More than 5,000 discoveries of explosive remnants of war (ERW) were reported to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) in 2021, with a total of 20,000 munitions destroyed.

CMAC director-general Heng Ratana told The Post on February 3 that the high figure indicated Cambodia’s remarkable success in ERW management and awareness as many more people had reported ERW they found to authorities.

Ratana said that though locals would contact them about one remnant they found, the organisation often found multiple ERW nearby. “The more we searched, the more we found, he said.

He added that ERW were often discovered by those who were simply going about their day. “Some people spotted them while digging on their land, while others found them near tree stumps while out on a walk,” he said, illustrating the dangers ordinary Cambodians face in their daily lives.

While some munitions were neutralised and destroyed by CMAC at the site they had been discovered, others had to be moved to a safe place to be destroyed.

Instead of attempting to remove it themselves, Ratana called on people to contact CMAC when they find suspicious remnants so the organisation can assess them and determine the best course of action. While there were instances in which such munitions fortunately failed to explode upon contact, it is not always the case, he said.

There have been a total of 64,954 victims from 1979 to September 2021, of which 13,809 were victims of ERW, according to a report released by the Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAA) last year.

Ratana said CMAC had ramped up its educational messaging at schools and other institutions. But the overall success has been a team effort that should be attributed to “the participation of our society as a whole, including our national security officials, police forces, and local authorities”, he said.

Ratana also praised the media for raising awareness about safe conduct around ERW, and the existence of demining organisations.

“The news media has been especially helpful in spreading the word to the people so that they are well-informed of our work, along with experts who have worked hard in raising awareness [about ERW],” he said.

Sar Bunrith, a resident of Romeas Hek district in Svay Rieng province, used to spot ERW in Koki village and commune. He told The Post on February 3 that he had recently reported a case to authorities in order to avoid direct contact with the munition, which he understood was dangerous.

“Previously, [I] saw unexploded munitions and I did not dare report it to anyone. But this has changed after I saw broadcasts on TV and the radio, which advised [people] not to touch them and [to instead] report them to authorities. I myself was afraid of an explosion when seeing the unexploded munitions,” he said.