Soldiers Complete CMAC Demining Course

TRAM KNA Military Base, Takeo province – The group of more than 200 soldiers who graduated here recently could be the wave of the future for demining in Cambodia.

The men, who are all active-duty military personnel, were the first group of soldiers to complete a “humanitarian” demining course taught by the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

“Before, [soldiers] had just been trained to clear mines for military purposes,’’ said Khem Sophoan, CMAC’s director-general. He said military demining is a faster, less painstaking procedure than “humanitarian’’ demining, or clearing ground for people to live on and farm. Military demining requires that a lower percentage of mines be taken out of the ground.

Khem Sophoan said he is willing to train as many deminers as he can find the money for, but that right now funding is limited.

Cambodia has been criticized by donor nations for maintaining  an overly large military at the expense of social programs.

Demining agencies say the country needs more trained deminers to rid the country of mines within the next decade. He said the military wanted the soldiers trained so they could clear heavily mined areas near Cambodia’s borders.

Normally, CMAC’s training takes six weeks. But because the soldiers had previously been trained as military deminers, they needed only two weeks’ additional training, he said.

Nobody knows exactly how many mines—the brutal legacy of decades of war—remain buried in Cambodian soil. Initial estimates ranged from 4 million to 6 million, but some experts say those estimates are inflated because warring forces exaggerated to deter their enemies.

Khem Sophoan said the country has about 3,000 trained deminers. “If we had 6,000 to 7,000, it would take 10 years to clean up the country,’’ he said.

Without the additional deminers, cleaning the country of mines could take 25 years, said Ben Visnow of the Mine Ad­vi­sory Group, which along with the Halo Trust, make up Camb­odia’s two other demining organizations.

The newly trained military deminers will continue to work for the army and will earn their basic pay of $15 per month

Khem Sophoan said the military is not interested in training the military’s men and then having them quit the army for jobs as civilian deminers.

On the other hand, the three civilian demining agencies pay at least 10 times as much. Visnow said MAG plans to recruit 50 deminers in October.

“It’s easy to find deminers,’’ he said. “Mostly, we get them from the armed forces.’’


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