Opening a major international conference on land mines Monday, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen assured delegates of his government’s commitment to halting the use of the weapons.
When a new government is formed, he said, one of its earliest tasks will be to approve an already drafted law that forbids the use or possession of land mines in Cambodia.
The theme of the conference, which runs through Wednesday, is “Toward Zero Victims” and it has drawn delegates from mine-infested countries all over the world as well as representatives from donor nations and agencies that organize demining and victim assistance.
“I wish to express my profound gratitude to all the countries which are the friends of Cambodia and have been supporting mine clearance in Cambodia,” said Hun Sen, speaking through an interpreter at the opening ceremonies at the Inter-Continental Hotel.
“This mine clearance activity (in Cambodia) is becoming recognized and honored around the world as an effective model of good demining activity. Further, the Cambodian Royal Government is prepared to work hard to become another model in thinking and in helping mine victims as long as Cambodia continues to receive the confidence and support from all countries which are the friends of Cambodia.” His nation would, he added, welcome any new assistance with its work in dealing with land mine problems.
The prime minister acknowledged that while the clearance of land mines is paramount, victim assistance is an area where much remains to be done. “Up to now, our handicapped citizens have been separated from our society, therefore it is necessary for us to reintegrate them into our society,” he said.
“We can do that by liberating them from their emotional problems, by showing them that they can enjoy sports, be productive in farming and in industry and can provide useful services.
“[Then] they will be able to live in society with a positive attitude and share the same strong sense of purpose as all of us.”
Hun Sen paid tribute to the support of the Japanese government in funding the conference, which was organized by Cambodian Mine Action Center and which showcases CMAC’s practices.
He spoke of the Ottawa Land Mines Treaty and called the Phnom Penh forum a second historic moment in the fight against land mines. “It is our desire to bring the human race into another historical moment [at this forum] which will contribute to the development and improvement of real and complete demining programs worldwide by finding and sharing…the best ideas and practices on assisting of mine victims,” he said.
In his opening address, Ieng Mouly, chairman of the forum and of CMAC’s governing council, spoke of the contribution the agency can make in sharing experience and knowledge with other countries. He paid tribute to the deminers, describing them as skilled and hardworking and spoke of the autonomy enjoyed by his organization. “We are independent of the armed forces and of the government and this contributes greatly to the work we do,” he stressed. “We are not problem-free, but we have learned a lot from the past and from the experiences of demining agencies.”
Ieng Mouly appealed to delegates to pursue with total commitment the work of banning the use and stockpiling of land mines everywhere in the world.
The forum is being attended by some 200 delegates from mine-infested countries including Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Laos and Mozambique. Also represented are Nicaragua, South Korea, Burma, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Thailand.
Ambassadors from the USA, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the European Union, Germany, Japan, Thailand, Britain and South Korea attended the forum.
Other delegates in attendance included representatives of the various United Nations agencies concerned with the effects of land mines and of NGOs from a variety of nations.