Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Private demining looms as CMAC reform sputters

Private demining looms as CMAC reform sputters

Private demining looms as CMAC reform sputters

PLANS are underway to allow private demining firms a slice of Cambodia's landmine

and UXO (unexploded ordnance) clearance market by early 2001.

"There are so many mines in Cambodia so why not let private [demining] companies

come into Cambodia provided they adhere to international standards," explained

Ieng Mouly, Chairman of the Governing Council of the Cambodian Mine Action Center

(CMAC).

Responsibility for clearance of the estimated 6 million landmines and millions of

pieces of UXO is currently confined to CMAC and two international NGOs, the Mines

Advisory Group (MAG) and the HALO Trust.

"First we will have to put in place policy for establishing standards of operation

and safety," Mouly said. "I'd say by early next year we will be ready for

private demining companies."

Mouly's comments were part of a wide-ranging interview with the Post regarding the

CMAC reform process and the newly-established National Cambodian Demining Regulatory

Authority (NCDRA), designed to prevent corrupt practices long-associated with CMAC's

self-regulatory capacity.

"[NCDRA] will be in place soon...it's started to take form already," Mouly

said, adding that five of the organization's projected twenty employees had already

started work at the NCDRA's headquarters in Phnom Penh's Boeng Keng Kang district.

"[NCDRA] will take over from [CMAC's] Governing Council the issue of land [to

be demined], and land use [of demined areas] as well as the overall planning of demining

operations for CMAC, MAG, HALO Trust and any other demining organizations,"

he explained. "[NCDRA] will also take over the quality assurance role for demining

operations."

The formation of NCDRA is the result of a reform process of CMAC demanded by its

international donors following months of successive embarrassing scandals involving

mismanagement of government and donor funds and evidence of "contract demining"

by CMAC platoons, most notably for former KR commander Chhouk Rin in Kampot.

However, more ambitious aspects of the reform process, particularly last month's

announcement by CMAC Director-General Khem Sophoan of the imminent closure of CMAC's

Phnom Penh headquarters in favor of a new "forward base" in Battambang

has been put on hold.

Mouly indicated that the closure of CMAC headquarters and the movement of CMAC staff

to Battambang - originally scheduled to be completed by March 22 - has been indefinitely

postponed if not abandoned completely.

"Moving to Battambang would cause a lot of trouble...we need to weigh the pros

and cons of that idea," Mouly said of the decision to overrule Sophoan's decision

to close down the Phnom Penh headquarters." We're still talking about it, but

at the time being we have more pressing issues to deal with."

The suspension of CMAC's "forward deployment" came as no surprise to CMAC

insiders.

"That idea is dead," a CMAC staffer told the Post." There appear to

be reform plans within the reform plans, and nobody here really knows what's going

on or what's going to happen."

Meanwhile, CMAC's month-to-month financial crisis due to cuts in donor funding with

no end in sight.

Although Mouly described CMAC's financial situation as "more optimistic,"

a UNDP statement on CMAC funding released to the Post indicated that donor funds

to CMAC were sufficient only to "cover expenditures through the end of 1999

and the first month of 2000."

Sophoan declined to speak to the Post due to scheduling conflicts.

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