Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, it is a great honor and pleasure for me to join you all, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, in closing the General Assembly of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), where we have taken stock of mine clearance activities for more than 10 years, from 1992 to 2003.
I take this opportunity to sincerely congratulate and express deep appreciation for the valuable and humane mission of the CMAC, the Mine Authority, and the Royal Armed Forces Engineering Corps, and concerned national and international organizations. I also thank the Cambodian Red Cross and other international organizations that have made continued efforts to promote awareness of the danger of mines and unexploded ordnance to our citizens, especially to those who live in areas where mines continue to exist. Together you have exerted your utmost efforts to clear all mines and unexploded ordnance here in Cambodia.
The mines and unexploded ordnance are brutal and murderous instruments that are one of the aspects of the legacy of prolonged war in Cambodia. Our joint efforts for over more than the past decade have brought many good lessons and experiences towards the ultimate goals of our mine clearance operation. Our experiences now enable us to identify the strengths and weakness, difficulties and status of mine clearance works in Cambodia. Our experiences have also taught us how to produce action plans and other measures aimed at the acceleration and effectiveness of our programs.
The Royal Government has always considered mine clearance of highest priority in the rehabilitation and development of Cambodia, especially in reaching the goals of poverty reduction and liberating the Cambodian people from hunger. Land mines are intimately linked to poverty, environmental degradation, growth and social equity.
Land mines not only limit our access to natural resources, especially land, but land mines also cause the rural people to abandon their homelands and resettle in the urban areas. Such migration has worsened the problem of overpopulation, social and environmental degradation, especially in the urban areas. The poor and vulnerable people are often left with no option but risking their lives by working the mined areas. Indeed, the issue of mine clearance relates not only to social security, but also to economic growth and development in general, since it relates to land distribution and the provision of safety nets for poor farmer-households in the remote rural areas.
The Secretary General of the Mines Authority has reported the substance of accomplishments from 1992-2003. The mine clearance stakeholders, including national and international organizations and the Royal Armed Forces Engineering Corps have: (a) de-mined farm lands totaling 26,552 ha; (b) destroyed 459,146 anti-personnel mines; (c) destroyed 13,426 anti-tank mines, and (d) destroyed 1,037,634 pieces of unexploded ordnance.
In 2003 alone, some 4,170 hectares of land was cleared. Some 109,844 anti-personnel mines, 1,993 anti-tank mines and 222,342 pieces of unexploded ordinance were destroyed.
In addition to mine clearance, some institutions have promoted awareness of mines and the reduction of danger from mines. These institutions include the Cambodian Red Cross, UNICEF, HI, WE, WVI, NPA, and CARE. These agencies have jointly helped keep the rate of mine accidents relatively low and stable over the last few years, even dropping from 848 people in 2002 to 745 people in 2003. Such achievement must be considered as good news and a source of pride for all Cambodians who envision that Cambodia will achieve the zero rate of mine accidents by the year 2012.
It is important to note that while Cambodia now enjoys 100% peace, mines and unexploded ordnance still infest some forest and farm lands, daily causing harm to innocent people who live in the remote rural areas. There continue to be millions of land mines, the legacy of prolonged war in Cambodia. Many, many people have been maimed or killed monthly by land mines. It is estimated that 40 percent of agricultural lands are still mined.
Indeed it is the serious obligation of the Royal Government, the Mine Authority as well as other mine clearance-related organizations as well as local officials to enhance their efforts and collaborate to promote mines awareness among all citizens to avoid more incidents.
To ensure full peace and security in Cambodia and among all Cambodians, mine clearance is considered a key program. The Royal Government aims to free all of Cambodia from land mines by year 2012. Thus the Royal Government has adopted land mine clearance as an additional Millennium Development Goal for Cambodia – a new, 9th goal in addition to the 8 MDGs adopted by the United Nations.
Therefore, today, may I express my appreciation and support for the commitment expressed in this meeting to minimize the rate of incidents due to mines and unexploded ordnance in 2004, and to enhance mines education, especially in provinces where incident rates are high – such as Kampong Cham, Battambang, Oudor Meanchey, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey.
Cambodia has not, and does not, produce weapons nor mines. Yet Cambodia has severely suffered more than most countries from mines. The Royal Government has unconditionally committed to and signed the Ottawa Convention and related conventions. As Cambodia has strictly observed the provisions of the Ottawa Convention, the international community has supported mine clearance operations in Cambodia, awarding to the CMAC, HALO Trust and MAG with annual budgets totaling US$20 million. Moreover, the Fifth General Assembly of signatory states of the Ottawa Convention honored Cambodia and Japan as Co-chairs of the Steering Committee on mine clearance operations, education and awareness programs, and mine clearance technology. Last week, the Secretary- General of the Mines Authority returned from Geneva where he successfully chaired the Steering Committee meeting, in which there were participants from more than 100 countries.
On behalf of the Royal Government and people of Cambodia, allow me to express my profound gratitude through your Excellencies, the Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, representatives of NGOs and other national and international organizations, for your generosity. Your efforts to mobilize technical and financial aid for the clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance in Cambodia has indeed contributed significantly to the freeing of farms and the reduction of danger from mines in Cambodia.
May I also express my appreciation to the Cambodian Mine Action and Victims Authority – the “Mines Authority” – that has successfully played its role and performed its duty as the regulatory institution that ensures effective coordination and cooperation among all mine clearance operators in Cambodia. I note that the Government of Canada has continued to help strengthen database management by the Mines Authority. Moreover, in 2004, with financial support from the United Kingdom through UNDP, the Mine Authority has organized the quality control group and socio-economic group with the total number of 7 technical staff, to further strengthen quality control and planning of mine clearance operations, and the smooth distribution of de-mined lands to the deserving and truly poor. This innovation integrates poverty reduction and mine clearance operations as one into the national development program.
I urge the Mines Authority to implement all measures necessary to reflect the strong commitment and vision of the Royal Government in ensuring the transparent and accountable use of assistance from our development partners. These measures include:
1. Compilation and coordination of the national strategy and program, as well as national standards for mine clearance activities;
2. Prioritization of de-mined lands, and the assurance of achievement of mine clearance;
3. Strict enforcement of laws, international conventions and treaties on the prohibitions on the use of mines;
4. Harmonization of regulations and reporting by all mine clearance operators to ensure accuracy of statistics and the timely release of information; and
5. Implementation of monitoring and inspection of de-mined lands,
Furthermore, the Mines Authority should continue to strengthen the mines activity data center according to international standards on information management. Such will be favorable for planning and operations management.
Once again, may I express my profound thanks to all donor partners who have supported mine clearance in the Kingdom of Cambodia for over a decade. These donors include Japan, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Community, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, UNDP, UNICEF, NPA, HI and CARE.
I urge the international community to continue your strong support for mine clearance in Cambodia. This is a crucial and historic activity that truly responds to the people’s real and urgent needs. Finally, I hope that all our common efforts will lead all of Cambodia to a state truly free of mines and unexploded ordnance within the next 10 years. Let me end by extending to you all, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the five gems of Buddhist wishes.