's sleep time. For the rest of the day, I have to concentrate intensely.

Briefings from our hosts. A Scot called Archie heads the Mines Advisory Group, a British voluntary organisation, and a woman from Southern India the Oxfam operation, but most of the staff of both are Cambodians. MAG is there to advise on clearing the 60 per cent of farm land still unusable because of mines. Cambodians, including women (widows of the war and the terror) and amputees (Cambodia has more than anywhere else in the world), do the de-mining. The job brings money and status - pounds 100 per month compared with pounds 20 to pounds 30 for doctors and teachers.

We meet the British Ambassador - who speaks Khmer and comes from Bedford - and discuss the uneasy political situation: the brother-in-law of one of the prime ministers (there are two) has been killed and everyone is talking about what this might mean. Will the coalition collapse? Will there be fighting? We also talk about our missing hostage Chris Howes and his interpreter Houn Hourth. We've heard there could be a breakthrough, but there have been disappointments before.

The ambassador hosts a cocktail party for me at the embassy in the evening, a friendly way of meeting the politicians and UN staff I need to. Back at the hotel there is a lovely fax from Toby waiting. I tumble into bed hoping tiredness will break the jet lag.

Wednesday: I wake at 6.30 feeling good and even do my yoga. We fly to Battambang at 9.15. This is the second city of Cambodia in a rich agricultural area and is badly mined. I am told it will take 20-30 years to clear the land so that displaced people can be resettled.

We set off to the minefield. The road is massively bumpy. When the going gets particularly rough we three women decide to get out and walk. Just in time. The Land Rover flops over into a flooded gully. The two men climb out through a window and the Land Rover has to be winched out.

Displaced people live alongside the road waiting to be resettled on de- mined land. Rice is growing and beans are spread out drying in the sun. Contented pigs roam freely. Children cycle to school. Courageous people are reasserting normality. We watch the de-miners who work in pairs - a square yard at a time. It's enormously painstaking. One cuts down the grass and shrubs 6 inches at a time. Before that they check with a flexible cane for trip wires. Then, the metal detector sweeps the cleared land. When it buzzes, the partner pokes with a knife, inch by inch, to find a mine. Then, all withdraw for the mine to be blown up. We miss lunch with the Governor. A lorry full of wood has got stuck in a ditch so we stop at a mines education lesson where a hundred little children watch a video and sing a song. Most children die if they are involved in an explosion. They are so near the ground.

Thursday: We visit villages with Oxfam. We are told half of all the households are headed by women.These women are farming fish, pigs and chickens but are on the edge of survival. At lunch, with a group of Oxfam's local partners, a new theme comes up. Many of the poorest have been deeply traumatised by Pol Pot and the war; they need help in dealing with their trauma before they can plan for the future.

In the afternoon, we visit the International Red Cross project which provides limbs for amputees. The service is free and very impressive. In between meetings, the photographer tells us that Chris and Houn may be free soon. I desperately hope it is true.

Friday: Brief session of yoga, and I skip shopping to get a briefing on how information is gathered about mines. I hear of a storytelling project that aims to tell children what happened to their country and families. Houn's wife and boys fly with us to Phnom Penh. They have never flown before and are beaming with happiness and optimism.

Lunch with Oxfam and local organisations, before leaving. Almost all manage to be cautiously optimistic about Cambodia's future.

Clare Short is Labour spokeswoman for Overseas Development.

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