Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ratana decries lack of UXO aid

Ratana decries lack of UXO aid

Members of CMAC excavate unexploded cluster munitions in June after they were discovered in Kandal province. National police
Members of CMAC excavate unexploded cluster munitions in June after they were discovered in Kandal province. National police

Ratana decries lack of UXO aid

A top Cambodian demining official slammed US President Barack Obama’s widely heralded pledge to increase demining aid to Laos on Tuesday, faulting the US for what he characterised as its “marginal assistance” to Cambodia’s demining efforts.

In a speech at the 2016 ASEAN Summit in Vientiane on Tuesday, Obama pledged $90 million in demining aid to Laos over the next three years, prompting Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), to immediately take to social media to decry the aid package.

“This is very unfair and injustice for Cambodian people!” Ratana wrote in a status update, published late that same night.

Ratana claimed almost 3 million tonnes of bombs were dropped in Cambodia, killing 500,000 people. (The actual tally of US bombs and the casualties they caused is still disputed by historians.)

“However, Cambodia remains receiving a marginal assistance”, Ratana wrote.

The US military engaged in secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1973. Many bombs failed to detonate on impact, leaving the countryside of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam riddled with unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Yale professor and historian Ben Kiernan has estimated that closer to 500,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped in Cambodia, with about 50,000 to 150,000 Cambodians killed.

By comparison, Kiernan accepts the conventional estimate – reiterated by Obama on Tuesday – that over 2 million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Laos during that same period, making it the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history.

However, this did little to assuage Ratana.

“They dropped on three countries but gave aid to two, and don’t give to one”, Ratana said in an interview yesterday. “We don’t have power, as the money is in their pocket, but we will tell about our need.”

A spokesman for the US Embassy in Cambodia, however, said that the US government is “one of the largest donors” to Cambodia in terms of demining aid, currently contributing $5.5 million in annual support.

“The United States has been working to address explosive remnants of war in Cambodia for more than 20 years and has invested well over $100 million to remove and safely dispose of landmines and unexploded ordnance”, spokesman Jay Raman said yesterday.

Ratana, however, declined to address the US’s decades of assistance. He also dismissed the notion that his remarks could have a negative impact on future funding.

“I think that US President Obama understands about the moral obligation, and he should provide justice,” he said.

The Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, meanwhile, took a more diplomatic approach, congratulating Laos on the new deal and acknowledging the past assistance of the US government, while expressing hope to strengthen cooperation in the future.

MOST VIEWED

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • Shipwreck found off coast of Koh Kong

    Royal Cambodian Navy researchers are working to identify a decades-old shipwreck found earlier this month off the coast of Koh Kong province. Divers found the 70-metre-long wreck on April 4 about a mile from Koh Chhlam island, according to Navy officials. Deputy Navy Commander Tea Sokha,