Amid accusations from Thailand that Cambodian forces recently placed anti-personnel mines at the border near Preah Vihear temple, an international mine expert said that such a scenario could not be ruled out, though it was unlikely.
The Thai government believes the two mines that injured two Thai soldiers Oct 6 had been recently placed there by RCAF troops.
In a Friday statement, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Cambodia to investigate a possible violation of the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines, which both Thailand and Cambodia have signed.
The Bangkok Post reported Friday that Thailand would take its findings to the UN.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the allegations of mine-laying, stating that in accordance with the Ottawa Convention, Cambodia destroyed all its landmine stockpiles, and the mines in the border area “are remnants of almost three decades of war.”
Heng Ratana, deputy director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, said Monday that just in the 100-meter buffer zone cleared around Preah Vihear temple, CMAC found 9,000 landmine pieces. The area, he said, was constantly mined from 1972 to 1998.
“I think that claim is groundless…. Why do you need to mine more there?” he asked.
Thai mine experts found two unexploded mines near the site of the Oct 6 explosions and identified one as a PMN-2 type, the Thai Foreign Ministry said in another statement.
The PMN-2, known as the “black widow” for its destructive power, is a Soviet-made mine triggered by pressure.
Andy Smith, a British mine clearance specialist who has worked in Cambodia, said that finding a “black widow” should not be considered unusual, while Heng Ratana confirmed that PMN-2 mines were found during CMAC’s demining operations around the temple.
“The PMN-2 is one of the most common mines used in Cambodia—with the Soviet forces importing an unknown (but huge) number,” Smith said.
“Politically, [re-laying mines] would be a mad decision, but soldiers on the ground struggling to patrol a disputed border might have taken the law into their own hands and used a cache that they had found,” Smith said in an e-mail Monday.
“I think this unlikely, but possible,” he added.
Smith and Rupert Leighton, Mines Advisory Group’s Cambodia country program manager, both said that even with two of the suspected mines now under analysis in Bangkok, there would be little firm evidence gained to support claims of re-laying.
“A PMN-2 mine can appear to be new when it’s been in the ground for 20 years,” Leighton said by telephone Monday.
In the absence of firm evidence of wrongdoing, Smith said it was more likely that even if the area had been cleared, some mines could have been missed.
“The odds of safely walking over an area that contains a few mines are high,” Smith wrote.
“The more times you cross in different places, the greater the likelihood of ‘finding’ one of the missed mines,” he added.
To support its claims of newly laid mines, Thailand issued a statement that referenced a 2002 report from the Cambodian government to the UN in which it is stated that 240 PMN-2 landmines—out of a total stockpile of 3,405—were transferred from the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh to CMAC for “development and training.”
Thailand has asked Cambodia to investigate the fate of those remaining mines.
However, what the Thai statement failed to include from Cambodia’s 2002 report to the UN is that the PMN-2s not sent to CMAC for training were sent to CMAC for destruction.
Every year, some mines uncovered by police and military are spared from destruction and retained for training and research purposes, as is permitted under article 3 of the Ottawa Convention.
Since 1993, Cambodian authorities have transferred 3,673 mines to demining organizations for such purposes, according to reports sent by the government to the UN.
Heng Ratana said, however, that such mines, even though they have been retained, are deactivated before transport and are therefore harmless.
“We don’t train on the real stuff,” he added.