Cambodia to Host Int’l Landmine Meeting in 2011

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 its 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 morning upon his return from Geneva.

Mr Sokhonn said next year’s meeting, set for Nov 28 through Dec 2, will also mark the first time the group will have converged in a country so heavily affected by landmines. With hundreds of square kilometers of minefields still to be cleared, Cambodia remains one of the most contaminated countries in the world. Landmines and other unexploded ordnance have killed or maimed 63,000 people since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and continue to claim more than 200 victims a year.

By the government’s latest estimate, landmines still 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 about 70 square km in 2009. However, according to a recent report from the independent Landmine Monitor drawing on government figures, only 59 square km were cleared, 4 square km less than in 2008.

The reported 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. But Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, said the government needs at least $450 million. He hopes hosting next year’s meeting will spur the country’s donors into increasing their 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.

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