The first day of an international conference on the banning of landmines opened yesterday in Phnom Penh with a rare address by King Norodom Sihamoni, who described the diplomatic meeting as a “golden opportunity” and a “springboard” to a mine-free world.
Speaking via video tape to the crowd of more than 1,000 delegates at the 11th annual Meeting of the States Parties, the King reiterated the need for continued international support, in what has become a common talking-point of high-level Cambodian officials.
“I extend my gratitude to all foreign experts, our compatriots and especially those deminers who risk their lives. However, greater commitment and further dedication is needed to complete the mission as soon as possible,” the King said.
The formal announcement of Cambodian Secretary of State Prak Sokhonn as president of the 11th Meeting of the States Parties was also made yesterday, marking the first time a Cambodian has held the position.
Sokhonn, who is vice-president of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, said his main goal over the next year would be to “push for compliance and implementation of the convention”, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. Also known as the Ottawa Treaty, the 1997 Convention additionally calls for its signatories to achieve mine-free status within 10 years and to provide “adequate” assistance to mine victims.
During yesterday’s proceedings, Finland announced it would accede to the Convention, becoming the 159th state to do so, and Burundi, to much applause, declared it had removed all anti-personnel mines from its borders.
Phnom Penh, which is playing host to the 11th annual Meeting of the States Parties for the first time in the conference’s history, provided a poetic backdrop for many speakers yesterday, who described the Kingdom as the “cradle of the mine-ban movement”.
“It was during the early 1990s that Cambodia was highlighted as showing the horrors of anti-personnel mines and the human and socioeconomic damage they can cause,” Steve Goose, head of delegation for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, said.
“It was the activists here in Cambodia that gave strength to what became the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.”