One day after it was revealed that the United States would discontinue funding for the Cambodian government’s explosives removal body, the US Embassy said it would fund a separate “world-class removal program” in the eastern part of the country, following a competitive bidding process.
Meanwhile, Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) Director General Heng Ratana said yesterday that the government would fill the $2 million annual funding gap left by the US withdrawal and continue its ongoing programme.
Though the US Embassy did not address the reasons for pulling its assistance to CMAC, relations between the two governments have been strained, with Prime Minister Hun Sen accusing the US of fomenting an alleged “revolution”, and repeatedly invoking America’s war legacy in the country in his criticism.
“We will use 2018 resources to put in place a world-class removal program targeting US-origin UXO in eastern Cambodia,” said deputy embassy spokesman David Josar via email.
Josar added that new funding would be awarded on a competitive basis. “A request for proposals, which we will prepare in consultation with the government of Cambodia, will be released this month,” he said.
CMAC’s Ratana said yesterday that government finances would allow ordnance and mine removal programmes to continue without any cuts in staff.
He added that another development partner had indicated support for project, but declined to elaborate.
“We will try to keep the funding at least the same. But we will try to increase to $2.5 to $3 million,” he said on the phone.
He added that he did not “want to close the door” on future cooperation with the US, but said the superpower should have consulted CMAC about its new bidding process.
On Monday, Ratana said he had met with the US State Department in July but was given no indication of any impending changes to the two countries cooperation.
“If they wanted to do like that they should have had consultations,” he said. “It is not correct to give no notice to shut down [funding] and then reopen it [for bidding].”
Ratana was sceptical of a parallel removal programme, for which he said it could take months to allocate resources, train demining staff and then implement the programme, hampering current efforts.
Aksel Steen Nilsen, country director for Norwegian People’s Aid, which works on demining efforts, said the request for bids by the embassy was ordinary, given that the nonprofit had won a similar bid three years ago to work with CMAC on its current project. But he did question whether a seamless transition will be possible as early as January.
“That will be fantastic if they can, but there is only a short notice,” he said. “We are one of the biggest demining operations here so we will bid for it.”
The Halo Trust yesterday said that it was focused on clearance operations in the country’s north and west and did not want to comment on its participation in any future bidding process.