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Deminers tell of kidnap threat

Deminers tell of kidnap threat

S IEM REAP - French deminers working in Siem Reap have faced Khmer Rouge kidnapping threats and risks to their lives over the last five months which has forced them to stop work in some areas, according to leading deminer Colonel Gerard Dufrechou.

Dufrechou heads COFRAS (Compagnie Francaise d'Assist-ance Specialisée) which has been demining in Cambodia since September 1993 with EU funding.

Dufrechou, in an exclusive interview with the Post, revealed how a demining team had been working in Svay Chek, 10 km north of Siem Reap town, in March when they learned of a KR threat to kidnap them.

Dufrechou said he and the previous chief of COFRAS, Colonel Joel Delafoy, were named as specific targets by KR soldiers operating in the area. Delafoy subsequently left Cambodia and Dufrechou took over his post.

Col Dufrechou said: "On March 7 we began demining in Svay Chek but we stopped on March 16 because of the threat of kidnapping."

"They threatened to take cars, materials and kidnap people and demand ransoms for their release."

The Cofras team was alerted to the danger by the district police chief and by a colonel commanding the government regiment providing security for the demining team.

Dufrechou said the team went back into the area on March 23 but was attacked by mortar fire with one shell landing near where they worked and another exploding near their parked cars. The deminers stopped work the same day.

A Cofras team was supposed to work at Svek Chek for several months and another team was suppose to demine at Banteay Srei.

The two teams were switched onto clearing unexploded ordinance around Siem Reap town itself, otherwise they would have had to be disbanded, according to Dufrechou.

He said Cofras went back to Svay Chek at the beginning of May and were able to work for three weeks before being ordered to stop by the RCAF general running the regiment in Angkor district. The general told the deminers the KR were less than a kilometer away.

Dufrechou said: "Every morning we would drive to Svay Chek and on one day we heard on the radio we were forbidden to go there."

Cofras' contract with the European Union forbids them taking risks, apart from the demining itself, so they had no choice but to leave the area, according Dufrechou.

The six month demining contract with the EU runs out in September, it is the second such contract Cofras have entered. They employ 180 staff.

Dufrechou is hoping they can return to finish the job but the KR are still a threat in the area and the governor of Siem Reap Toan Chhay is also requesting the team not return to Svak Chek because of the danger.

Summing up his thoughts on the future of mine clearance in the province, Col Dufrechou was pessimistic. "The future is dark. There are mines everywhere," he commented.

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