Cambodia has declared that it is committed to clearing all anti-personnel landmines by 2025, despite challenges that lie ahead, but its leaders say this target can only be reached with the full participation of all stakeholders and the continuous support of its development partners.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, in his capacity as head of the Mine Action Coordination Committee (MACC), released a three-page message on the occasion of the 22nd Anniversary of National Mine Awareness Day, which has been observed on February 24 since 1999.
The National Mine Awareness Day exists to remind Cambodians, especially those living in the areas still affected, to be cautious about landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war (ERW) and understand the dangers they pose.
Hun Sen wrote that for the last 28 years there have been 2,138 sq km of contaminated land cleared of landmines and made available for productive use.
Of the cleared land, 58 per cent is now being used for agriculture, 12 per cent for infrastructure development and 38 per cent for various other purposes like housing, villages, schools and healthcare centres with an estimated 6,357,853 beneficiaries across all categories, wrote Hun Sen.
From the beginning of clearance efforts through today, demining teams have found and destroyed a total of 1,095,750 anti-personnel mines, 25,488 anti-tank mines and 2,885,294 ERW or cluster munitions, according to the prime minister.
Hun Sen relates that these clearance efforts have resulted in the drop in casualty numbers from 4,320 people injured or killed in 1996 down to 65 people last year.
He also mentioned that another success last year was the completion of a nationwide baseline survey of all districts intended to increase the effectiveness in planning for the rest of the demining operations.
“These grand achievements notwithstanding, Cambodia needs to clear the remaining 835 sq km of land contaminated by mines and the remaining 1,316 sq km of land contaminated by ERW and cluster munitions in order to accomplish the goal of the national mine action strategy, which is to realise the vision of a mine-free Cambodia in 2025,” he said.
He called on authorities at all levels, the armed forces and the national and international organisations who are assisting in these efforts to continue to increase the public’s awareness of the dangers of landmines, cluster bombs and ERW.
He said authorities must work with the international experts outside the government to further refine the location of risk areas that remain contaminated and then inform those living nearby.
“Donors and partners in development: Please continue supporting land clearance operations, risk education and the victims of landmines, cluster munitions and ERW,” he requested.
Hun Sen also urged the public not to buy, sell, store or tamper with landmines and ERW when they are encountered.
Senior Minister Ly Thuch, first vice-president of MACC, said that the Mine Free Cambodia 2025 campaign was based on the National Mine Action Strategy for 2018-2025.
To achieve this goal by 2025, more than 160 sq km need to be cleared each year from now until then, and that’s with a target focus of only anti-personnel landmines, not all ERWs, said Thuch.
Currently, many organisations have undertaken this dangerous and difficult work in Cambodia, including Cambodian Mine Action Centre, Halo Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid, MAG, the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces, Mine and ERW Clearance, Akira, The Japan Mine Action Service and Peace Land, among others. Between them, the listed organisations employ approximately 2600 deminers.
Thuch said that the campaign faces some challenges and that the extent of the surface area still contaminated with mines could be larger than currently expected. Natural disasters like floods could move landmines and ERW deeper into the ground or bring them up closer to the surface.
“Another challenge is that the number of deminers is limited. Some who used to work in Cambodia have retired. Deminers must be healthy enough to handle dangerous work which often takes place in remote places with difficult terrain and has a high risk of injury or death. Our nation rightly regards them as heroes,” Thuch said.
Thuch also mentioned that additional factors are financing for the training of more deminers and the purchase of modern equipment for them to use.
“From now until 2025, we will remain hopeful and stay committed to this goal and we won’t back down. Our efforts and that of all stakeholders will continue and grow even stronger. If we can overcome some of these challenges then we can accomplish our goal,” he said.
UNDP’s Resident Representative Nick Beresford said that the UN is deeply committed to giving the Royal Government of Cambodia its full support to help realise the goal of a landmine-free Cambodia by 2025.
UNDP has supported CMAA since 2006 in its efforts to clear a total of 255.6 sq km of mine contaminated land, he said.
Beresford said that to achieve the target of 2025, extra resources will need to be deployed and the rate of landmine clearance will need to speed up.
Beresford added that the Cambodian government should consider deploying 2,000 soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces who have some experience with landmine clearance through their work in UN peacekeeping missions, as has previously been suggested.
“With a well-coordinated effort by the Royal Government of Cambodia, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, developmental partners – and national and international demining operators – it is possible we can achieve a mine free Cambodia by 2025,” he said.
Halo Trust, one of the operators, said that a mine-free Cambodia in 2025 can be achieved if the right resources are available.
“Most of the landmine contamination is now recorded and is being cleared. However, the extensive nature of fighting over three decades of war has created a complex picture that is ever-evolving with land use, population growth and internal migration – particularly with regards to unexploded ordnance – which is less predictable and more difficult to delineate,” a representative from the organisation stated.