Border dispute hits de-mining efforts

A deminer in western Cambodia.  Cambodia is one of the most heavily landmine contaminated nations in the world
(Sean Sutton/MAG)

Cambodia's ongoing border dispute with Thailand is undermining mine-clearance activities inside the country, specialists say.

"The lack of clearance along parts of the border stops the removal of mines, leading to more casualties," Cameron Imber, programme manager for the British demining NGO Halo Trust, told IRIN from the northwestern town of Siem Reap.

The heavily mined border area in the country's northwest includes a 1,065km long minefield known as "K5", which runs along the 798km Thai-Cambodian border. Laid by the north Vietnamese in the mid-1980s, K5 runs all the way from Koh Kong Province in the southwest up to Preah Vihear in the northwest.

Packed with up to 2,400 mines per linear km, K5 remains excluded from mine-removal programmes because the two countries have been at loggerheads over ownership of an ancient Hindu temple and UN World Heritage site on the Cambodian side of the border. Thousands were displaced on both sides earlier this year.

"The suspension of operations on K5 stems from the beginning of hostilities over the Preah Vihear temple dating back to the summer of 2009," Imber said.

Heavy contamination

Since 2007, almost 6,500 landmine casualties have been reported nationwide, 90 percent of which occurred in the border areas. Nearly half, 2,925 casualties, were in the untouched K5 minefield, according to the Landmine Cluster Munition Monitor, an initiative providing research for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the Cluster Munition Coalition.

"K5 is the most densely mine-contaminated area in Cambodia, and one of the most [contaminated] in the world," said Yeshua Moser-Pangsuwan, research coordinator for ICBL, an advocacy network for the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty

Mined areas within, and directly adjacent to, the disputed border areas are not being cleared because the two countries have been unable to agree where the border is located, Moser-Pangsuwan noted.

"Proposals for joint demining cannot commence until Thailand and Cambodia reach a mutual understanding of the border demarcation," he said.

Delay hinders farming

While in recent years landmine deaths have fallen from more than 1,000 in the early 1990s to 141 in 2010, the delay in mine clearance in the northwest, including K5, continues to hinder access to badly needed farmland.

"Land mine contamination is a huge obstacle for people's livelihoods and their ability to work themselves out of poverty," Jamie Franklin, the Cambodia coordinator for Mines Advisory Group, an international organization dedicated to mine clearance and post-conflict recovery, explained.

In recent years, there has been an increase in impoverished farmers encroaching on mine-infested land. "The people who expand farming to contaminated areas do it out of economic necessity," Imber said.

According to a report by the Cambodia Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority earlier this year, nearly half - 45 percent - of all mine accidents occur during livelihood activities, with 62 percent of those affected men.

"People know the dangers but not having enough to eat will [outweigh] the risk of mines," Franklin said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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