Work Plan Aims to Help Cambodia Hit Mine-Free Target by 2025

Cambodia has set a goal to be mine-free by 2025, however, deadly landmines and UXOs continue to litter the country. To speed up efforts, a new work plan has been unveiled
This photo released by the Cambodia Mine Action Center, CMAC, shows unexploded ordnance at Queen Kosamak High School in Kratie Province, northeastern of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. (Cambodia Mine Action Center via AP)
This photo released by the Cambodia Mine Action Center, CMAC, shows unexploded ordnance at Queen Kosamak High School in Kratie Province, northeastern of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. (Cambodia Mine Action Center via AP)

Despite demining operations exceeding targets, landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) continue to plague Cambodia, injuring and killing people in the provinces and along the nation’s borders.

Heng Ratana, General Director of Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), told Kiripost, “In the first seven months of 2023, we have achieved more than our work plan of 13 percent, while our goal is committed to release 268,050,099 m2 of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in contaminated areas for 2023.”

Ratana said that currently, the number of volunteers aiding the demining operation countrywide has risen from 4000 to 6000, with many areas countrywide continuing to face challenges.

He said that between 25 and 30 percent of cluster bombs, landmines, and UXOs planted in the country continue to affect the nation, despite CMAC exceeding its 2022 demining target by 155.61 percent of its original plan and 91.59 percent of the newly-revised plan by having found and destroyed a total of 61,277 mines and UXOs, the report cited.

He added that until now Cambodia continues to struggle with the impacts of decades of war that scarred the country with landmines and UXOs. These have killed and injured people, and hampered development activities.

For example, within a three-day period of operations at Queen Kosamak Kratie High School last week, CMAC’s Remnants of War team cleared 2,116 pieces of UXOs, namely M79, DK75 FuzeM48, H107 and B40.

Based on experts on the ground, there are still many more UXOs that litter this area and pose a threat to lives. As a result, CMAC requested that the school close and people living in the area evacuate for a few days, he added.

After a successful operation to clear caches of UXOs, CMAC said from August 21, it is safe to reopen the school, according to a post from Ratana on Saturday.

On Saturday, another incident occurred when soldier, Mouy Teurm, from the military’s border patrol, was killed after stepping on an anti-personnel mine along the Thai-Cambodia border. He was pronounced dead at the frontline military hospital, according to the CMAC’s recent release.

Integrated Work Plan 2023 and Cambodia Mine-Free 2025

The CMAC Integrated Work Plan 2023 (IWP 2023) report states that to increase operational efficiency and safety, technical expertise is key.

The goals set out in the IWP 2023 arose from discussions in the field of expertise, evaluation of past experiences and, in particular, taking accurate account of time-limited hypotheses, resources and organisational capacity. IWP 2023 is designed to support CMAC’s activities in accordance with the national policy, ‘Cambodia Mine-Free 2025’.

In response to this goal, CMAC has clearly defined its mission of “increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of mine and UXO clearance operations in order to participate in the implementation of the Royal Government's National Mine Action Strategy to turn Cambodia into an anti-personnel-mine-free country by the end of 2025 and reduce the maximum amount of UXOs”.

At the same time, the Work Plan will continue to strengthen landmine/ERW clearance operations to respond to existing policies of humanitarian demining and socio-economic development. It also aims to strengthen cooperation with the inter-ministerial working group and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces to clear landmines and ERWs along Cambodia's borders.

The plan also prioritises the release of landmine and ERW contaminated areas to promote national economic development, such as areas for tourism, environmental hotspots, temples, socio-development, and other areas for physical infrastructure.

In addition, it will continue to strengthen the multi-skilled capacity of staff members to meet the new demand of tackling landmine and ERW problems in line with the progressive advancement of technologies and changes in operational geographies.

Other goals laid out include working to enhance the efficiency of providing safe and professional services to the public and strengthen the capacity of human resources, technical material resources, and infrastructure in the form of classrooms, accommodation, meeting halls and training grounds to carry out training at national and international levels.

IWP 2023 also outlines details to create a Peace Museum in Siem Reap to collect and compile documents, evidence and the life stories of Cambodians during and after the war to serve as a centre to highlight the devastating legacy of war and the value of peace.

The plan encourages expanding relationships with development and international partners to raise funds, technical materials and cooperation in demining work, as well as training for both nationals and foreigners to monitor and improve the welfare and livelihoods of staff members in accordance with general living standards and the economic and social changes.

It adds that organisational risk management planning is necessary in demining and must be carried out in unpredictable situations. Each plan, when implemented, may have internal or external issues that need to be addressed. For example, projects may be suspended, postponed, adjusted, or reduced due to budget shortages or a lack of funds.

In addition, unpredictable weather factors or disasters due to war and social unrest can also disrupt the plan. Therefore, it is important to identify key risks that may arise during its implementation to find solutions as soon as possible.

In the IWP 2023, key risks have been identified, including the heavy dependence on donors, the dangerous nature of demining work, the spread of Covid-19, and environmental factors.

In the 268,050,099 m2 of targeted areas, CMAC currently has the budget to clear and release only 249,223,145 m2. Regarding another land area of 18,826,954 m2, CMAC is awaiting the approval of a support budget, the CMAC statement cited.

Regarding the goal of ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025’, Ratana told Kiripost, “Cambodia will have no anti-personnel mine anymore, which is the commitment of the Royal Government under the wise leadership of Cambodia's Prime Minister and international partnerships”

He added, “Many Cambodians, when they hear the word of Cambodia Mine-Free 2025, they are confused. In this regard, we refer to anti-personnel mines, and we knew the specific places already. So, CMAC would reaffirm that our commitment is to release them in different areas while these are mentioned in the national data and set in our vision.”

However, he noted that these remaining UXOs are of varying types and are often buried underground in deep and remote places. Therefore, the Cambodian government is unable to locate them all. Ratana said CMAC will prioritise places considered harmful to citizens.