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War’s legacy unites Cambodia and Laos

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People look at unexploded remnants of war during a meeting between CMAC and UXO Lao in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Officials from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre and the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme, or UXO Lao, met in Phnom Penh yesterday to kick off a two-week knowledge exchange for ridding their countries of “the legacy of war”.

Vanthong Kham­­­dala, deputy national program director for UXO Lao, said the 15-strong Lao delegation to workshop will take home lessons about “land release”, a more efficient method of assessing, clearing and reopening contaminated areas, to a country that has roughly 12 unexploded cluster bomblets for every citizen.

“We hope to release land quickly and to get a good example from CMAC on the way they conduct technical surveys,” the deputy director said, highlighting the link between demining and economic development.

Techniques like land release – which uses GPS mapping and historical data to pre-determine areas that can be designated safe for use – are more important than ever, said CMAC
Director General Heng Ratana, ever since the global economic downturn created a more “competitive” donor situation.

CMAC plans to devote more attention to the eastern half of the Kingdom, which is still riddled with unexploded remnants from the United States’ extensive campaign of cluster bombing during the Indochinese War, he added.

“Right now, I can say that economic changes have spread through the country,” said Ratana, adding that greater development in the east has necessitated increased de-mining. “We are not really changing the focus from the west to the east; we are just changing the balance of resources.”

Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority Secretary General Chum Bunrong used his opening remarks to nudge CMAC and UXO Lao to discuss the possibility of Cambodia’s signing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the UN’s convention against anti-personnel mines, which Laos has yet to sign.

To contact the reporters on this story: Stuart White at stuart.white@phnompenhpost.com
Phak Seangly at seangly.phak@phnompenhpost.com

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