According to the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) there may be as many as four to six million landmines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance still on the ground in parts of Cambodia. The mines are a lasting legacy from past conflicts, and they were laid by the Vietnamese, the Cambodian government, and the brutal Khmer Rouge in the 1980s and 1990s. The ordnance continues to have a devastating effect on the people of Cambodia – and there have been more than 64,000 casualties and more than 25,000 amputees recorded since 1979 as a result of the mines.
Around 15 Cambodians are injured or killed every month – despite the fact that the country is no longer at war!
Currently, around half of the mines have been cleared, and the remaining minefields are largely concentrated in the rural northwest of the country, notably along the border with Thailand. A significant portion of land that is suitable for farming still remains inaccessible, while mines are still found in remote villages.
Due to this fact, Cambodia has taken a lead in the world in the removal and disposal of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) – and this week it was announced that some of that expertise could soon be employed in eastern Ukraine.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has agreed to send teams of “deminers” to help train Ukrainians in clearing land mines planted by Russian forces during their invasion. The first team from the Cambodian Mine Action Center would be sent to Ukraine in early December, while a second team could arrive in the first quarter of next year.
Several other countries, including Germany and the United States, have already begun to provide Ukraine with efforts to clear the countryside of landmines.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the offer of the deminers, and the two leaders further agreed to appoint ambassadors to each other’s country. This has been especially noteworthy as Cambodia has taken a similar path to other former members of the socialist bloc, maintaining close ties with Russia and China.
However, Hun Sen – who is one of the longest-serving heads of government in the world and who has served as his nation’s prime minister since 1985 – was among those world leaders who condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and he was reported as stating, “Cambodia is always against any country that invades another country.”
Cambodia was one of nearly 100 U.N. member nations that co-sponsored a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year – while two of Cambodia’s neighbors, Laos and Vietnam, abstained.
Russia’s Use of Landmines
In June, a report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch warned that Russia was using landmines and other ordnance “that are causing civilian casualties and suffering, as well as disrupting food production.”
It detailed seven types of antipersonnel mines that Russian forces in Ukraine are known to have used since the February 24 all-out invasion began.
“Russia is the only party to the conflict known to have used banned antipersonnel mines, while both Russia and Ukraine have used anti-vehicle mines,” Human Rights Watch reported, and added, “Ukraine appears to be abiding by its obligations as a member of the international treaty prohibiting antipersonnel mines, which it ratified in December 2005.”
Antipersonnel mines are designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person. They violate international humanitarian law because they cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants. Ukraine has employed anti-vehicle/anti-tank mines to great effect but has not employed antipersonnel mines.
“Russia’s brazen use of antipersonnel mines in a country that has explicitly prohibited these weapons is unprecedented and deserves strong global condemnation,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate. “Antipersonnel landmines should never be used due to their inevitable and long-term threat to civilian life and livelihoods.”
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The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, adopted in 1997, banned the use of all anti-personnel landmines. Currently, 164 nations have joined the treaty – which was meant to reduce casualties, increase the number of mine-free states, destroy existing stockpiles and improve assistance to victims.
The United States is not a signatory to the treaty, and the U.S. military currently maintains the fifth-largest stockpile of such weapons.
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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