The United States has warned Cambodia it may have to shoulder more responsibility for the cost of clearing mines from its territory, ending an era in which Washington has carried the bulk of the cost of removing mines and other explosives after the Vietnam War spilled over into Cambodia.
United States Ambassador William A Heidt yesterday told Cambodian land mine clearance officials that new priorities had emerged, which would mean Phnom Penh and nongovernment donors taking more of the cost of mine clearing. His comments come after leaks from the State Department suggested the US could cut development assistance to Cambodia to zero beginning next year.
Right now the US is the largest contributor to the cost of mine clearance worldwide.
Heidt spoke to Cambodian landmine officials and donor nations assessing Cambodia’s draft National Mine Action Strategy from 2018 to 2025. He noted the US had contributed $120 million in Cambodian mine clearance since 1993.
“The international environment for humanitarian mine clearance has become more challenging,” Heidt said. That is code, analysts say, for a refocus on hot spots in the Middle East away from older, longer-term problem spots like Cambodia.
Heidt said the success in removing mines, ordnance and explosive remnants made it hard to keep Cambodia as the “top priority for international funding”. Cambodia, he said, had also moved into lower-middle-income status, and it was time to fund mine clearance itself.
He urged the government to win the confidence of donors by tripling its rate of land mine clearance, prioritising the poorest and most vulnerable areas for clearance, strengthening the use of “evidence based surveys in determining clearance priorities”, and stepping up its own funding.
Matthew Hovell, Cambodia country director for the demining NGO Halo Trust – which receives funding from the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Ireland – said yesterday that funding for land mine clearance is growing internationally, with the UK pledging more than $100 million over the next three years.
Still, Hovell said, the question is how available funds will be distributed. “Prioritisation globally is responding to the crisis in the Middle East and I think donors are going to have to factor priorities accordingly.”
Nevertheless, said Hovell, land mine clearance in Cambodia remains an urgent need. Though Cambodia made great strides in clearance, it still contains areas with a high density of anti-personnel mines, which, with road development and internal migration, makes Cambodia the site of “some of the most important land mine clearance in the world”.
Contacted yesterday, Heng Ratana, the director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), acknowledged that Cambodia would need to consider potential aid cuts into its mine clearing strategy.
“In the US they have their own problem, because of their policy ‘protectionism’ they cut aid; we also think about this strategically,” he said. “We cannot stand looking at Cambodian people dying of landmines, cluster bombs or war remnants without solution.”