Cambodia Soon Freed from Landmines: PM

Prime Minister Hun Sen inspects the exhibition marking the 30th anniversary of the very first mine action clearing operations in Cambodia. Photo: Prime Minister Hun Sen Facebook

PHNOM PENH – Cambodia will soon be a landmine-free nation with minimal threat from explosive remnants of war and safe development of its economy, society, and human resources, Prime Minister Hun Sen said.

“Cambodia has about three more years of continuous demining to achieve its goal of free anti-personnel landmines in 2025,” he said on Nov. 22, during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the very first mine action clearing operations in Cambodia.

Mine clearance started in 1992, under the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), which created the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), whose role was to implement demining efforts throughout the country.

CMAC was seconded in its mission with the establishment of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAA) in 2000 which ensures proper management, effectiveness and efficiency of the mine action sector.

In 2018, the government established a National Mine Action Strategy (2018-2025) whose goal is to turn Cambodia into a landmine-free country by 2025. Cambodia has also added landmine clearing as an additional goal to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. The U.N. has supported the initiative.

But there’s still a long way to go. In 2002, a UNDP survey established that 4,544 square kilometers of land were contaminated by landmines, spanning 6,416 villages, equivalent to 46 percent of Cambodia’s total villages.

According to CMAA, 2,531 square kilometers of land have been made safe since the beginning of the mine-clearing operations, protecting an estimated nine million people from danger. Compared to UNDP’s estimates, around 2,000 square kilometers remain to be cleared.

Nevertheless, millions of landmines and explosive remnants of war have been destroyed. These include 1,151,232 anti-personnel mines, 26,112 anti-tank mines and 3,028,659 other ordnance items.

Kep, Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk, Prey Veng and Stung Treng provinces have been declared landmine-free in 2022, with 1,705 villages being free of landmines, Hun Sen said.

More provinces such as Tboung Khmum, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Takeo, Kampot, Svay Rieng, Kampong Speu and Kratie provinces will be declared free of mines, he added.

Victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance have dropped sharply, Hun Sen added, from 4,320 in 1996 to less than 100 per year on average, over the last 10 years.

Even though the number of victims had indeed decreased over the years, such a ballpark estimate doesn’t correspond to reality.

According to the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), 570 casualties due to landmines and explosive remnants of war were recorded in the first six months of 2022 in Cambodia.

But to keep clearing the country from that curse, Hun Sen established in July 2022 the “Samdech Techo Project for Mine Action”, a national fundraising that provides a fresh budget to the CMAA, Many companies and okhnas began donating funds to support the project. 

He said that $2 million, out of the $10 million raised, have been used since the summer, with more than $8 million still available to support demining actions. He appealed to the public and wealthy individuals to provide more funds to reach the 2025 target.

“If we can completely address the landmine issue, it is a fortune for us as this country [Cambodia] went through many difficulties caused by the war,” Hun Sen said. “We have been clearing landmines for the past 30 years and couldn’t yet get rid of the problem. Thus, we must not let war happen again.”

Urging U.N. effort

The prime minister said he suggested U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres add demining efforts as an 18th goal to the U.N. 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Guterres reportedly accepted the recommendation and would discuss it with the members and partners.

Hun Sen and António Guterres met during the 12th ASEAN-U.N. Summit in Phnom Penh on Nov. 11. The meeting did not discuss Cambodia's internal affairs but the humanitarian efforts, Hun Sen said.

He stated that he had good relations with Guterres since the 1980s, especially during his tenure as Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002.

Bilateral meetings often raise issues related to landmines, cooperation in sending peacekeepers, and the Khmer Rouge trial.

As a U.N. member state, Cambodia aims to share its demining resources with other nations at risk from landmines and unexploded ordnance, such as Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Cyprus and Central Africa.

Recently, Cambodia has decided to send three CMAC technical officers to train Ukrainian deminers, with the support of Japanese aid, to help the European country destroy mines, that have multiplied since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2021.

During his speech this morning, Hun Sen also revealed that Cambodia and Thailand will also jointly clear mines along the borders of more than 40 square kilometers of contaminated land.

He urged both sides to discuss and help each other clear mines, regardless of whether the mines are in Cambodian or Thai territory, that is, both sides must work together to clear all mines along the border.

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