Cambodia

Cambodia: Training weapons clearance specialists in landmine-free quest

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Humanity & Inclusion has launched a 5-year plan to train the Cambodian Self-Help Demining (CSHD) — a local mine action organization — to take over residual contamination actions after 2025, when Cambodia aims to be landmine-free.

Contamination is considered massive in Cambodia with more than 270 square miles littered with landmines or cluster munitions, remnants of the Vietnam War and civil war in the 1970s and 80s. Over 1 million landmines and almost 3 million explosive ordnances such as cluster munitions, grenades, and mortars have been removed in Cambodia since 1992. But clearance efforts must continue to reach the designation of mine-free.

Under the International Mine Ban Treaty, a country is declared "mine-free" when all "reasonable" efforts have been made to ensure the country's decontamination, but sporadic explosive ordnance may remain in overlooked areas. In those instances, international mine action leaves the country and passes the responsibility to local organizations.

CHSD was officially founded in 2007 by Aki Ra, a Khmer man and former child soldier. CSHD works in rural villages throughout Cambodia with a group of approximately 25 mine clearance specialists. Since 2008, the organization has cleared weapons from nearly 3 square miles of land.

Training mine clearance experts

How are surveys implemented to identify contaminated areas? How are former battlefields cleared? How can organizations intervene immediately after an explosive ordnance has been reported by a resident? Humanity & Inclusion has been training a dozen CSHD mine action specialists in these tasks since January 2021, including procedures of intervention, planning, and security rules. Humanity & Inclusion is also training the CSHD experts to conduct sustainable and cost-efficient operations and to ensure quality management with technical supervision.

"Humanity & Inclusion supports the clearance experts in their current mine detection and disposal operations," explains Julien Kempeneers, Humanity & Inclusion's Regional Armed Violence Reduction and Humanitarian Mine Action Specialist. "The proposed training is largely dedicated directly to clearance and survey with a target of 8.7 million square feet cleared in target areas this year. We also focus on the cost efficiency of the operations. CSHD estimates that the cost of clearance is about 35 cents per 10 square feet.

"Humanity & Inclusion is supporting CSHD in becoming an autonomous key player within five years," Kempeneers continues. "The local organization will remain in the country after 2025, when other international organizations will be leaving. This is our main goal of development: to empower local actors to take on this responsibility."

The training started in January and will end in December.

Landmines threaten communities

With an estimated 4 to 6 million explosive ordnances left over after conflict, Cambodia is considered to be among the most affected countries. Explosive ordnances severely affect civilian security and rural livelihoods by impeding access to productive resources, markets and broader development, such as building schools, hospitals or wells.

Civilians collect items of ordnance for their value, as scrap metal, or the explosives they contain. If not disposed of safely, the consequences are often fatal or lead to lifelong disabilities. Given the magnitude of contamination and the country's current response capacity, the threat remains a major safety and development obstacle for Cambodians in nearly half of its 14,300 villages.

The partnership with CSHD focuses on the Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces, where an estimated 12,300 residents will benefit from safer access to their environment and improved access to resources. The goal is to hand over cleared land to local communities, so they can use it for housing and farming.

These mine action activities are funded by the U.S. Department of State Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA).