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Mines still laid, despite army pledge

Mines still laid, despite army pledge

T HE Royal army is still using landmines against the Khmer Rouge, despite

co-Minister of Defence Tea Banh's comments to the contrary at the recent

international landmines conference.

Tea Banh told 400 delegates from 38

countries that RCAF soldiers had been ordered not to use landmines as combat

weapons, even in defensive measures against the Khmer Rouge.

Conference

delegate Denise Coughlan said Tea Banh's pledge had been "extremely exciting"

for fellow delegates.

Coughlan, in reply to Tea Banh, said: "We know it

is difficult, but we urge you to please implement your words."

However,

King Norodom Sihanouk, in a later speech at the Royal Palace, was skeptical for

the success of a 300,000-strong petition calling for a mine ban while the war

with the Khmer Rouge guerrillas continued.

"The landmine problem and the

war problem are linked... we can not say just please use your artillery guns,

your tanks, your helicopter gunships, but don't use landmines," the King

said.

"The Royal government's stance is that until the Khmer Rouge cease

using landmines,the army can not stop using landmines," he said.

Tea

Bahn confirmed that - despite his conference speech - the RCAF were still using

mines against the KR "in some areas to protect the lives of the people and the

soldiers".

"However, we are trying hard to stop using landmines," he

said.

The petition to ban mines - which the King also signed - was backed

by a heavyweight endorsement from National Assembly chairman Chea

Sim.

Along with a condemnation of the Khmer Rouge for using mines, Chea

Sim indicated his support of the law banning mines, which is now being

drafted.

"We would like to strongly condemn those who are using and

laying mines. [Mines] must be outlawed," Chea Sim said.

He appealed to

countries who produced mines to stop and blow up their existing

stockpiles.

"At the same time I would like to appeal to the KR rebel

faction to immediately stop laying new mines and blow up existing stockpiles,"

Chea Sim said.

Tea Bahn said that RCAF had bought no new mines since

1992.

"We accept that landmines have created great consequences for the

national society... thousands of lives have been lost, people lose their limbs,"

he said.

"I, on behalf of the Royal government and as the Minister of

Defense, I would like to reconfirm that we have been fully and actively

supporting all efforts made by your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen in order

to reduce of the danger of all types of landmines," Tea Banh said.

He

said the RCAF forces had an important role to help easing the danger and trying

to prevent further mine laying activities.

"I promise that the Ministry

of Defense and the General Staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces fully

support and cooperate at all time with you to eliminate landmines from Cambodian

territory," Tea Banh said.

An open letter was drafted by the delegates

to Khmer Rouge leaders.

"We have learned about Cambodia, its suffering

and devastation due to landmines. We plead with you this day to stop using

landmines," said the letter to guerrilla leaders Pot Pol, Khieu Samphan, Ieng

Sary, Ta Mok, Son Sen and all the followers of the Khmer Rouge.

"You

boast of laying new mines on your radio programs. We can not accept this. It is

immoral. Please understand what you are doing. You are destroying lives,

communities and a nation," the letter said.

The participants told the

guerrilla leaders they would win neither the war nor the support of the people

by using mines.

"To all who fight we say stop waging war and using this

terrible weapon," the letter said.

"We have taken encouragement from the

strong support of His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk. We will not forget what we

have seen. And we will not rest until the world has completed an inevitable

march towards an international ban of landmines," said the letter.

Jody

Williams, coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, said the

conference, the first ever held in a heavily mined country, allowed people to

"really see what it means to a country to live in the midst of

mines."

She said it was an privilege to be involved with the movement

towards a global ban on mines, but it was also a huge responsibility.

"We

have the privilege of being in a position to be able to influence governments

and move them," she said. "Coming together here, seeing the effects of landmines

vividly makes us feel that responsibility more."

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