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
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
"[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
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
"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.