British demining group Halo Trust Cambodia recently achieved a milestone of having destroyed a total of 300,000 landmines. It also announced it has recruited 120 new deminers in the northwestern provinces of the country.

Its country director Lasha Lomidze said: “Despite the many challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Halo Cambodia expanded last week with the recruitment of 120 new deminers to clear mines and explosive ordnances in north-west provinces of Cambodia.

“This brings Halo’s total number of staff in Cambodia to 1,150. The recruitment drive comes following the achievement of a major milestone for Halo – the destruction of 300,000 landmines.”

The new recruits began a three-week training course on Monday which will provide them with the knowledge and skills to safely and efficiently detect and clear landmines.

After completing the training later this month, the deminers will form new sections and join Halo’s operations in northwestern Cambodia.

He said the new jobs were made possible by generous funding from the UK, US, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland, and that Halo, under the leadership of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), will tackle the regions most affected by landmines in the Kingdom.

Lomidze said since 1991, Halo has cleared 4,394 minefields and released 339sq km of land back to communities.

Some 70 per cent of the cleared land is used for agricultural purposes to grow crops such as cassava, mangoes and rice, which creates more opportunities for farmers.

In addition to clearing the landmines, Halo deploys highly trained teams to respond to calls from communities who have found explosives.

To date, Halo has responded to 26,443 community calls and destroyed 63,000 landmines. It has also cleared 163,000 explosive remnants of war such as mortars, rockets and grenades, Lomidze said.

“These types of explosives continue to cause a high number of accidents every year in Cambodia. It is very important that people report such explosives to the authorities and organisations like Halo,” he said.

Senior minister in charge of Special Missions and CMAA secretary-general Ly Thuch said mine and explosive ordnance clearance in Cambodia faces financial and human resource shortages despite the US recently providing it with $2 million in funding.

Most of the 2,500 CMAA officers working in mine clearance are elderly and some of them have illnesses which make it impossible for them to work, he said.

Landmines were laid extensively during Cambodia’s 20-year conflict making the country one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.