We have recently learnt that the United Nations is planning to withdraw all expatriate
staff seconded to the Cambodia Mine Action Center (CMAC), as of Nov. 15. In effect,
this decision will mean the collapse of CMAC which the UN said was the agency it
intended to bequeath Cambodia to tackle the long term menace which land mines pose.
UNTAC) had been criticized for the lack of energy it displayed in addressing the
land mine problem. Cambodia is well known to be one of the world's most mine-affected
nations, with an estimated 10 million anti-personnel mines still polluting its land.
However, instead of dealing directly with the problem, by initiating a hands-on demining
program, the UN resorted to an extensive training program, whereby Cambodian deminers
were equipped to tackle the problem.
In this effort the UN has done an extremely good job and over 2,000 Cambodians have
been trained and some 40 demining teams put into the field under auspices of the
fledgling CMAC organization.
Ultimately, it was planned to hand CMAC over entirely to Cambodian management and
supervision, since it was felt that a Khmer run agency was the only sustainable solution
to a demining problem that was expected to take decades to resolve.
Furthermore, the creation of an essentially Cambodian institution was seen as being
a far more "appropriate response" than an expat, heavy approach. However
for this worthy vision of a "Cambodianized" CMAC to be realized it was
commonly acknowledged that there was a medium term (at least two years) need for
expatriate management and supervision from demining specialists.
It is precisely these specialists who have achieved great things with CMAC in the
first year of its existence, who are now being told to pack their bags and leave
along with the rest of the UN force. They are demoralized, and reported to be in
a near mutinous state of mind, due to the decision to withdraw them.
They have urged humanitarian agencies such as the Mines Advisory Group to put pressure
on the UN to rescind the decision forcing them to leave and extend their contract-at
least for 90 days during which time a case can be made to the UN in New York.
The specialists feel the higher echelons of the UN are completely out of touch with
what they have been trying to achieve on the ground in Cambodia, in their name.
Not only does the decision to withdraw these committed expatriate specialists mean
that CMAC will collapse - a great betrayal of the Khmer people - but it represents
the complete failure of the UN's response to the mine problem in Cambodia.
With mines killing and maiming between 300-500 Cambodians every month, and impoverishing
hundreds of thousands by denying them access to land, such a decision makes a mockery
of the UN's entire peace-keeping effort in Cambodia. For whilst the mines remain
in Cambodia, the war will go on.
- Paul Davies, Mines Advisory Group, UK