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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Adopt-A-Minefield program blows up

Adopt-A-Minefield program blows up

THE credibility of the Cambodian component of the US Adopt-A-Minefield (AAM) program

is in tatters due to accusations of UNDP negligence in its execution.

The Post has learned that 50% of the land paid to be demined by AAM donors - mostly

concerned individuals, school groups and social organizations in the US - has been

classified as "untouchable" by the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC)

because of revelations that the land is controlled by military and business interests.

CMAC, which is the designated service-delivery provider for the Cambodian component

of AAM, discovered the problem in January and blames a secretive and improper selection

process employed by UNDP's former CMAC Programme Coordinator Richard Warren for the

problem.

"The AAM project didn't involve any CMAC staff," explained CMAC's Senior

Planning Officer Keo Nimet. "The only people involved were Richard Warren, [AAM]

project officials and [UNDP] people in New York."

After being made aware of the AAM program in January, a CMAC investigation revealed

that eight of the 16 minefields -- all in Battambang and "adopted" by foreign

donors for $20,000-to-$49,000 each - were on land controlled by either the military

or private business-people.

CMAC blames Warren for the problem, insisting he took personal responsibility for

Cambodia's AAM program and deliberately sidelined CMAC's Planning Department by independently

selecting suitable minefields for "adoption" by AAM's foreign donors.

"In mid-1999 Richard Warren asked for a list of minefields from CMAC's Community

Mine Action Unit and made the selection, without involving [CMAC's] Land Use Planning

Unit which coordinates with local authorities on the village level as well as with

the Provincial Rural Development Coordination Committee to ensure proper land title

exists for demining areas," Nimet said.

According to Nimet, the only on-the-ground investigation of the areas that Warren

took into consideration was undertaken by Chhim Sereivuth, one of two Cambodia-based

journalists employed by AAM for public relations services.

AAM Director Oren Schlein reacted strongly to the suggestion that journalists employed

by AAM could determine suitable areas for demining.

"The journalists working for AAM do not 'greenlight' areas for demining,"

Schlein told the Post by email. "Their role is solely to supply our donors with

human interest stories and photographs of the communities where adoptable minefields

are located ."

Warren's performance has been under scrutiny since August 1999 when three of CMAC's

most senior foreign technical advisors resigned in protest at what they described

as Warren's managerial incompetence and his wilful obstruction of CMAC reform efforts.

UNDP Resident Representative Dominique McAdams has consistently refused to acknowledge

the allegations against Warren and further alienated CMAC staff by rewarding Warren

with a "golden handshake" of six months' salary ($12,000 a month) following

his departure from CMAC in October 1999.

CMAC's Planning Department only became aware of the existence of the AAM program

in January two months after the departure of Warren from CMAC in October 1999.

"On the day before Julian Hanson [Warren's longtime assistant] left CMAC he

informed us of the program ... [Previously] we had no idea what was going on,"

Nimet said.

Nimet insisted CMAC will not undertake any clearance work on the eight minefields.

"CMAC will not demine those areas; we don't want any problems [with land title],"

he explained. "We're looking for eight replacement minefields [for the AAM program]."

Lingering donor concerns over the May 1999 discovery that CMAC's Demining Unit Three

in Kampot had engaged in extensive freelance "demining for profit" operations

during the tenure of former CMAC Director-General Sam Sotha has made current CMAC

management acutely sensitive to the dangers of demining areas where land title is

problematic.

The AAM program, the brainchild of the United Nations Association of the United States

(UNA-USA), works in partnership with both the US State Department and the UN.

Since 1998 AAM has raised $1,303,871 to sponsor demining activities in Cambodia,

Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Afghanistan and Mozambique, with Cambodia attracting

a total of $401,456 in donor funds and pledges.

According to Nimet, CMAC staff reacted with surprise and dismay when informed of

CMAC's obligations to the AAM program.

"[Warren] just threw [the program] to CMAC," he recalled. "At first

we didn't understand the situation."

UNDP's interference in the execution of the Cambodian component of the AAM program

continued when CMAC's Planning Department recommended to UNDP that submission of

new minefields for "adoption" by donors be postponed until the AAM minefields

slated for completion in 1999 - overlooked due to CMAC's chronic organizational and

funding problems - were completed.

That recommendation was strongly opposed by Ian Mansfield, Team Leader of the Mine

Action Unit at UNDP headquarters in New York, and CMAC has duly submitted a list

of 17 additional minefields for "adoption" by AAM donors.

"[Mansfield] told us that our recommendation was very negative because the Cambodian

part of the AAM program was so popular compared to the programs in other countries,"

Nimet explained. "He said if CMAC withdrew from the [AAM] project it would be

very embarrassing for UNDP ... I don't know why."

Contacted by the Post by email, Mansfield declined to respond to Nimet's allegations.

AAM funds are funneled through UNDP and UNOPS and contrary to assertions on the AAM

website that "... every dollar raised [by AAM] is forwarded to the UN for mine

clearance", both agencies extract a 3% "implementation fee" for their

services.

Although admitting that AAM "consults regularly" with Mansfield, AAM's

Director Oren Schlein denied that either AAM or UNDP had acted to "... unilaterally

override any CMAC request [to suspend the Cambodian AAM program]".

"To the contrary, we sought a comprehensive evaluation of the situation,"

he stated. "And in particular an assessment of CMAC's ability and commitment

to working with AAM in the short-term and long-term, rather than an immediate cessation

of our relationship with CMAC."

In spite of the complications affecting Cambodia's AAM program, the eight minefields

remain listed on the AAM website as "adopted" with no mention of their

disputed land title status.

Although CMAC reported the problem to AAM at least six weeks ago, those AAM donors

who donated funds based on detailed descriptions of the area complete with photographs

have yet to be informed of the problem.

Schlein insisted that AAM regularly informs all of its donors of "noteworthy

information that might affect their contributions", but conceded that AAM had

not gone public with the disputed minefield information due to confusion over which

specific donors had been affected.

Schlein also dismissed concerns about CMAC 's capability to complete the AAM demining

work in light of its ongoing critical funding problems. In the past year funding

shortages have brought CMAC to the brink of closure at least three times, and the

agency's current operating budget will be exhausted within the next 60 days.

"Since our meeting with [CMAC Director General] Khem Sophoan last month, we

have received every indication that CMAC will be able to carry out the work it has

already committed to us." he said.

Schlein was adamant that in spite of CMAC's troubled present and cloudy future the

possibility of enlisting the assistance of the demining organizations Mines Advisory

Group and Halo Trust to do AAM minefield clearance remained remote.

"We have received a list of new minefields from CMAC, but will not put them

up for adoption until we have resolved all outside clearance issues of the minefields

adopted to date," Schlein stated. "... If we conclude that CMAC is unable

to undertake our projects for us (including the possible closure of its offices in

June/July), we shall consider engaging a third party demining organization to clear

our minefields."

Attempts by the Post to contact UNDP's Resident Representative, Dominique McAdams,

regarding UNDP's administration of the AAM program were unsuccessful.

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