Despite previous pledges to support and sign an international treaty to ban cluster munitions, government officials said Cambodia—which still suffers the effects of cluster bombs dropped more than 30 years ago—would not be among the countries signing the treaty Wednesday.
Norwegian and Cambodian officials confirmed that Cambodian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Hor Nambora would be present at the opening signing ceremony of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo, Norway, but Cambodian officials said the government needs more time to study cluster munitions before signing the ban.
“The Cambodian ambassador to London will be attending the Oslo meeting ‘as [an] observer,’ because we need to assess the impact of the treaty first,” government spokesman and Information Minister .
Action and Victim Assistance Authority, also said the government needs more time to study cluster munitions before signing the treaty to ban them, although he would not say why or give details regarding such a study.
“On Oct 27, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a letter to delegate power to Deputy Prime Minister [and Defense Minister] Tea Banh to conduct a comprehensive study on cluster munitions,” Leng Sochea said by telephone Wednesday, adding that Cambodia is not rejecting the treaty, and that it might sign it later this year.
Tea Banh confirmed that the government is studying cluster munitions, although he declined to provide specific information about the study’s aims, those involved, or when the study is expected to be completed. He did note, however, that the study began in October.
“We will sign the treaty later, but not now,” the defense minister said Wednesday.
Tea Banh added that ongoing tensions between Cambodia and Thailand did not influence the government’s decision to not sign the treaty.
An estimated 100 countries will sign the Oslo treaty, which seeks to ban the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions, or explosive bomblets that are specifically designed to be dispersed or released from aircraft, according to the Cluster Munitions Coalition, an international network of more than 300 NGOs.
Cambodia was among 107 countries that voted in May to adopt the current wording of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, according to the Cluster Munitions Coalition.
The coalition also said Cambodia is among 31 countries or territories known to be affected by cluster bombs.
Cluster munitions continue to affect Cambodians, particularly people who live in the eastern provinces near Vietnam, where approximately 80,000 cluster munitions, containing 26 million bomblets, were dropped by US aircraft during its war in Vietnam and the bombing of Cambodia, according to an analysis of US bombing data by NGO Handicap International Belgium.
According to government figures, there were 11 casualties from old US cluster bomblets in 2007 and 20 in 2006.
The US has not committed to signing the treaty either.
John Johnson, spokesman at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, declined to comment on the Cambodian government’s decision to not sign the cluster munitions treaty Wednesday, although he offered the US position on cluster munitions.
“Although we share the concern of states in general regarding the unintended harm to civilians caused by cluster munitions, we were not able to reach an agreement to sign the treaty in Oslo,” he said Wednesday.
Human rights advocate Denise Coghlan, director of Jesuit Relief Services in Cambodia, one of the NGOs that comprise the Cluster Munitions Coalition, expressed disappointment over Cambodia’s decision not to sign the treaty Wednesday.
“I’m very disappointed because [Cambodia] was the leading country in Southeast Asia,” Coghlan said by telephone from Oslo, where she witnessed several countries sign the treaty, including Laos.
“It demonstrated that Cambodia lost its chance to demonstrate need for survivor assistance,” she added.