Landmines and unexploded ordnance remain a persistent threat in Cambodia, according to a new report from the U.S. State Department.
The report, titled “To Walk the Earth in Safety”, released on Wednesday, highlighted efforts around the world to destroy conventional weapons.
“A lot of different efforts going on around the world in conventional weapon destruction, helping civil society, helping our national security interest, and putting civil society in a place where they can recover from upheaval of conflicts and heal the wounds that often continue after the actual fighting is over,” Stanley Brown, director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, told a press briefing in Washington.
Cambodia received some $124 million between 1993 and 2016, second only to Laos in the region.
Mines and unexploded ordnance kill and injure some 100 people annually in Cambodia, keeping poor communities impoverished by limiting access to farmland, the report states.
The Department of State and Department of Defense have been working in partnership with several deminers including Golden West, Halo, MAG and NPA operating in the densest areas West of Cambodia along the K-5 mine belt and focusing on U.S.-origin contamination in eastern Cambodia.
“From the standpoint of US legislation it is always written into our manager’s statement that we will first focus on US-caused unexploded ordnance,” Stanley Brown told VOA Khmer in an interview. “But, as I said earlier in the context of our humanitarian current operation, we think it’s important to do both as long as we can.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen has claimed that the United States left chemical weapons in Cambodia, which were recently discovered during demining operations, and called on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
But Brown said the substances were simply the remnants of tear gas canisters. “The OPCW has been called in to look at that and our Department of Defense actually provided training about three years ago to Cambodian forces to be able to clear those items and we’re looking forward to what the OPCW’s outcome is.”
However, the director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, Heng Ratana, said “there is no doubt” that some 50 to 60 chemical bombs had been discovered in Cambodia.
Brown said it was “unfortunate” that humanitarian demining efforts had been politicized.
“So our intent is to continue the life-saving work that we’ve been doing to this point and continue to do work in the east and the west of Cambodia because we know it helps the people of Cambodia.”