Cambodia Still Undecided About Signing Cluster Munitions Treaty

Despite being one of the earliest proponents of the U.N.-sponsored Convention on Cluster Munitions, Cambodia was still not ready to sign on, an official said on the eve of the fourth annual meeting of state parties to the treaty in Zambia.

Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), said the government was still assessing the pros and cons of joining.

“They need to assess their military capacity…the advantages and effects,” he said.

Mr. Ratana said he did not know how far along the government was with its assessment, though, and that the work rested mostly with the Ministry of Defense.

Defense Ministry Secretary of State Neang Phat referred questions to Prak Sokhon, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, who could not be reached.

To date, 112 countries have joined the convention, which took effect in those states in August 2010 and bans the use, development, production and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Cluster bombs disperse dozens of bomblets in mid air and are notorious for their inaccuracy and for failing to detonate on impact, often posing a deadly threat to civilians for decades afterward.

The U.S. is estimated to have dropped 26 million bomblets on Cambodia during the Second Indochina War; up to 7.8 million of them may have failed to explode on impact.

Though the government has consistently pledged to join the convention, it has offered a few reasons for its delay, including the need for more time to take inventory of its stock of the weapons and security concerns along its border with Thailand, which is not a state party either.

The Cambodian Mine Action Authority, which oversees CMAC and most of the government’s demining activities, usually sends representatives to the convention’s state party meetings as observers. The authority’s press officer, Neth Sophal, said he did not know if they were sending someone to this year’s meeting in Zambia—which runs Monday to Friday—or whether Cambodia was any closer to joining.

Tun Channareth, a member of the Cambodia Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Muni­tions, a non-government advocacy group, said Cambodia should sign up to the convention as soon as possible.

“I am sorry for this,” Mr. Channareth, who lost both his legs to a landmine in the early 1980s, said of Cambodia’s delay in joining the convention.

“I want to see Cambodia to sign because I don’t want the next generation to grow up with this problem,” he said.

Campaigners say joining the convention could attract more international funding to Cambodia for cluster bomb clearing activities. Others say the additional aid would most likely come from a reduction in funding for other demining activities already underway.

(Additional reporting by Aun Pheap)

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