Cambodia Mine Action Center officials expressed concern Wednesday about the thousands of refugees being encouraged to return to Samlot and do their own demining.
Officials indicated, however, that CMAC is unlikely to be able to help with the demining work anytime soon.
Speaking at a press conference at the end of its three-day international forum on demining, CMAC Chairman Ieng Mouly stressed that the demining group does not operate in areas that have security risks. In addition, demining platoons generally are scheduled a year in advance.
However, after the press conference, CMAC Director Sam Sotha said he would consider the situation in Samlot and could possibly send a platoon of deminers there “by the end of the year.” CMAC can deploy deminers quickly in response to reports of problems in villages, but those deminers number only 65.
Samlot was the site of fighting last year between the Khmer Rouge and government forces, which sent thousands of refugees fleeing into neighboring districts. About 3,000 to 5,000 returning refugees and displaced persons now are being encouraged to relocate from temporary resettlement sites into a heavily mined area in northern Samlot.
“CMAC has a national responsibility to remove mines, and we don’t want people to go themselves and take out mines,” said Ieng Mouly. But CMAC’s policy is to shy away from unstable areas.
In June, CMAC withdrew from an area in Banteay Meanchey province after a section commander and four other Cambodians were killed by armed men who attacked and looted a village.
The situation in Samlot highlights some of the lessons drawn in the conference, which emphasized the need to clear minefields by using a variety of solutions. CMAC is expanding its operations to include mobile demining teams, mine-sniffing dogs and a ground-beating flail which breaks up mines and detonates them by pounding chains into the soil.
The conference, which drew participants from all over the world, also looked at victim rehabilitation and ways to respond to land-mine problems in populated areas.