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Demining deadline extended by decade

Demining deadline extended by decade

091204_01
The winner of the online Miss Landmine contest, Miss Battambang, Dos Sopheap, was announced Thursday on the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. She received 2,315 online votes.

New goal might be out of reach without more donor funds, govt says.

This does not disguise the fact that there is a large problem that has [an impact on] development.

PARTIES to the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty have formally approved Cambodia’s request to push back the deadline for clearing all antipersonnel mines by 10 years, though the government’s formal extension request asserts that “current productivity levels will not be sufficient” to meet the revised goal.

Leng Sochea, deputy secretary of the Cambodia Mine Action Authority [CMAA], on Thursday confirmed that the request had been approved Wednesday at the Summit on a Mine-Free World, which is being held this week in Cartagena, Colombia.

“Whether we completely clear all land mines in the country or not, it will depend on the money that we receive from the donor countries and other donors,” he said.

A Cambodian delegation attending the summit said clearance efforts for the next 10 years will cost approximately US$330 million.

Cambodia became a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty, formally the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, in 1999, thereby committing to clear all antipersonnel mines by the end of this year.

But after officials deemed that deadline unrealistic, they set about preparing the extension request, which includes a plan to facilitate clearance
by accurately surveying areas affected by mines, as well as accrediting the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces to assist in demining projects.

The delegation presented the request on Monday, and Thailand, Australia, Canada and Austria all made interventions expressing their support. “What we were really surprised about was that Thailand supported us,” Leng Sochea said.

The request notes the considerable progress that has been made in lowering landmine casualties and clearing land. From a high of 4,320 in 1996, total casualties fell to 271 in 2008. “However, this does not disguise the fact that there is a large problem that has a significant impact on both national and local development priorities,” the request states.

A formal survey completed in 2002 that was designed to quantify the scope of Cambodia’s land-mine problem identified 4,544 square kilometres of contaminated land affecting 46.1 percent of all villages. The government now estimates that 648.8 square kilometers still need to be cleared, although this figure has not been backed up by technical research.

A baseline survey launched this past August will map all remaining contaminated areas in the 122 mine-affected districts recorded in the 2002 survey. The new survey is expected to be complete by the end of 2012.

The request also notes that the $330 million the government plans to spend on clearance will only be enough for the three demining operators – the Cambodian Mine Action Centre [CMAC], the Mines Advisory Group and the HALO Trust – to clear 470 square kilometres by the new deadline.

“This demonstrates that current productivity levels will not be sufficient to [clear all antipersonnel mines] within the next 10 years,” the request states. “However, with a 38 percent increase of financial resources made available to the sector and a greater involvement of RCAF in addressing the remaining challenge, productivity rates can be increased, which may make completion of clearance of all known minefields within the extension period possible.”

RCAF is expected to be accredited by the end of the year.

A report released Monday by the UN found that Cambodia’s land-mine problem was “too large and complex for the country to manage alone”, and that expert estimates indicate that it will take “another 10 to 20 years to get the job done if the current level of funding is maintained”. The same report highlighted a 74 percent budget shortfall for the mine action community for 2010.

The “Portfolio of Mine Action Projects” also noted that the total amount of funding requested for mine action projects for 2010 was 75 percent higher than the $17.7 million requested last year.

Khem Sophoan, chairman of the CMAC governing council, said he expected Wednesday’s extension request to facilitate donations to mine action projects, a point seconded by CMAA Deputy Secretary General Chan Rotha.

“It can be viewed in terms of the credibility of Cambodia internationally, because the approval is a sign that we’ve done a very good job and have been granted what we requested,” Chan Rotha said.

“But we are not ambitious. We are just trying to maintain whatever the development partners gave us in the last 10 years.”

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