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Deminers outline cluster bomb plan

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Saem Ponnreay, CMAC Unit 3 director in Sa Em village in Preah Vihear province, displays the remains of a 155mm cluster bomb, which he claims was fired by the Thai military and landed in Svay Cherum village on February 6. michael hayes

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre said today that it was deploying an “emergency response” team to Preah Vihear province following Thailand’s alleged use of cluster munitions during recent clashes in the area.

The government demining body said earlier this week that its staffers had discovered the controversial weapons in Cambodian territory near Preah Vihear temple following the clashes with Thailand that began last week, leaving at least eight people dead.

Cluster bombs, launched from the ground or dropped from the air, split open before impact to scatter multiple bomblets over a wide area.

Such bomblets often lie dormant for years before exploding, maiming or killing the civilians who happen upon them.

“An immediate preventative measure is being taken by CMAC to quickly deploy Mine/UXO Risk Education (MRE) teams to begin a massive rapid campaign for the populations affected by the four-day clash between Thailand and Cambodia,” CMAC said in a statement.

The teams will conduct training sessions and educate local residents on how to identify and avoid the weapons, the statement said.

Thai officials have vigorously denied the allegations of cluster bomb use, saying they deployed only conventional artillery.

“This is just a normal one, not something against international law or standards. We completely deny the reports,” Colonel Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak, deputy spokesman for the Thai Army, told The Post earlier this week.

Thai Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd alleged today that Cambodia had in fact deployed the weapons against Thailand, claiming a Thai soldier had died following the clashes from wounds inflicted by cluster bomb shrapnel, Thailand’s The Nation newspaper reported.

Cambodian officials have denied using cluster bombs.

Neither Cambodia nor Thailand are among the 51 countries to have ratified the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which seeks to outlaw the weapons.

Saem Ponnreay, director of CMAC’s Demining Unit 3, said today that Svay Chrum village, about three kilometres south of the temple, had been saturated with cluster munitions during the recent clashes at the border.

“These are new ones,” he said, holding up the remains of a 155mm round he said had landed in Svay Chrum.

He also displayed remnants of the between 40 and 72 bomblets and rubber casings that are contained inside the American-made weapons.

“I’’m not sure how many new rounds there are, but Svay Chrum is now full of cluster bombs,” he said.

“Whatever we find are 100 percent new ones.”

Saem Ponnreay said two policemen had died this week after handling one of the unexploded bomblets and another eight were wounded.

Men Ly, deputy chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces provincial branch in Preah Vihear, said the situation at the border had remained quiet since clashes on Monday morning.

“Soldiers at the border have resumed their positions as normal, although we have received reports that Thailand is adding tanks and soldiers,” he said.

“On behalf of all Khmer children, we will not allow them to take our land.”

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart, Kasit Piromya, are set to appear on Monday before the United Nations Security Council to explain their respective countries’ dispute.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, whose country holds the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, will also attend the meeting following his talks with Hor Namhong and Kasit earlier this week.

“ASEAN Chair’s attendance at the UNSC meeting represents an evolution of ASEAN’s effort to resolve bilateral disputes amongst its Member States as provided for by the ASEAN Charter,” Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the 10-member bloc, said in a statement today.

“This is particularly important as it will set [precedent] for future ASEAN dispute settlement mechanisms.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen and other Cambodian officials have appealed to the United Nations and ASEAN to intervene in the dispute, though Thailand has consistently rejected third party mediation, saying the issue should be settled in a bilateral forum.

Touch Ra, deputy chief of the border relations office in Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district, said today that there were no signs that conflict had extended farther along the border. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MICHAEL HAYES, VONG SOKHENG AND JAMES O’TOOLE

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