The threats posed by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) are more complex than they might appear at first glance, as they leave people with crippling injuries, suffering, trauma and in mourning while also disrupting development of the land they infest, said a senior official.

Ly Thuch, First Vice-President of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), said the Kingdom’s leadership has recently renewed its previous commitment to eliminating landmines in the country by 2025, with Prime Minister Hun Sen leading the efforts to raise fund in order to meet that goal.

Thuch was on hand for a ceremony to declare Phnom Penh mine-free within its municipal boundaries on September 22. Also present was Minister of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspections Men Sam Orn.

Thuch talked about the ongoing tragedies caused by landmines and ERW in Cambodia over the past four-plus decades in every part of the Kingdom. He said the munitions had not only destroyed lives and injured innocent people who were non-combatants, but had also greatly hindered development in the areas affected by mines.

“Phnom Penh is not a village or a province. It is Cambodia’s capital, but even it has yet to overcome the problem of unexploded ordnance [UXO] completely. There may still be ERW in Phnom Penh, though we feel certain now that we’ve put an end to the problem of landmines in the city as of March, 2022, and today we declare our capital officially mine-free,” Thuch said.

He continued that within the city limits of Phnom Penh, there remained approximately 315ha of land they suspect may have buried cluster bombs and other UXO present – or the equivalent of 36 minefields – in the districts of Prek Pnov, Por Sen Chey, Sen Sok and Chroy Changvar.

Sam Orn also hailed the leadership, officials and staff of the CMAA for successfully and effectively performing their work, which gained wide recognition from the international community, and today Cambodians are known for their expertise and ability to clear landmines and have even assisted with training personnel from other nations to do so.

She said that just 43 years ago, Phnom Penh was full of pain, going through a civil war and becoming a ghost city. The devastation of the war left people separated, orphaned, lonely and heartbroken. The Kingdom’s entire population went through many stages of hardship, she added.

“Today, Phnom Penh is developed and modern and now it has been named a mine-free city under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who successfully ended Cambodia’s state of chronic war and made Cambodia a historic success, while bringing national unity, territorial unity and complete peace to our nation and people,” she continued.

She noted that Phnom Penh is the third region after Kep and Prey Veng provinces, which have both recently been declared clear of all landmines.

Phnom Penh’s deputy governor Mean Chanyada echoed Sam Orn, saying that the capital went through the flames of war and many obstacles to become the fast-developing and dynamic city it is today. Guerrilla warfare and rebel movements had caused insecurity and left the country with a legacy of minefields and ERW.

“What is most regretful is that, as of 2021 in Phnom Penh, there were 204 victims here – including 72 deaths, five disabled persons and 127 injuries. These are damaging social impacts and we need to continue working hard to address these impacts and eliminate all such factors hindering the development of our city,” he added.

Thuch said that in 1992, a large-scale international humanitarian mine clearance campaign formally began in Cambodia with full mine action programmes. Over the past 30 years, Cambodia and its international partners have detected and destroyed millions of landmines and ERW, converting “mine-contaminated lands” into “golden lands.”

As of August, over 7.3 million people have directly benefited from mine clearance in Cambodia, with a total of 1.14 million anti-personnel landmines along with 26,065 anti-tank mines and over three million cluster bombs found and destroyed.

He noted that Phnom Penh had over 318ha of land suspected of contamination with mines and UXO, equivalent to 90 minefields. A total of 221 anti-personnel landmines and 175 anti-tank mines – along with 28,611 ERW – have been found and destroyed.

“Despite having our efforts and the participation of development partners, Cambodia today has a remaining 2,000sq km covered in mines and UXO and over one million people continue to live in these potentially dangerous areas,” he said, while renewing the call for more resources and funding for mine clearance to make the Kingdom mine-free by 2025.