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Kingdom Leads in Mine Removal

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Cambodian deminers demonstrate de-mining techniques in the UN-controlled buffer zone near a village in Cyprus. Reuters

With its new Asean Regional Mine Action Centre (ARMAC), Cambodia is prepared to assist other Asean nations clear mines and unexploded ordnances (UXO) in formerly war-torn areas, according to officials.  
In a speech during the inauguration of the ARMAC headquarters last Wednesday, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn said Prime Minister Hun Sen was one of the leaders of the creation of ARMAC during the Asean Summit in Phnom Penh in 2012, an idea embraced by the entire Asean bloc.
Mr. Sokhonn added that during the process of the creation of ARMAC, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in close cooperation with the governments of Japan and South Korea, organized two workshops featuring the Cambodian Mine Action & Victims Assistance Authority (CMAA), the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) and regional and international experts, in which ideas were exchanged and discussed about the operation of ARMAC.
To ensure functionality and sustainability, Mr. Sokhonn called on all Asean nations, development partners and affiliated NGOs to provide funds and technical assistance to ARMAC. He added that the center would play a crucial role in the exchange of information over UXO in the region.
The senior minister added that ARMAC now needs those parties to contribute about $338.5 million for mine and UXO clearance in Cambodia alone.
Since 1992, about 1,461 square kilometers of land has been cleared of mines and UXO in the Kingdom, with about 1,640 square kilometers expected to be cleared by 2025.
“The presence of landmines and other explosive remnants of war in the soil poses constant threats to the safety of people and hinders national socio-economic development and aggravates humanitarian problems in many countries in the region as well as other parts of the world,” an Asean joint statement said.
Srey Sangha, a former long-time employee of CMAC, said he left the organization in 2013 to work for the Norwegian People’s Aid organization. He told Khmer Times he could make more money in his new job, adding that not all his colleagues were so lucky. He said CMAC laid off close to 2,000 employees in 2000 after a financial crisis.
“We can share our knowledge with other Southeast Asian countries, because they don’t have much experience like us, who have done demining for more than 20 years now,” said Mr. Sangha.
“The government of Myanmar does not allow foreigners to access all areas. But me? I have the same skin as Southeast Asian people and that’s why I can access any remote area that is contaminated with mines,” added Mr. Sangha.
Pich Phalkun, another former deminer at CMAC, said he worked for the organization from 1992 until 2008 as an operations officer. He joined the BACTEC International Company as an UXO, mine and bomb-removal specialist in 2008 for a higher salary.
“I made $320 a month when I worked for CMAC. I couldn’t improve my family’s living conditions on that salary, so I decided to leave,” said Mr. Phalkun.
He said that each year his new company sends 10 to 20 Cambodian deminers abroad to fulfill demands for their skills in countries such as Myanmar, Iraq and a number of African countries. Skilled deminers are paid salaries of between $7,000 and $8,000 a month, Mr. Ohalkun added.
Pring Panharith, the Regional Commander for CMAC in Battambang, said many young Cambodians would join CMAC to work as deminers, even though they knew very well about the high risk and low salary.
“A lot of people are unemployed. They could be happy with $200 a month as a deminer for CMAC. But with a sharp drop of funding from donor countries, many skilled deminers left CMAC, which could not afford to hire new deminers,” said Mr. Panharith.
“We spent our lives as soldiers, fighting during war, so we feel that it is our duty to help others,” project manager for CMAC in Battambang Ouk Rathanak added.

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