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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Canadians quit CMAC after seven years

Canadians quit CMAC after seven years

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Lieutenant Colonel Michel Verreault, left, and Warrant Officer Shawn Groves, lower the flag on Canada's role in CMAC

SEVEN years after laying the technical and organizational foundations of the Cambodian

Mine Action Center (CMAC), Canadian military deminers are officially withdrawing

on June 26, citing the end of the agency's "emergency military demining"

phase of operations.

The seven Canadian military demining experts returning to Canada are the last of

54 Canadian military technical advisors who provided the backbone of foreign technical

assistance to CMAC since it was founded in 1993.

"Both quantitatively and qualitatively ... the Canadian team was vital to the

'Cambodianization' of CMAC," said Dr Lao Mong Hay, Director of the Khmer Institute

for Democracy, who served as CMAC's Director General from 1993-1994. "During

my time [at CMAC] they were instrumental in transferring technical and organizational

know-how of mine clearance to Cambodian demining teams."

Pan Sothy, who worked closely with Canadian military personnel during his 1993-1999

tenure as CMAC's Director of Operations, likewise praised the Canadian contribution

to the demining agency.

"The Canadians felt they had a moral obligation to establish a demining organization

in Cambodia and tried to look for funding [for demining] after the end of UNTAC,"

Sothy told the Post. "I'm sad that they are leaving."

The Canadian military personnel posted to CMAC as technical advisors for the past

seven years specialized in training and supervision of demining activities, as well

as testing and evaluation of technical demining tools such as the German Rhino and

Finnish Flail demining machines.

Lieutenant-Colonel Michel Verreault, commander of CMAC's Canadian contingent and

Chief Technical Advisor for CMAC Operations, admitted he and the seven men under

his command "had mixed feelings" about the end of Canada's commitment to

CMAC, but insisted the decision was well-reasoned.

"We've been doing emergency demining activities ... and we strongly feel that

Cambodia is now at the stage of humanitarian demining," Verreault explained.

The change in emphasis of the type of demining to be done by CMAC required what Verreault

described as "a different kind of demining professional".

"CMAC still needs technical advisors, but what UNDP [CMAC's supervisory body]

is looking for right now is people with experience in mine action as well as experience

in management procedures," he said.

Canada's seven-year involvement with the troubled demining agency was not problem-free.

The role of Canadian CMAC Technical Advisor Captain J P LeVasseur, posted in the

scandal-tainted Demining Unit Three in Kampot while DU3 personnel were running freelance

"demining-for-profit" operations for individuals such as former Khmer Rouge

Commander Chouk Rin, has never been fully explained.

According to Verreault, who arrived in Cambodia in May 1999 shortly before Levasseur

ended his tour of duty of Cambodia, CMAC has closed all files and discussion on the

DU3 scandal.

Verreault himself infuriated CMAC Director General Khem Sophoan in February by pulling

all Canadian personnel from the minefields for three weeks after the discovery that

demining units in Battambang had fraudulently classified non-demined land as "demined".

"We ran our own investigation of the matter and concluded that that situation

was an isolated incident," Verreault said of his February decision. "The

Director General was not happy, but he accepted that I was acting as a commanding

officer, the prime role of which is protecting the lives of my people."

Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot explained that Canadian support for CMAC was

continuing through the Canadian-funded Level One Mine Survey, and that "the

time was right" for Canada's military demining experts to depart Cambodia.

"They came, they completed their task and it's time for them to move on to their

next assignment," Mailhot said of the Canadian CMAC contingent. "They've

done their job and it's time to go."

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