Victims Urge Govt To Join Cluster Munitions Ban in Siem Reap

More than 100 mine and UXO victims gathered in Siem Reap yesterday to welcome the arrival of a new international treaty that bans the use, production and stockpiling of cluster munitions – and to urge Cambodia to join.

The UN-sponsored Cluster Munitions Convention became binding law Sunday in the 30 countries that ratified it six months ago. Eight more have ratified it since. Though Cambodian government officials have long promised to sign the treaty, they continue to insist that they need more time to study how joining may affect national security.

Contacted yesterday, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhonn said the government’s position had not changed and offered no indication of when Cambodia might sign.

Convention campaigners say Cambodia, as one of the most heavily cluster-bombed countries in the world, has a moral and practical obligation to sign. NGOs and aid agencies say a decision to ratify could free up additional money from abroad to help victims and clear contaminated land.

Of the 26 million cluster bomblets the US dropped on Cambodia during the US war in Vietnam, Handicap International estimates that up to 7.8 million failed to explode on impact. According to the Cambodian Mine Action Center, those bomblets have killed or injured 180 people since 1998.

Along with survivors, several NGOs and religious groups convened on Siem Reap yesterday to celebrate the convention’s taking effect, more than three years after 49 countries set the drafting of the treaty in motion in Oslo, Norway. Denise Coghlan, head of Jesuit Refugee Services and one of the event’s organizers, said they were also looking to add to the 400,000 signatures already collected on a petition urging Cambodia to sign.

By holding the event in Siem Reap, she said, campaigners hope to catch the attention of tourists, who can spread the word of their efforts abroad. They are planning a second event in Phnom Penh for October, a month before state parties are set to meet in Laos.

“We’re hoping they’ll be ready to sign in October,” she said.


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