Cambodian deminers are greeted with garlands of flowers at Phnom Penh International Airport upon returning from a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Sudan on June 10.
Cambodia's continuing participation in the United Nations peacekeeping mission to Sudan marks an important landmark in the Kingdom's emergence from decades of upheaval, say diplomats and international observers.
This month saw military deminers both leaving for and returning from the violently divided African nation, where Cambodia has been participating in peacekeeping operations since 2006.
"I think it's a tremendous achievement," said Douglas Broderick, the UN's resident coordinator in Cambodia, who presided over a welcoming ceremony for the 135 deminers who returned from a year-long tour in Sudan on June 10.
"There are very few countries around the world that have this sort of expertise," he added, alluding to Cambodia's decades of civil war and upheaval that saw it become one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.
Munitions experts estimate that as many as eight million landmines as well as millions of pieces of unexploded ordnance remain littered across the country and still kill or maim scores of people each year.
Demining is an excellent point for Cambodia to establish a close and more
constructive relationship with the international community.
Cambodia's demining expertise, according to Broderick, could propel the country into a much greater international role.
"Demining is an excellent point for Cambodia to establish a close and more constructive relationship with the international community," he said.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said Cambodia's contribution to peacekeeping efforts in Sudan highlighted how much progress the Kingdom had made since the UN's intervention here in the early 1990s.
"The fact that Cambodia is now contributing expertise to UN peacekeeping operations, after being the focus of one such mission just 15 years ago, attests to the laudable progress the country has made in its transition from a post-conflict state to a transitional democratic nation," Daigle wrote to the Post in an email.
He added that US military forces would continue to train the Cambodian army to improve its peacekeeping capabilities, saying, "We would welcome such increased engagement."
As the second contingent of deminers returned on June 10, Defense Minster Tea Banh said Cambodia was well positioned to contribute to future regional and international humanitarian missions.
A total of 417 Cambodian soldiers have so far been deployed to Sudan, said Ker Savoeun, director of UN Peacekeeping Operations.
They have so far cleared more than 28 million square-meters meters of land in the Malakal region of southern Sudan, defusing 368 different types of mines and removing a total of 5,664 pieces of unexploded ordnance, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Doung Ra, head of the returning mission.
"I am very happy. I missed my family and all of Cambodia while I was working in Sudan," he said.
As the soldiers stepped off the plane, seven-year-old Chean Channan could barely contain his excitement, yelling, "Papa is coming home!" as he broke free from his mother's grip and ran across the tarmac towards his father.