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Landmine Relief Fund fears US aid cuts will impact UXO removal

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Self-Help Demining NGO founder Aki Ra. Photo supplied

Landmine Relief Fund fears US aid cuts will impact UXO removal

In an open letter, Landmine Relief Fund president William Morse urged US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to cut funding to Cambodia amid fears that the Trump administration may cut billions of dollars in aid to developing countries.

“I don’t believe the adage ‘If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime’.

“Cambodians could fish a thousand years ago. We [the US] blew up their boats and burned their fishing poles with the 544,000 metric tonnes of bombs we dropped on the country. Don’t punish the helpless,” Morse’s letter implored on Saturday.

Morse warned that the decision to cut relief to Cambodia would harm Landmine Relief Fund’s support of NGO Aki Ra – a Cambodian demining NGO named after a former child soldier who used to clear landmines with a pair of pliers and a stick.

Morse said he started the organisation almost two decades ago to help Ra after having sold his home in the US and most of his belongings to move to the Kingdom permanently in 2009 to help vulnerable Cambodians.

The US State Department has given the Landmine Relief Fund a $100,000 annual grant since 2009. Morse wrote that those funds allowed Cambodian Self-Help Demining to expand its team from just seven people to 30.

It also formed three mobile Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams and reduced the burden of 37,000 people by clearing over 155 minefields measuring six million square metres.

“The remnants of war we are clearing were, in some great measure, brought here by us [the US]. We have a huge responsibility to these people. We ended the war for our generation.

“We can end it for the present and future generations in Cambodia by cleaning up the mess we helped leave behind,” the open letter continued.

Morse told The Post on Monday that Landmine Relief Fund anticipates learning how much the US will allocate towards Cambodian clearance operations and to whom they will be given to later this month, but fears that Cambodia will be left out.

Aki Ra’s annual operations budget is under $200,000, Morse said, adding that the US’ funds are supplemented with those provided by Canadian rotary clubs, the South Korean government and a Swiss organisation.

US Embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg declined to provide The Post with a comment on Sunday.

Politico reported in September that it had obtained a draft presidential policy directive that would see the US stop sending aid to countries “that do not side with it in international disputes or somehow align themselves with U.S. rivals such as China”.

The Washington-based site quoted US President Donald Trump as saying at the 2018 UN General Assembly: “Moving forward, we [the US] are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends.”

Adhoc spokesman Soeng Sen Karuna told The Post that it was important to note that many of the war remnants were not just left behind by US forces.

“It is important to clear all landmines in the Kingdom because if the country is still littered with landmines, human beings and animals will continue to be endangered. But I fear that [Morse’s] argument may backfire.

“As we already know, the weapons used during wartime were [also] produced in China or the Soviet Union.”

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