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Munitions meet wraps up

A landmark conference on cluster munitions attended by delegates from Cambodia and dozens of other countries finished in Laos yesterday, a meeting observers hailed as an important first step in the fight against weapons that continue to plague the Kingdom.

Despite having been ravaged for decades by cluster munitions, Cambodia joined only as an observer at what was the inaugural meeting of state parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty banning the weapons that came into effect in August. Cambodia has yet to ratify the treaty, citing military and logistical concerns.

“The reason why Cambodia did not sign the cluster bomb treaty ... is because we want to take our time to clearly consider and study it in detail before signing,” said Prum Sopheak Mongkol, the deputy secretary general of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, who served as the Cambodian representative at the meeting.

The government has also cited security concerns in explaining its reluctance to endorse the treaty, noting that regional rival Thailand has yet to sign.

More than 1,000 government and military officials, NGO workers and bomb victims convened in Vientiane for the first meeting of the 46 states that are party to the convention.

Song Kosal, a youth ambassador for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Bombs, said she was glad the government had joined the meeting but disappointed that it had yet to ratify the treaty.

“I would like to appeal to the Royal Government of Cambodia to sign and ratify the treaty as soon as possible in order to prevent the suffering of those who could be injured or killed by cluster bombs in the future,” said Song Kosal, a contestant in last year’s controversial Miss Landmine beauty pageant.

Jeroen Stol, the Cambodia country director for Handicap International Belgium, said yesterday that it was still unclear whether Cambodia would sign on to the treaty following the government’s statements at the conference. Ratification, he said, could generate renewed international interest in munitions clearance and help combat “donor fatigue”.

Prum Sopheak Mongkol said that while Cambodia was still mulling signing the treaty, it had made significant progress in munition clearance, clearing about 2 million cluster bombs and unexploded ordnances since 1992.

“Although we have not signed the treaty, we have already been working hard on this issue,” he said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP AND JAMES O’TOOLE

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