Cambodia has declared Kep the first mine-free province, with the capital and six other provinces – Prey Veng, Kandal, Kampong Cham, Preah Sihanouk, Ratanakkiri and Takeo – soon to follow.

Ly Thuch, first vice-president of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, presided over the ceremonial declaration on February 28 at the Kep Provincial Hall.

He recalled that in 2011, CMAA had chosen Kep for landmine clearance and planned to turn it into the first mine-free province with the financial support of Norway and Hungary and chose the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) as the demining operator.

He thanked the governments and peoples of Norway and Hungary and CMAC for providing financial and technical support to clear landmines in Kep, as well as development partners, “friendly” countries and other national and international demining operators for providing support for humanitarian mine action in Cambodia.

“Cambodia has been victimised by chronic wars since the 1960s, by both landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). Villages and provinces cleared of landmines are still troubled by UXO such as air-dropped bombs, cluster munitions and other deadly explosives.

“Kep has been cleared of landmines, but it has yet to be rid of the problem of UXO from the war entirely. Please continue to be careful and together continue to take measures to solve and respond to the presence of UXO in a timely and effective manner,” he said.

Thuch added that in order to support the government’s priority plans and achieve the vision of a “Mine-Free Cambodia 2025”, CMAA has developed guidelines on mine-free village mechanism implementation that will ensure that every minefield in all villages are cleared with the aim of speeding up the process and attracting new donors from the private sector.

He said the Kingdom has clearly defined the scope and extent of the impact of landmines and UXO throughout the country. Cambodia once had 2,017sq km of landmines and UXO, with 788sq km remaining to be cleared of landmines by 2025 nationwide.

Kep governor Som Piseth noted at the event that the province was a battlefield where there was fierce fighting between government soldiers and the Khmer Rouge, especially in the Voah mountain area which was one of the most disputed regions of Cambodia.

After the war ended, some areas were left with landmines and UXO that caused injuries in 221 cases – 198 in Damnak Changaur district and 23 in Kep town.

“Although Kep is the first mine-free province, I believe that CMAA and donors will still continue to support Kep in this sector to address the remaining problems of explosive remnants of war [ERW],” he continued.

CMAC director-general Heng Ratana said at the event that Kep had a total of 27 minefields with an area of 4,230,176sqm and the organisation had cleared 18 minefields with an area of 3,232,214sqm from 1995-1999.

He added that the CMAC had deployed forces for the second time in late 2021 and early 2022 to remove the remaining anti-personnel mines from affected areas and then cleared nine minefields with an area of 997,962 square metres in Damnak Changaur district’s Poang Teuk commune.