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Officials announce further delay on cluster bomb ban

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A cluster munition is shown at an ordnance disposal facility in Kampong Chhnang.

GOVERNMENT officials said Cambodia will fulfill its promise to sign an international treaty banning cluster bombs, but that they may need more time to consider its impact on the country's defence capabilities.

Prak Sokhon, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, said Tuesday that due to the current border tensions with Thailand, the country had to delay signing.

"This does not mean that Cambodia has turned away from its promise," he told local and international participants during a conference on the government's national mine clearance strategy Tuesday.

"We still sign on to this treaty ... even though our two big neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam, have refused to sign [it]."

He added that the Ministry of Defence had requested more time to determine how many cluster bombs the army possesses and how long it will take to replenish its defence capabilities after stockpiled bombs are destroyed.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, signed in Oslo, Norway, in December, requires signatories to cease their use of cluster munitions, and not to "develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer [them] to anyone, directly or indirectly". It also obliges nations to destroy stockpiles within eight years.

But officials say it is unclear how long the Ministry of Defence will take to complete its study into the army's cluster bomb stockpiles.

Oum Phumro, deputy director general of the Cambodian Mines Action Centre, estimated that it could take "this year or until the middle of next year" to prepare the study, but did not elaborate further.

Leng Sochea, deputy secretary general at the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, also declined to put a timeframe on the signing of the treaty, but denied the border conflict with Thailand was behind the delay.

"The tensions between Cambodia and Thailand have not affected the signing of the Cluster Munitions Convention ... because the tensions are only at Preah Vihear," he said.

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat said Wednesday that the ministry was currently studying the likely impact of the convention, and "needed time" to consider the issue.

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