Cambodia will host next year’s meeting of parties to the UN’s Mine Ban Treaty, the government announced yesterday, a move officials hope will boost international support for lagging clearance efforts. Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhonn said the 156 states that signed on to the convention made the decision official during last week’s meeting of states parties to the treaty in Geneva.
“This is a lot of pressure, but it is also an honor and shows their trust in Cambodia,” he said at the Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday upon his return from Geneva.
Mr Sokhonn said the 2011 meeting, set for Nov 28 through Dec 2, will mark the first time the group will converge in a country so affected by landmines. With hundreds of square kilometers of minefields still to be cleared, Cambodia remains one of the world’s most contaminated countries. Landmines and other unexploded ordinance have killed or maimed 63,000 people since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and still claim more than 200 victims a year. By the government’s latest estimate, landmines litter at least 649 square km of the country, concentrated in 21 northwestern districts along the Thai-Cambodian border.
Mr Sokhonn yesterday praised the efforts of the government and its partners in clearing 70 square km in 2009. But according to a recent report from the independent Landmine Monitor, drawing on government figures, only 59 square km were cleared, 4 km less than in 2008. The dip comes amid decreasing international funding for landmine clearance last year.
At current funding levels, the government estimates it will have $300 million to meet its deadline under the treaty to clear its most contaminated areas by 2020. Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, said the government needs $450 million. He hopes next year’s meeting will spur donors into increasing support.
“This definitely will create some good cooperation with our development partners…and normally when there is more cooperation the activity will be more,” he said.