Phnom Penh, along with Kandal and Kep provinces, will no longer be first-priority areas for continued operations to clear anti-personnel mines.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) issued a report on February 16 indicating that all of the minefields previously identified in those areas – 64ha in Kandal, 69.8ha in Kep and 983ha in and around Phnom Penh – have largely been cleared.

Preah Sihanouk, Kampot, Kampong Cham and Takeo provinces are expected to be the next regions with a downgraded status in overall threat level due to mines.

“Kandal, Kep and Phnom Penh were previously the areas considered most under threat from anti-personnel landmines. CMAC is now redeploying its forces to Preah Sihanouk, Kampot, Kampong Cham and Takeo to eliminate the problems caused by these mines in the same manner and we hope to finish in 2022,” stated the report.

CMAC director-general Heng Ratana told The Post on February 17 that CMAC has withdrawn its forces almost completely from Kandal, Kep and Phnom Penh.

“Removing these landmines makes these areas safe and the people there are no longer afraid ... The land there has been returned to productive use and the residents no longer live in fear, especially young people who enjoy the outdoors,” he said.

Ratana clarified that the declaration that a province is landmine-free wasn’t an absolute guarantee against any dangers from hidden mines or other explosive remnants of war (ERW).

He said there was likely still a small amount of unexploded ordnance such as cluster munitions or bombs dropped from airplanes scattered around there, but all of the known locations there had been swept clean of landmines.

Ratana said CMAC has laid out a four-year strategic plan that runs from 2022 to 2025 that has specific and targeted clearance operations for the removal of anti-personnel landmines from more than 700 km of land out of the 800 km that is currently considered contaminated or about 90 per cent of all remaining landmines in Cambodia.

“Please help avoid public confusion about the concept of mine-free provinces. These provinces will likely still have some leftover ERW – but far less than in the past. And when we do get a report of someone finding something like an unexploded bomb dropped from an aircraft, we will still send a team out to deal with it,” he said.