Critics Say Mine Conference Funds Could Be Better Spent

As the Cambodian Mine Action Center today begins a three-day, $300,000 demining conference for more than 200 participants from around the world, questions are being raised about whether the money could be better spent.

“I think if all the mon­ey spent on conferences in the last five years had gone to clearing mines there would be a lot less mines in the ground,” said Paul Heslop, program manager for the Halo Trust, a mine-clear­ance charity.

Archie Law, country program manager of demining organization Mines Advisory Group, noted that $300,000 would cover a year’s costs for a 12-man mine clearance team.

“There’s so many conferences around the world, there’s so many meetings around the world, it’s just detracting from the main effort,” Law said.

The most recent international conference was held just last month, in Dublin, Ireland.

“I don’t think it is detraction from the demining objectives,” said Ieng Mouly, CMAC chairman. “In fact, it will contribute among de­mining organizations, how to cooperate and how to ex­pand on these demining issues.”

The prime topics to be covered are how CMAC cooperates with agencies such as the UN, what techniques have best worked to reduce casualties and clear mines, and how a national organization relying on foreign aid can retain its sovereignty.

Ieng Mouly said it takes years to demine countries: “It is important that there be an ex­change of ideas, an exchange of information in a forum. The demining organizations must be able to work out a plan and cooperate. The conference is necessary.”

Kazuhiro Nakai, first secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh, said the conference is important to show other countries how to run a successful program like CMAC’s. But he said he does not anticipate any specific blueprint will emerge from the three-day meeting.

“We don’t expect an outcome.  We think the other demining countries will find the forum useful for their own demining…. It is more a workshop than a conference,” Nakai said.

Nakai said Japan has pumped $6.9 million into CMAC since it started in 1992, and contributed $900,000 to CMAC this year excluding the conference costs. It also funds other NGOs working in the field of land mines.

Ieng Mouly noted that the money for the conference, which goes to pay for conference space and attendees’ travel and accommodation, is separately funded from Japan’s annual contributions. “The $300,000 is additional. So there is no harm to the budget we receive from the international community,” he said.

 

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