Khorn Toeur is the head of a family which has benefitted from Cambodia’s ongoing demining efforts in his home province of Banteay Meanchey.

As the village chief of Khvav Lech village, in Svay Chek commune and district – close to the Thai border, once one of the most heavily mined pieces of land on the planet – he is very familiar with the threat presented by the unseen killers such as mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs).

Since receiving 5ha of land which was cleared of mines in 2021, Toeur and his family have been able to make a good living by farming the land. As of December, the government has declared the capital and 13 provinces mine-free, as it moves steadily towards its Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 goal.

Toeur tells The Post that the income the villagers can generate by farming the now-safe land has helped to alleviate poverty and reduced the amount of people who were migrating away from the area to look for work.

The village chief, who has five family members, explains that he and his family now grow rice and potatoes. The additional income has made their lives far easier.

“In the past, we were afraid of landmines. Once they were cleared, we received this land and have been able to improve our family’s livelihood. We are extremely thankful to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre [CMAC] team, as well as the relevant ministries and institutions,” he said.

He believes that the government’s gifting of the land is an example of the care it shows to the people of the country.

The government has set the goal of a “Mine-free Cambodia 2025”, which means that it will not allow anyone to continue to be affected by landmines after 2025.

2023: A year of progress

While there are approximately two years remaining to achieve this goal, officials from the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) said that 2023 has seen several major steps toward achieving the demining target and reaffirms their commitment to achieving the goal.

Ly Thuch, first vice-president of the CMAA, tells The Post that the goals and visions of the mine-free Cambodia 2025 are actively moving forward. Domestic and international demining operators, led by the CMAA, as well as development partners and the private sector, are continuing to implement and support the prime minister’s vision.

He said that 2023 is a special year because the CMAA is targeting its largest ever clearance area, with over 300sq km set to be made safe. In previous years, between 60 and 100sq km had been targeted.

“This year is special. We are rushing to get it done, thanks to strong support from the prime minister with financing and participation from the private sector, as well as support from communities. This is a big step towards reaching our 2025 goal,” he added.

With around two years remaining, Thuch explained that the remaining minefields are along the Thai border, which is geographically difficult due to mountainous terrain and heavily forested areas.

“Despite these challenges, we remain committed to making the vision successful,” he added.

He stressed that the need for funding is essential in order to have sufficient resources for deploying a comprehensive and targeted demining force. Modern equipment is also needed to expedite the clearance work and provide safety for deminers.

The need to continue to improve the capacity of demining operators through constant training is also a necessity, he added.

Previous accomplishments

According to a CMAA report, from 1992 until June this year, Cambodia had cleared mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), including cluster munitions, from an area of 2,761sq km. The land is now used for agriculture, infrastructure development, housing construction and other socio-economic development.

From March 2022 to November, Phnom Penh and 13 provinces – Kep, Svay Rieng, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Takeo, Kampot, Kampong Speu, Kandal, Tbong Khmum, Prey Veng, Preah Sihanouk, Stung Treng and Mondulkiri – have been declared mine-free.

Mondulkiri was the 14th administrative region to be declared mine-free, with Prime Minister Hun Manet making the announcement at a November 14 ceremony. There, three demining operators began clearance work in 2002.

The three operators – National Peacekeeping Centre (NPMEC), CMAC and Mines Advisory Group (MAG) – cleared an area of approximately 17,886,564sqm, with the support of the Cambodian government through the “Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Fund”, friendly countries and development partners.

Thuch also addressed the ceremony.

“Demining work has really made a significant difference to the health, safety, security and livelihoods of Cambodians living in communities which were affected by explosive remnants of war,” he said.

According to the CMAA, in more than three decades of demining operations, the government has spent more than $200 million ensuring the safety and well-being of people across the country.

The governments and people of Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and other donors have also been involved in supporting demining activities in Cambodia through victim relief, mine education and gender mainstreaming in mine action in Cambodia.

Japan has also provided assistance, especially through demining and capacity building through the South-South Cooperation. The CMAA has asked Japan to continue to support these activities, with a particular focus on support for Pursat to become a mine-free province.

In addition, China is preparing to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the CMAA for three years of cooperation, at the request of the Cambodian government.

Kep province was the first to be declared mine-free, in February 2022. During the ceremony, provincial governor Som Piseth explained that Kep was a hotbed of fighting between government forces and the Khmer Rouge, especially in the Phnom Vor area, one of the largest battlefields in Cambodia.

He said that after the war had ended, several areas were left with large amounts of landmines and UXOs. Prior to 2021, a total of 221 were impacted by mines and UXOs, including 198 in the province’s Damnak Changaur district and 23 in the namesake provincial town.

As Preah Sihanouk province was declared mine-free in February of this year, provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun said that 2,660,515sq m of minefields had been cleared.