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Mine Ban ‘Homecoming’ About More Than Nostalgia

A Cambodian expert works to take out a land mine in Pailin province, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in northwestern Cambodia.

[Editor’s note: Cambodia is hosting the 11th gathering of 158 state parties who signed an international landmine ban in 1997. The convention, “on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction,” got its start, at least in part, in Cambodia, making this year’s gathering a homecoming for the idea of the landmine ban. Kerry Brinkert is the director for the Implementation Support Unit of the convention. He spoke to VOA Khmer as the conference got under way.]

What will this conference, the 11th of state parties, focus on and what do you expect from it?

What they’ll be doing is assessing further progress in the effort to end the suffering caused by any personnel mines. That’s assessed in the context of efforts to promote and reinforce the ban on anti-personnel mines, to see that existing stockpiles will be destroyed, that all areas containing any personnel mine will be cleared and that victims will be assisted.

And so both progress and challenges will be marked with respect to all of these core aims, and then hopefully this meeting will be a springboard for further action, which seems, for instance, that over the past year there have been new instances of use of any personnel mine, not by the states parties to the convention, but by states that are not party of this convention, including by Syria, and by [Muammar] Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. So there’ll be a fairly strong condemnation of those actions.

We’ll also see that the movement continues to grow larger while the world’s newest state, South Sudan. The more difficult tasks are related to the work to implement the convention concerning clearing mine areas and assisting victims, and these are tasks that countries like Cambodia are going to have to concern themselves with for the long haul.

So one of the things that we hope will come out of the convention is that recommitment or reaffirmation of support to those countries that need it, a certain commitment being made that even in the context of the financial crisis going on in parts of the world that when states signed on to this convention, they did so on the agreement that they would cooperate and assist one another and that assistance still needs to flow to countries like Cambodia.

The movement started more than a decade ago, and it has come back to Cambodia. Why Cambodia this time?

That’s a very good question. There is a reason why the meetings of this convention take place outside of Geneva. That’s to recall that the real challenges faced by those countries and communities affected by anti-personnel mines lie far away from, say, the meeting rooms in Geneva. They lie in the farms and rice paddies of Cambodia and in many parts of the world. And Cambodia is particularly special because this is one of the places where the whole anti-landmine movement was born.

It was about two decades ago when non-governmental organizations, especially those working along the Thai-Cambodian border, raised concerns about what anti-personnel mines were doing to people, to civilians, and many of these organizations then came together to form the international campaign to ban landmines, which went on to win 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

So in a way the convention is coming back to its home, or one of its homes. So this meeting here will really serve to mark two decades of effort of this movement, not simply to be the nostalgic, but rather to draw lessons from those two decades which might still be applicable for perhaps the next decade ahead.

The use of landmines still continues, such as in the case of Libya, where we saw their use during the uprising. How will you convince a county like Libya to stop using this weapon?

Libya is a really interesting case, because very early in the conflict the forces loyal to the transitional authority understood that this was the behavior that the international community largely found to be unacceptable and it issued a declaration saying that forces under its control would not use land mines. That authority now is the government of Libya, essentially. So it will be an effort now to see if Libya can be brought into the fold, to become a party of the convention.

Yet, the use of the land mines by the Gaddafi forces is something that we will use as a counter argument for that those who continue to want to hold onto the weapons. The use of the weapons by Gaddafi’s forces did not make a difference in terms of the outcome of the conflict in Libya, but it did result in mass areas within Libya now being polluted and dangerous as a result of the use of those weapons.

So, those that use these weapons have to recognize that they are not going to make a difference in terms of the ultimate outcome of conflicts, but they will pose significant barriers to the reconstruction of the countries. And no one wants that to happen to their country.