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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No end in sight to current minefield walkout

No end in sight to current minefield walkout

Canadian military Technical Advisors remain officially restricted from entering

CMAC minefields twelve days after their commanding officer banned them from

doing so due to safety concerns.

"Canadian military technical advisors

haven't gone back to the field, so technically the restriction is still in

place," Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot confirmed on Feb 28.

The

restriction on Canadian military Technical Advisors' normal in-the-field

inspections of demining activities came to a halt on Feb 14 when CMAC's Canadian

contingent commander Lieutenant Colonel Michel Verreault banned such activities

due to "safety concerns."

Verreault's decision was prompted by a trio of

incidents in February in which the lives of Canadian technical advisors and

Khmer deminers were put at risk due to CMAC Site Managers in Demining Units Two

and Three outside Battambang falsely designating mined land as

demined.

According to Mailhot, a decision on if and when the restriction

will be lifted is pending on the evaluation of visiting Canadian Brigadier

General Chris Ford in collaboration with Verreault.

Ford's visit has

been described by Canadian authorities as "routine" and unrelated to the latest

CMAC debacle.

Although Canadian military Technical Advisors were expected

to deliver an initial report regarding how serious and widespread the problem of

falsification of demined land in Battambang was, Mailhot said that

investigations were continuing.

"Lieutenant Colonel Verreault and

Brigadier General Ford will go to Battambang on March 1 to see the [disputed]

minefields for themselves," Mailhot told the Post. "When they return there will

be another examination of the matter."

Mailhot indicated a decision on

whether Canadian Technical Advisors will be allowed to enter minefields might be

made by early next week.

The status of a separate CMAC investigation of

the Battambang incidents announced by CMAC Director General Khem Sophoan on Feb

20 remains uncertain.

Post requests to meet with Sophoan went

unanswered, and Mailhot said he had not been informed about the progress of the

CMAC investigation.

Verreault's decision has severely strained

traditionally warm relations between CMAC management and its Canadian

contingent, who have provided the backbone of CMAC's training operations since

the agency's founding in 1992.

Sophoan has admitted that he felt betrayed

by Verreault's decision to unilaterally restrict Canadian military Technical

Advisors' activities and had sent letters of protest about Verreault's move to

both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sok An.

Verreault himself remains

unrepentant about his decision.

"I'm not trying to destroy CMAC, I'm just

trying to fulfill my duty as a Canadian military officer," Verreault told the

Post on Feb 28. "I'm concerned with safety in general, but in particular the

safety of Canadian technical advisors under my command."

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