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Clearing landmines around UNESCO world heritage site

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By Michael Heiman | Country Program Manager, APOPO Mine Action Cambodia

APOPO is now clearing minefields near Preah Vihear temple.

APOPO is delighted to announce support from the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that allows for the expansion of the Cambodia landmine clearance program into the province of Preah Vihear.

Yesterday APOPO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with partner Cambodia Mine Action Center (CMAC) which will allow the landmine detection rat (MDR) teams to clear land near the Preah Vihear Temple. An area that is riddled with landmines, cluster munitions and other deadly legacies of past conflict.

Since 2015, APOPO has been working in partnership with CMAC, one of the leading humanitarian mine clearance operators in Cambodia with a comprehensive mine action capacity within which APOPO's MDR are a highly effective component.

“I am very happy to have this new project together supported by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clear this affected part of Cambodia. Thank you APOPO for supporting CMAC, we started with a small collaboration, but are pleased with new opportunities like this to do more together,” said H.E Heng Ratana, Director General of CMAC.

The program has now doubled its capacity, working with rat teams in two different provinces in parallel – Siem Reap and Preah Vihear. The new APOPO/CMAC rat teams in Preah Vihear will be working through till July 2019, surveying and clearing approximately 600,000 m2 of land, in combination with a vegetation cutting machine and manual deminers. In February 2019, newly trained Technical Survey SMART dogs will be integrated into the project to accelerate the land release process.

“We just finalized the 2019 landmine clearance plan, targeting approximately 1,500,000 m2 to be cleared next year. By supporting these most vulnerable border communities in Preah Vihear, significant progress can be made towards the development of some of Cambodia’s most poverty-stricken communities,” says Michael Heiman, the APOPO Program Manager in Cambodia.

Preah Vihear province in the northwest of Cambodia lies along the border with Thailand, stands as one of the most mine-affected regions in the country. According to the national baseline survey data, the remaining contamination in the province is heavy and casualty numbers are high, landing it in the top 5 prioritized areas of the Cambodian 2019-2025 clearance strategy.

APOPO will return safe land to the communities in Trapeang Prasat and Choam Khsants districts for agricultural use and resettlement back into the area, allowing them to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. This will clear the path to the Preah Vihear Temple and allow for the conservation of the Hindu temple to Shiva that was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

The landmines and other remnants of war are holding back development by preventing access to fertile land, water sources, roads and health services and imposing financial and emotional hardship on families needing to care for a landmine survivor. Despite the world being committed to helping Cambodia meet the objective of becoming mine-free by 2025, according to the landmine monitor, the country is not yet on track to meet this deadline.

APOPO has plans to expand its teams even further with newly trained rat reinforcements from Tanzania expected to arrive in the first half of 2019. Once the new recruits are accredited they will strengthen teams in both provinces. The APOPO program in Cambodia aims to have 40 MDRs in operations in 2019 and is currently seeking funds to build a third team and expand its operations further.