Canadians Are Back To Work in Minefields

Canadian military technical advisers are back at work in minefields outside Battambang, three weeks after stopping work following reports that the land they were operating on, though designated as safe, in fact contained land mines.

“We are back to doing what we normally do, overseeing operations,” Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot said Wed­nesday. “That situation has been corrected.”

Lieutenant Colonel Michel Verreault, Canadian contingent commander with CMAC, pulled workers off the job on Feb 14 after several incidents roused concerns.

Canadian technical advisers and Cambodian deminers were allegedly misled by CMAC site managers from Units 1 and 2 in the Samlot area of Battambang province who designated mined areas as “demined.”

At least one of the sites was also allegedly littered with potentially deadly debris—grenades and fragments.

CMAC Director General Khem Sophoan acknowledged Wednesday that one land mine was found on the land in question but also confirmed the problem had been solved.

Verreault authorized work to resume there March 6, Khem Sophoan said, but neither he nor Verreault would elaborate on the accusations made against CMAC site managers, saying only more information would be made public in a statement released today.

Mailhot said the incidents involved areas that were improperly marked, making it unclear whether there was danger to those clearing land mines.

When doubts arise, “the first thing we do is get the people out of the field,” Mailhot said.

Mailhot said he was not completely familiar with the specifics of the Battambang incidents.

“But my understanding is, you can demine a field, but in Cam-bodia these areas are not locked up,” Mailhot said.

“A field can be reused, and garbage can wind up on it. That can included unexploded ordnance” such as grenades, shells, or other potentially dangerous debris, he said.

CMAC has also never taken a nationwide inventory of Cambo­dian land mines—called a level one survey—and this has led to confusion over what land still contains land mines.

A preliminary survey of the first province in CMAC’s study, Kampot, has shown 85 percent less land is now mined there than was previously thought. Mine fields believed to have existed are clear and new ones have materialized, according to CMAC personnel.


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