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
"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
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
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
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
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."