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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CMAC HQ, Military TAs face chop

CMAC HQ, Military TAs face chop

CMAC HQ, Military TAs face chop

A package of planned operational and structural reforms that were presented to the

Cambodian Mine Action Center's (CMAC) foreign donors on Dec. 3 promise to transform

the demining organization within months into a leaner, more decentralized organization

virtually unrecognizable from its present form.

The impending changes include the closure of CMAC's Phnom Penh headquarters by March

22, 2000 as part of a redeployment of CMAC personnel to Battambang and an elimination

of the majority of its foreign military technical assistants by June 2000.

Under the plan, CMAC will be relegated to a "service delivery" role under

the auspices of a new National Authority for Mine Action (NAMA). NAMA will oversee

planning and quality assurance of mine clearing operations, a role previously fulfilled

by CMAC.

"NAMA will be a separate organization that will supervise all mine action activities

in Cambodia," explained CMAC Director General Khem Sophoan. "It will decide

what land is to be demined by CMAC, MAG and Halo Trust and be responsible for checking

the quality of the demining activities."

Sophoan said the exact details of NAMA's role and composition would be announced

at a later date.

The reforms mark the climax of months of often bitter wrangling between CMAC management

and foreign donors over a renewal of full-funding currently suspended due to a series

of humiliating scandals involving CMAC management and demining units.

"We're fundamentally changing the way CMAC does business in a manner that will

increase the efficiency of the organization dramatically," explained CMAC's

recently-resigned UNDP Programme Coordinator Bill Van Ree. "By changing the

focus of CMAC to strictly service delivery [demining], the possibility of a situation

similar to what occurred in Demining Unit Three (where CMAC platoons engaged in demining-for-profit

operations for former KR commander Chouk Rin) is eliminated."

The planned separation of demining activities from planning and quality assurance

was welcomed by demining experts outside of CMAC.

Van Ree referred to the planned closure of CMAC's headquarters and the northward

movement of CMAC personnel as an "essential step in CMAC's decentralization".

"You're going to see more CMAC platoons living in villages much closer to minefields,"

Van Ree said of the plan that will shift 215 of CMAC's current 315 headquarters staff

to a new "forward headquarters" in Battambang. "We've implemented

a policy that deminers can drive no more than thirty minutes to reach a minefield

rather than the current sixty to ninety minutes, which will increase productivity

of demining operations substantially."

Lieutenant Colonel Michel Verreault, CMAC's Chief Advisor of Operations, describes

the aim of the move northward as " putting CMAC platoons as close to the action

as possible". According to Verreault, DU2 and DU3 currently stationed in Battambang

will begin to be redeployed "as soon as possible" to the Battambang district

of Bavel and the town of Paillin respectively.

Director General Khem Sophoan and a handful of "key management personnel"

will relocate to smaller offices somewhere in Phnom Penh.

Verreault also strongly endorsed the decision to phase-out the services of CMAC's

60 foreign military technical advisors

"It's time to change the focus of CMAC operations," Verreault said. "CMAC

has to go from military-style 'emergency demining' to a more sophisticated 'corporate

demining' mode,"

The foreign military TAs are slated to be replaced by professional civilian deminers,

the majority of whom will be ex-military personnel with international demining experience.

"I believe that at this stage in the life of CMAC it needs input from mine action

professionals rather than just technical demining experts," Van Ree explained.

"CMAC's military TAs have done an excellent job over the years, but CMAC requires

demining know-how combined with professional management skills."

Van Ree said the reform plan, which will include a Canadian-funded Level One Nationwide

Mine Contamination Survey to determine Cambodia's demining priorities in the 21st

century, is CMAC's best hope of fully reestablishing donor confidence.

"It's a good plan and if we get this right, we'll see CMAC with a level of funding

support as high or higher than it has ever gotten in the past," he said. "And

if we don't get it right, people will have every right to come to us in six months

and ask us what went wrong."

Sophoan said that donor reaction to the reform plans has been "extremely positive,"

and that "Sweden has already indicated that it is willing to contribute $2 million

for CMAC operations in 2000-2001."

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