By Nguon Sovan, Mao Pengfei
PHNOM PENH, May 17 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen said Thursday that the country is committed to clearing by 2025 all anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines that are a legacy of three decades of war and internal conflicts.
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the National Mine Action Conference here, Hun Sen said the government had approved the National Mine Action Strategy 2018-2025 to rid the country of landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs) by 2025.
"It is the roadmap and the vision for future mine action in Cambodia," the prime minister said.
"In order to totally eliminate mine/UXO accident in Cambodia by 2025, I'd like to take this opportunity to appeal to donor community, development partners and friend countries to further support the Mine Authority in all forms," he said.
Hun Sen said mines and explosive remnants of war (ERWs) in Cambodia had been left behind by decades of war and internal conflicts, which had made Cambodia one of the countries with most landmines and with most victims of landmines and UXOs in the world.
From 1979 to 2017, landmines and UXOs killed 19,758 people and either injured or amputated 44,962 others in the kingdom, he said.
Thanks to mine/UXO clearance efforts and awareness promotion on mine and UXO dangers, the number of victims had drastically declined from 4,320 in 1996 to about 100 per annum during the last five years.
"However, even a single loss of life or disability caused by mine/UXOs is a great loss for us," the prime minister said.
An estimated 4 million to 6 million landmines and other munitions have been left over from three decades of war and internal conflicts that ended in 1998.
Ly Thuch, first vice president of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), said Cambodia started to clear landmines and ERWs in 1992.
"Over the past 25 years, around 1,700 square kilometers of contaminated land had been demined and distributed to the people for residential, business and cultivation purposes," he said. "About 4.6 million people have got benefits from this mine-cleared land."
He added that almost 1.05 million anti-personnel mines, 24,644 anti-tank mines, and nearly 2.72 million items of ERWs were found and destroyed in the last 25 years.
CMAA's secretary general Prum Sophakmonkol said that to achieve the goal of Cambodia mine-free 2025, the Southeast Asian nation needs about 406 million U.S. dollars to fund mine and UXO clearance operations.
It is estimated that approximately 1,660 square kilometers of land are still littered with the munitions.
Landmines and ERWs remain scattered throughout the country's northwest border region, which is formerly a battlefield.
Ney Chhum, 55, the father of five children, said he became a victim of a mine blast in 2004 when he and two other villagers cleared forest for land in Rasmei Sangha village in Battambang province's Ratanak Mondul district.
"At that time, we cleared the forest for land to grow corn and bean, and accidentally set off a landmine," he told Xinhua. "My right arm was amputated and both legs were crippled in the blast, and a villager was also wounded."
He said after the accident, his family had lived in hardship for years until 2014 when the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) cleared mines and ERWs in the village and released the land to villagers for farming.
"Since then, my family is safe to grow cassava on the three-hectare land and has earned a better income," he said.
Roeung Chanthoeun, one of the beneficiaries from mine-cleared land in Labeok Svay village in Banteay Meanchey province's Svay Chek district, said she would be pleased if Cambodia could be mine-free by 2025.
"It will be great if the goal is achievable because to date, people in my village and neighboring villages are still likely to become the victims of landmines," she told Xinhua.
Chanthoeun, the 38-year-old mother of three children, said her two-hectare farmland was just mine-free several years ago when CMAC launched a demining operation in the village. Currently, she grows cassava on the land.
In order to help Cambodia's demining operation, China donated 18 mine detectors, 18 demining personal protective equipment (PPE) outfits, 18 sets of blasting tools, 1,200 wheelchairs, 340 tents and 40 motorcycles, as well as 26 sets of laptops, desktops and iPads, to CMAA in November 2017.
Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Xiong Bo said that the donation would help reduce landmine and UXO casualties and eliminate all kinds of mines and explosive remnants of war in Cambodia by 2025.