Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked demining NGOs to clarify their claims that most landmines or unexploded ordnances are degraded or damaged in order to avoid misleading information.
Speaking at a closing ceremony of the National Mine Action Conference yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said that such a claim will confuse Cambodian people and put their lives at risks.
“I am not sure how the claim is made that all landmines in Cambodia are degraded. If there is such a claim, I would like to ask for correction or explanation,” he said.
He said that the government made great effort to prevent people and children from being injured and killed by landmines and UXOs.
He said that all plots of land had to be cleared of land mines before being distributed to people.
Mr Hun Sen’s reaction came as Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodia Mine Action Centre, posted a message on his Facebook page on Wednesday responding to some unnamed NGOs which claimed that most UXOs have already degraded.
“I am very sick of a few demining NGOs by expatriates in the Kingdom that keep saying most landmines and UXOs have already degraded,” Mr Ratana said.
Mr Ratana said that the claim was made by NGOs during the National Mine Action conference on Wednesday, but he refused to disclose the names of the NGOs.
Demining operators in Cambodia include the Royal Cambodia Armed Forces, CMAC, Halo Trust, MAG, Norwegian People’s Aid and Cambodia Self Help Demining.
“If most landmines or UXOs were already degraded or damaged, why do they need to operate in this Kingdom?” he asked. “Why in 2017, there were two or three different cases of accidents involving four or five deminers [wounded or killed] during their operations?”
“Why do Cambodian people continue to be wounded and killed by these devices?” Mr Ratana added.
Mr Hun Sen also challenged the unnamed demining NGOs to visit the areas strewn with landmines and UXOs if they were degraded or damaged.
“This claim will make Cambodian people not be precautious while we announce and release all measures to erect signs of danger at mine sites,” Mr Hun Sen said, noting that UXOs and landmines will not be degraded despite being buried underground for decades.
After 25 years of demining, Cambodia has cleared 1,036,376 anti-personnel mines, 24,251 anti-tank mines, and 2,660,638 items of explosive remnants of war.
The number of mine and ERW casualties has been brought down from 4,320 per year in 1996 to an annual average of around 100 per year over the last five years. The Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority estimates that 2,000 square kilometres of land remains to be cleared.
Prum Sophakmonkol, secretary-general of CMAA, said on Wednesday that if donors are unable to raise enough money, the goal to make Cambodia mine-free by 2025 could just be out of reach.
He added that over the past 25 years, the government had allocated $160 million, while the international community had raised a total of $473 million to support Cambodia’s demining efforts.
He said that in order to fulfil the 2015-2018 work schedule, it has been projected that CMAA will need $406 million to fund their operations while the organization is facing reduced funding, inaccurate surveyors and guidelines not being followed.