Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Demining must focus on numbers, not development

Demining must focus on numbers, not development

Demining must focus on numbers, not development

demining.JPG
demining.JPG

Mine clearance should focus on removing the maximum amount of mines while donor

interest lasts, and move away from the current trend of demining areas for

development. That was according to Richard Boulter, country program manager of

the Halo Trust, in his address to a regional demining seminar.

E Lai, 43, who stepped on a mine in Poipet while cutting firewood one month ago.

"An awful

lot of tasking for demining is being driven by requests from donor

organizations, but it is not addressing the problem. They are not working in the

most densely mined areas," he told the Post on March 27.

Boulter made his

assessment after presentations from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), the Royal

Cambodian Armed Forces, and the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) at the

regional demining conference held in Phnom Penh between March 26

and28.

Boulter suggested the government should combat the problem by

writing land safety into all publicly-funded development projects to ensure

communities did not feel pressured into developing unsafe land for fear the

money would be diverted elsewhere.

He said the emphasis had "swung a

little too far" in favor of development-driven clearance. In the future, he

warned, the international community could lose interest. That made it imperative

to demine as quickly as possible before funding dried up.

"Clearing the

mines must be considered on an equal footing, rather then [asking] what is the

land use right now, because people just up sticks and leave," he said. "Getting

rid of them now should be the focus of mine clearance agencies in

Cambodia."

The aim of the seminar was to bring together Southeast Asian

countries to share their experiences and lessons learned. Delegates from US,

Britain, France and Germany were also present.

Of major concern was a

lack of commitment by Southeast Asian nations to the Ottawa treaty to ban

landmines, which came into being in 1999. Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar and Laos

are yet to sign.

"Many states in this continent are still outside the

convention," said Jean Lint, president of the fourth meeting of state parties on

the Ottawa Convention. "Many, or most, of the producers are from this continent

... I urge all states that have not signed it to accede without delay. I also

urge producers to stop the production of this cowardly and deadly

weapon."

Cambodia was praised for its ongoing demining efforts, and

operators expressed confidence the country would meet its Ottawa-driven target

of clearing all mined land by 2010 provided it was given sufficient

resources.

The high-profile conference took place shortly after the

Cambodian Red Cross and Handicap-International Belgium released their January

2003 mine and unexploded ordinance (UXO) victim report.

Deaths and

injuries from landmines and UXO fell by more than half in January 2003 compared

with the same month last year. Four people were killed, and 37

injured.

That is a substantial drop from January 2002, when 18 died and

68 were injured. Despite the decrease, demining experts warned the number would

climb again in March, which saw an average 113 casualties in each of past three

years.

"Generally if we see the early months go down it is a good sign,"

said Handicap-International Belgium's project advisor Ray Worner. "[But] March

is typically a big number because people are moving around more, and as we get

further into the dry season people go further afield looking for firewood and

food."

The monthly survey was released at the same time as the final

report on mine and UXO injuries for 2001, which recorded 828 people killed or

injured that year.

The highest rate of incidents were in Battambang and

Banteay Meanchey provinces. Men accounted for over half of the casualties,

followed by children who accounted for 27 percent.

Figures from CMAC show

that 46 percent of the country's villages are contaminated by mines, making it

one of the most heavily mined nations on earth.

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