Gov’t Confirms Plans To Sign Treaty Banning Cluster Bombs

The Cambodian government reconfirmed its commitment to sign a treaty in Oslo this December to ban cluster bombs, said Sam Sotha, secretary-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, at an event Thursday marking the conclusion a four-day cluster munitions awareness campaign.

The treaty, initiated by the Nor­wegian government in 2007, seeks to ban cluster bombs, also known as cluster munitions, which continue to claim victims in eastern Cambodia.

“Cluster munitions are indiscriminate weapons that cause a disproportionate number of civilian deaths,” Sam Sotha said. “Further, statistics suggest that approximately one in four victims are innocent children.”

The Cambodian Red Cross, which has collected statistics on landmine and unexploded ordnance casualties since 1994, has also begun to compile statistics on cluster bomb-specific casualties according to Steve Munroe, program manager for mine action at the UN Development Pro­gram. A CRC representative said Thursday that he was unable to im­mediately respond to a request for those statistics.

However, the UNDP and other NGOs who traveled on the “ban bus” through Cambodia’s eastern provinces met some of those statistics in person this week.

Rum Vet, 35, lives in Kratie pro­vince with her father Ram Rum, 61, on a plot of land in Kor Lob commune’s Kor Lob village where they grow vegetables and rice. Rum Vet wears a prosthetic right leg and foot because of a cluster bomb accident 25 years ago that blew off her leg at the knee, and killed her younger brother. She has never married and relies on her father to care for her.

While Rum Vet suspects there are cluster munitions in the fields be­yond her house, she said she still goes into those areas to farm.

“If we do not continue to go to our fields, we don’t have anything to eat,” her father told passengers of the “ban bus” who visited their home Tuesday.

Two years ago, three teenage boys in the same village were spray­ed with shrapnel after one of their friends innocently threw a bomblet in their direction while they were herding cows through a rice field. The explosion left Yeav Sovantha, 17, Theng Ratha, 17, Thoen Thay, 16, with varying injuries, ranging from ugly scars to loss of hearing in one ear.

They continue to tend cattle in surrounding fields to support their families because they say they have nowhere else to go. None of them can afford to go to school.

There are scores of similar stories in Cambodia’s eastern provinces where the majority of people depend on farming and the collection of scrap metal, such as bomb shrapnel, as a primary source of income.

“From our experience the children are likely to be more affected by the cluster bombs because they like to play with the bomblets that are commonly found in Cambodia,” said Oum Phum Ro, director of planning and operations for the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

The center, which has nine teams of varying capacities deployed in eastern Cambodia, has been operating there since 2002, Oum Phum Ro said.

He said CMAC plans to expand its operations in eastern Cambodia. “We don’t know how many years it will take because this is a very big residual threat to the people in terms of the UXOs, so it will take many more years,” he said.

   (Additional reporting by Kim Chan)

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