Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Anti-mine groups questions Government's Sincerity



Anti-mine groups questions Government's Sincerity

Anti-mine groups questions Government's Sincerity

AFTER the Geneva conference on conventional weapons, at which the issue of Anti-Personnel

landmines was hotly debated, activists have questioned the integrity of Cambodian

leaders to act on their promises for a national ban on mines.

"If Royal Government officials are really serious about bringing about a ban

on landmines, they should insist that their soldiers stop using mines and destroy

their stockpiles immediately," said Sister Denise Coghlan, an Australian Jesuit

who heads the local chapter of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines.

She spoke to the Post two days after participating in a post-Geneva panel, held at

the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh on May 22.

On that occasion, she listened to Ieng Mouly, the chairman of the Cambodian Mines

Action Center, reiterate the government's pledge to rid Cambodia - the second most

heavily mined nation in the world behind Bosnia-Herzegovina - of its estimated ten

million mines.

"A total ban on land mines is wanted by all the leadership of Cambodia, namely

King Norodom Sihanouk, the co-prime ministers, the chairman of the National Assembly,

and the two defence ministers," Mouly told his audience.

"We in CMAC and others... hope that before a future Anti-Mine Law is adopted,

Cambodia will be able to set an example to the world by destroying its stockpiles

of landmines."

But Mouly admitted that such a move would be opposed by RCAF field commanders, who

continue to deploy mines in their push to put down the Khmer Rouge.

"It is clear that there is resistance from the military, especially the people

who are operating on the frontlines," he said. "They have tendencies to

use mines to protect themselves against the Khmer Rouge."

Mouly's remarks came on the day CMAC finally sent its year-old Anti-Mine draft law

to Parliament.

According to him, should the law finally be adopted, it would impose fines and jail

sentences of up to two years on anyone found guilty of importing, selling, or using

mines.

However, in a later interview, Mouly did not clarify whether those in the military

would be immune to such punishment once the law is passed.

He said that provisions for the incrimination of field officers would be carefully

weighed by MPs as soon as the draft makes its way to the floor of the National Assembly.

Mouly added that the law would establish a two-year grace period for the nationwide

phasing out of mines.

Friedrun Medert, the resident representative of the International Committee of the

Red Cross (ICRC), joined Coghlan in criticizing the government's wavering stance.

She took Mouly to task by asking him why - given the government's vows to bring about

a ban - had it not set an example to the world by destroying its mine arsenals before

the law is passed.

"If Ieng Mouly says that field commanders are still reluctant not to use landmines,

how is it that they have been given them in the first place?" she said. "If

they don't have them, they can't use them."

Medert also questioned Cam-bodia's failure to accede to the newly revised 1980 UN

Conventional Weapons Convention, although Cambodia - reduced to the rank of an observer

at CWC sessions - is among the 37 countries to have declared a comprehensive ban

on mines.

She said that such a move would place Cambodia "in a much better position"

to shape the worldwide debate on mines as well as demonstrate to international observers

that Phnom Penh is serious about wanting to do away with them.

Mouly's words also seemed to contradict statements made by secretary of state for

defence Ek Sereywath in a May 27 telephone interview. "Within the past two years,

we have not had any mines in our warehouses," Sereywath said. "We don't

plan to plant new mines on the battlefield."

"The Ministry of National Defence is committed not to buy new mines and not

to plant new mines," he added. "We support the International Campaign to

Ban Land Mines."

The feeling among local anti-mine campaigners was that Geneva was a public relations

success, but a humanitarian disaster. In their opinion, although "people power"

had won the hearts and the minds of millions, in the end the mandarins and the generals

came out on top.

"I felt that because [the respective diplomatic and national military delegations]

had made such a terrible agreement, the media and the people of the world seemed

to be on our side," said Coghlan. "In fact, the peoples' wishes and their

awareness of the humanitarian problem of land mines are far ahead of the governments

and the militaries."

She was referring to final revisions made at Geneva to the 1980 Convention, which

legitimize the continued use of mines into national defence policies.

Included among the new rules are: The allowed use of detectable mines which must

contain a minimum of eight milligrams of metal; the deployment of so-called "smart

mines" which are supposed to switch itself off after 30 days and self-destruct

in 120 days; and the establishment of a nine year grace period for the phasing out

of mines in national military doctrines.

Coghlan directed much of her criticism at the United Nations. She said the UN had

left civilians around the world out of an equation, which is designed to serve the

military-industrial complex at the cost of increased human suffering.

"It should be governments, not generals, who are solving such humanitarian problems,

because militaries have vested interests," she said.

"The whole conference degenerated into what kind of mines can we have? Geneva

left out the humanitarian issues."

Coghlan then pointed to a comment made by the vice-president of the ICRC at the close

of Geneva, which she said highlighted the cynicism of how humanitarian concerns,

in the post-Cold War age, have been hijacked by modern warfare:

"The ICRC deeply regrets that, for the first time in a humanitarian law treaty,

measures have been adopted which, instead of entirely prohibiting the use of an indiscriminate

weapon, both permit its continued use and implicitly promote the use of new models

which will have virtually the same effects, at least in the short term."

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • Cambodia's cluster cases jump to 259

    The Ministry of Health on February 27 recorded 26 more cases of Covid-19 linked to the February 20 community transmission, bringing the total to 259 in one week. The 26 include three Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. The ministry noted that five of the Chinese