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Cluster bomb clearance still going despite Covid-19 crisis

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CMAC director-general Heng Ratana (right) poses with recovered cluster bomb munitions on July 4. CMAC

Cluster bomb clearance still going despite Covid-19 crisis

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) continues the search for cluster bombs and research information to speed up unexploded ordnance clearance. CMAA has also appealed to donor countries and partners to continue support for the organisation’s activities.

CMAA said the research is a joint procedure between technical and non-technical groups and was conducted in response to cluster bombs in Cambodia. The purpose of the research was to find and map the location of cluster bombs.

Ly Thuch, first vice-president of the CMAA, told The Post that cluster bombs from the civil war had shifted over time. As a result, clearance officials have to increase activity to identify and clear the ordnance as planned by the government by 2025.

“Cluster bombs have moved to where we did not expect. Certain places no longer have cluster bombs, other places now have them and some ordnance does not change location. Unexploded munitions can last for centuries, so pose an ongoing risk to people,” he said.

He added that despite the challenges locating cluster bombs, the working group remained unfazed for people’s safety in at-risk areas.

“We have challenges and spend more time than before, but we have to do the work,” he said. “So, as a first step, we have to re-inspect the map that indicates areas with cluster bombs across the country.

“As the second step, when we have a clear picture of the situation, we gather resources and clear the target areas according to the government’s strategic plan.”

He added that the government has so far used resources and aid from development partners to clear landmines in western regions because those areas have many cluster bombs. Other resources were sent to northeastern regions which also has many cluster bombs.

“So, our goal in the near future is to speed up cluster bomb clearance by at least 40 sq km of land per year as more than 200 sq km of land across the country still has cluster bombs. So, we request that the international community donate more funds for the clearance operation in northeastern regions,” he said.

Thuch said that Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri, Kratie, Stung Treng, Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces had many cluster bombs.

He said that in Cambodia, cluster bombs were not the same level of threat as landmines because landmines can explode when people step on them. But cluster bombs can pose a threat if they are exposed to extreme heat.

“For children, cluster bombs can be more of a threat than landmines because they are small and can be seen on the ground. So children tend to pick them up,” he said.

Thuch said that in addition to cluster bomb clearance, the working group had educated people not to touch, pick up, or attempt to alter cluster bombs to avoid possible detonation.

According to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), 26 to 30 million cluster bombs had been dropped on Cambodia during the civil war. In the first six months of this year, CMAC had detected nearly 2,000 cluster bombs on more than 14 sq km of land.

Lasha Lomidze, HALO Trust Cambodia programme manager, said that with the support of the government, HALO has maintained unexploded ordnance clearance during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“HALO’s 1,200 employees have used additional health and hygiene measures to prevent Covid-19 in line with government regulations and have all now received double Covid-19 vaccinations thanks to CMAA’s facilitation of this,” he said.

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