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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Misuse of demined land discussed

Misuse of demined land discussed

BATTAMBANG - Military, police, civil and NGO leaders have begun addressing the contentious

issue of land use in Cambodia's northwest - specifically, the seizure of demined

land by authorities.

Included in a two-day meeting here June 23-24 were representatives from the ministries

of interior, defense, rural development and land titles and NGOs and UN agencies

charged with resettlement programs.

A paper prepared by the Banteay Meanchey Rural Development Department said that demined

areas intended for landless families were being seized by officials claiming that

the land belongs to them.

Returning displaced villagers had also found their land had been allocated by military

officers for their own families and friends.

CMAC chairman Ieng Mouly reaffirmed CMAC's mandate of turning over demined land to

internally displaced people, landless farmers, refugees and poor soldiers' families,

"There are often some misunderstandings which give rise to disputes between

the humanitarian purpose and goals among the mine clearance organizations and the

real use of the land after it has been released," he said.

A case in point not far from where the meeting took place - a chili pepper farm is

managed alongside Route 10 by a RCAF lieutenant colonel on demined land that was

originally intended for people made landless from war.

"The reason we are here today is that CMAC is steadily clearing land all over

Cambodia, but CMAC has no authority to allocate the cleared and released land,"

Mouly stated.

CMAC Director Sam Sotha said: "The time has come for CMAC to address the needs

of areas that used to be under military control where there are often conflicting

land claims between civilians and the military."

One Western participant praised the proceedings: "The workshop was a success.

CMAC publicly admitted its problems and brought the issue of land use into public

consciousness."

Land speculation was not an issue in Boeung Trakoun, deep in the heart of bandit

country. Here the problem is technical.

Several months ago, a woman working her CMAC-demined land set off a mine that left

her with serious facial wounds. A CMAC team that returned to the "demined"

area found five more unexploded mines. This put a definite crimp in the resettlement

project.

At the Battambang workshop, Sotha said that CMAC maintains a clearance rate of 99.6%,

the UN's standard.

"[This] means for every 1,000 mines cleared, 4 mines are missed; for every 10,000

mines cleared, 40 mines are missed. Forty mines means 40 victims. That is 40 victims

too many. The farmers will not dare to return to their land if our standard is 99.6%,"

said Sotha.

"At CMAC it is our deep feeling that we must try our best to clear the minefields

to a level of 100% safety, this means zero victims."

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