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Cambodia braces for land mine complaints

Cambodia braces for land mine complaints

Delegates at Geneva meeting to refute Thai claims that new mines laid

CAMBODIAN officials say they are ready to counter Thai accusations that the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces has mined the border with Thailand amid an ongoing dispute over contested territory.

The allegations were made Monday in Geneva as signatories to the Ottawa Treaty gathered for a five-day meeting, Cambodian media reports said.

The meeting follows a spate of mine-related incidents involving Thai border troops, which have claimed at least one soldier's life and severely wounded two others.

Khem Sophoan, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre,  said that Cambodian delegates were preparing to defend the country against any allegations that the border was being mined.

"We have prepared a PowerPoint presentation, based on legalities and maps ... in order to inform the member countries at the meeting, in case the Thais address the issue," he said.

Following an explosion that wounded two Thai soldiers on October 6, Thai Foreign Ministry officials said Cambodian troops were laying anti-personnel mines on Thai territory.

"What we find of grave concern is the discovery [that] these land mines were newly-planted ... this is a grave threat for the international community as a whole because ... we have banned them," said Virachai Plasai, Thailand's director general of treaties and legal affairs, in an October 16 statement.

Cambodian officials maintain that the land mines were likely left over from the civil war of the 1980s and 1990s, and that the Thai military is well aware of the dangers of patrolling along the border.

 "The Thais moved their troops into the old minefields that have existed since the civil war, for the purpose of staging operations against Cambodia," said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan. "The Cambodian government does not have a policy of laying mines."

In turn, Phay Siphan blamed border tensions for delays to Cambodia's demining efforts. "If the Thais mass their troops and put a lot of pressure on the border, how can we do it?" he asked.

Rupert Leighton, country program director of the Mines Advisory Group, agreed that tensions were delaying mine removal.

"The military doesn't want indiscriminate explosions on the border, [with] people in a state of military readiness," he said. "We have to be very careful."

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