Landmines UXO and demining

IMG_7731. Photograph by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

CMAC landmine workers, following correct procedures before detonating a landmine with C4 explosive. Photo by Kevan Evans, taken on 3 September 2005. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

From 1992 to 2018, over one million landmines and almost three million explosive remnants of war (ERW) were removed from over 1,800 square kilometres of land, making it safe for housing and farming. The numbers killed from these war remnants fell from 4,320 in 1996 to 58 in 2018.1

Cambodia has one of largest landmine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) contaminations in the world.2 Cambodia joined the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention in the late 1990s and the Cambodian government and a network of development partners are working to rid the country of landmines and ERW by 2025.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance in Cambodia

Landmines are munitions placed under, on or near the ground or other surfaces to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or vehicle.3 There are two types: anti-personnel and anti-vehicle. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) is a weapon that did not explode when it was intended to and may still detonate.4 These can include cluster munitions, which are weapons that release numerous submunitions over a wide area when detonated.5

Landmines first became prevalent in Cambodia following the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. After driving the Khmer Rouge into Thailand, the Vietnamese military forced civilians to create a defensive minefield along the Thai-Cambodian border. In subsequent years, the new state, Khmer Rouge remnants and monarchist opposition forces laid more landmines as battlefronts shifted. UXO and cluster munitions can still be found throughout Cambodia as a result of US bombing in the 1960s and 1970s.6

United Kingdom-based HALO, the largest demining organisation in the world, was the first organisation to begin working in Cambodia in 1991. In 2018 it had over 1,100 national staff working in the provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey, Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Pursat, Koh Kong and Pailin.7 In 2018 the United Kingdom pledged £7.5 million (US$9.7 million) for demining work in Cambodia.8

Policy and legal framework

In 1999, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, of which Cambodia was a participant, became effective. The international convention bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines; requires the destruction of all landmines; and mandates that the state assist landmine victims.9 Article 5 of the convention allowed 10 years for the destruction of all anti-personnel land mines,10 which Cambodia was able to extend until 2019.11

Royal Decree No.177 established the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) in 2000 to regulate, monitor and coordinate the mine action sector. The CMAA also incorporates development projects into mine action activities and coordinates the Mine Action Technical Working Group (MA-TWG). A joint effort of the government and development partners, the MA-TWG aims to promote the alignment and harmonization of aid for the mine action sector. The CMAA is tasked with regulating all demining activities, releasing land cleared of landmines and providing victim assistance and mine risk education.12

The mine action sector is regulated further by Sub-decree No.70 on the Socioeconomic Management of Mine Clearance Operations, which established guidelines for clearing and releasing land to communities.13 This process involves conducting meetings between communities affected by landmines and Mine Action Planning Units to provide information and draft action plans for landmine clearance. Land is released through a non-technical or baseline survey showing no contamination, a detailed topographical and technical survey of areas suspected of contamination, or clearance of contaminated areas.14

A vast network of government agencies and development partners are involved in the demining process. The chief operators include the, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, HALO Trust and the Mines Advisory Group.15

Government is also required to provide assistance to victims of landmines in accordance with the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability, and the 2009 Law on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.16

Challenges and future prospects

Landmines and ERW present significant challenges to Cambodia’s development. They prevent access to land, infrastructure, basic social services, irrigation and safe drinking water.17 Further, landmine and ERW survivors receive little support, though the government is taking steps to improve services for victims. Cambodia has the highest ratio of amputees per capita in the world, and landmine victims often lack access to education, training, employment, and physical and mental health services. Victims are often illiterate and landless, and women are more likely to experience the negative ramifications of ill-health, injury and death.18

After a sharp rise in 2014,19 casualties again stated to fall. Fatalities from landmines and unexploded ordnance fell from 154 in 2014 to 111 in 2015, an almost 28 percent drop,20 and then to 83 in 2016, a fall of 26 percent.21

From the early 1990s to the start of 2017 about 1,500 km2 of land had been demined, but there is an estimated 1,950 km2 to go.22 

In 2017, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre cleared over 8,636 hectares of land and disposed of 37,448 landmines and UXOs at a cost of around $7 million.23  

In 2018, CEMAC cleared 45,500 items of  landmines UXO from nearly 9,000 hectares. The number of people killed by UXO and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in 2018 was the same as in 2017 – 58 people.24

By the end of 2018 it was estimated that 2,125 square kilometres of land remain contaminated.25 

Cambodia has added a new Sustainable Development Goal (18) around landmines and unexploded ordnance.26 The three specific targets of the goal are:

  1. To completely clear the identified mine and ERW [explosive remnants of war] areas by the year 2030.
  2. To reduce the number of mine/ERW casualties to less than 10 persons/year by 2030.
  3. To promote the rights and improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities by landmine/ERW.

Last updated: 18 April 2019


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