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2010 mine removal target unrealistic for Cambodia

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The Ottawa Convention gives Cambodia until next year to rid the country of mines, but officials say they'll need more time

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CHRISTOPHER SHAY

Yoeun Sam En, 44, a victim of a leftover submunition, sits in front of his shop in Kratie province.

CAMBODIA is unlikely to meet its 2010 deadline for the eradication of anti-personnel land mines, according to government officials, who say the sheer number of remaining mines and continuing tensions at the border have affected the country's ability to meet its obligations under the Ottawa Convention.

At the ninth meeting of the signatories of the 1997 anti-landmine convention, which opened Monday in Geneva, 15 signatories - including Great Britain - announced their failure to meet 2009 deadlines for mine clearance, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

"The lack of urgency displayed by these countries in removing their mines from the ground shows a lack of respect for the treaty and for the people living on a daily basis with the landmine threat," said Tamar Gabelnick, ICBL's treaty implementation director, in a statement Monday.

Article 5 of the Ottawa Convention pledges signatories to "ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control ... not later than 10 years after the entry into force of this Convention."

Although Cambodia was not one of the countries listed by the ICBL, the Kingdom has just over one year to get in line with Article 5.

Unrealistic targets

But officials said the number of mines laid during the civil war of the 1980s and 1990s had forced the government to set a more realistic deadline.

"Due to the fact that land mines are still everywhere in Cambodia, our government's strategy is to clear all the mines in Cambodia by 2020," said Khem Sophoan, director general of Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC).

Rupert Leighton, Cambodia program director of the Mines Advisory Group, an international demining organisation, said Tuesday that the Article 5 targets were unrealistic and that, in the best-case scenario, Cambodia could expect to clear the majority of its mines within a decade.

"What [the Treaty] says is very difficult to do," he said. "It sets some targets that in theory are good, but in reality are extremely difficult to achieve."

Khem Sophoan added that CMAC's 2,000 miners and 87 mine-clearing dogs had already removed around 360,000 anti-personnel mines, 9,000 anti-tank mines and 1.3 million pieces of unexploded ordnance left over from the civil war.

Chan Rotha, deputy secretary general of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAA) added that the Cambodian government was preparing documentation to justify to donors an extension in the deadline for mine eradication.

"We hope that the donor countries will agree with our request to continue clearing mines until 2020," he said.

"We have prepared transparent documents and other evidence to show the donor countries."

Border tensions

Deminers said also that the presence of battle-ready Thai and Cambodian troops on the countries' border was an impediment to demining, which requires the controlled explosion of concealed ordnance.

"These are very sensitive areas ... where there is a degree of dispute between the two sides about the exact location of the border," said Leighton. "The military doesn't want indiscriminate explosions."    

Phay Siphan, secretary of state in the Council of Ministers, said military operations would certainly impede mine removal operations.

"CMAC activities depend on the situation in that area, so the presence of the military in that area will affect the demining process," he said, but was confident the two countries would adhere to an agreement made during a military meeting in Siem Reap on July 28, in which both agreed to the formation of a joint border demining team.

CMAC Deputy General Heng Ratana and CMAA Secretary General Sam Sotha are representing Cambodia at the talks in Geneva, which conclude Friday.

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