Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the Cambodian Mine Action Authority Stakeholder Workshop on National Mine Action Strategy

InterContinental Phnom Penh
May 16, 2017
(as prepared for delivery)

Your Excellency Senior Minister Ly Thuch and other colleagues from the CMAA;
Your Excellency Secretary of State Ouch Borith and other colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation;
Your Excellency Director General Heng Ratana and other representatives from CMAC and other mine clearance operators;
Your Excellency General Ken Sosavoeun, Deputy Director General of the National Center for Peacekeeping Forces;
Distinguished colleagues from the diplomatic community, development partners, and civil society, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning and thank you very much for inviting us to join in this important workshop today.

This workshop is supposed to be an interactive discussion, so I don’t want to make a long speech. But I do want to offer a few thoughts about this important document and the key challenges in front of us.

Cambodia’s record on mine action is well known and deserves great credit. Thanks to the hard work and leadership of the Royal Government of Cambodia and many people in this room – and the brave work of Cambodia’s demining professionals in the field – Cambodia has cut annual casualties from 4,000 per year in the 1990s down to just 83 last year.

The United States and our implementing partners are proud to have supported Cambodia in this effort since 1993. The U.S. is the world’s largest supporter of humanitarian mine action, and we have invested more than $120 million here in Cambodia since 1993. We share your vision for a mine-free world.

At the same time, I think we can all recognize that the international environment for humanitarian mine clearance has grown more challenging in the last decade. Unfortunately, there have been more conflicts around the world, and there are many more mine affected countries, some in very dire situations.

Our joint success in bringing down so dramatically the number of casualties from mine, UXO, and ERW casualties has made it more difficult to argue that, from a humanitarian perspective, Cambodia should be the top priority for international funding.

And of course, Cambodia has developed dramatically since 1993, and has now crossed the threshold to the World Bank’s lower middle income country status. This strengthens the expectation that, over time, Cambodia should begin to take more responsibility for financing its own mine clearance activities.

This is the international context for the new National Mine Action Strategy (NMAS) and why drafting a strong, forward looking document with clear targets and strategies for success will be so important for attracting international support. And once the CMAA has finished such a document, it will be important to promote it aggressively around the world. I have some thoughts about how we might do this.

Everyone in this room is here because they care about humanitarian demining in Cambodia. I’ve seen that passion firsthand in my visits to CMAC’s Training Center in Kampong Chhnang, and the days I spent observing operators at work in Pailin and Ratanakiri. We are all here to help Cambodia create a viable roadmap to be mine-free by 2025.

But how should the NMAS do that? How can the CMAA use it to “reboot” international perceptions of the challenges Cambodia continues to face, and the Government’s plans for overcoming them? How can we, in effect, convince development partners that the “end” – a mine free Cambodia by 2025 – is in sight, and that Cambodia has a plan to get there?

This workshop is an excellent first step. I know the CMAA has been working with some of the operators and other partners on the NMAS for many months. My recommendation would be for all sides to listen carefully today, and reflect the sentiments fully into the NMAS.

I would like to comment briefly on a few of the issues raised in the NMAS.

First, the simple truth is that clearance – the clearance of demarcated polygons that is – is going to have to accelerate significantly if Cambodia is to reach the 2025 goal. I’m not an expert, but looking at the data last night, I estimate that the rate of clearance is going to need to at least triple based on last year’s work. It is very important that the NMAS is focused on that key, overarching goal.

Second, along with a higher clearance rate, we hope the NMAS will set clearance priorities and ensure operators deploy to the most dangerous areas and the poorest communities. This prioritization process is absolutely critical—Cambodia is a big country, with excellent data about existing minefields. But we need to focus our resources on the most needy areas.

We concur with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining’s recommendation to speed up clearance of high density A1 minefields. At the current rate, it will take more than a century to clear them all. We would encourage the NMAS to set out in detail how this prioritization is to occur, and for it to include a clear directive opening all border minefields to clearance in line with Cambodia’s treaty obligations.

Third, we recommend focusing on so-called “hot spots.” According to CMAA’s database unit, which the U.S. supports, there were 376 casualties in 178 villages between 2013 and 2015. Of these, 223 casualties occurred in just 49 villages. In other words, fully 60 percent of casualties occurred in just 27 percent of the impacted villages. To save lives, these ‘hot spots’ should be prioritized.

I understand this may be a politically difficult step, but it is important to avoid a situation where mine action assets are spread out in too many communes and locations, minimizing the overall impact of the sector and unnecessarily extending the period for attaining a landmine-free Cambodia.

Fourth, we hope the NMAS will strengthen significantly the use of evidence-based surveys in setting clearance priorities. This approach gives Cambodia’s partners assurance that the most needy and at risk communities are benefiting from clearance.

Fifth, we have learned from experiences around the world that landmines and ERW are very different problems requiring different approaches. This is really a critical efficiency issue. I’ve seen firsthand in my visits to the field how different clearance techniques are for landmines and ERW. We would recommend that the CMAA recognize this issue in the NMAS, and commit to drafting separate plans for landmine, cluster munitions, and other ERW clearance.

The United States will host a CMAA delegation in Washington next month to learn about international best practices in cluster munitions remnant survey. We hope that this visit will be helpful, and that lessons from it can be incorporated into the next draft of the NMAS.

And finally, we hope Cambodia will integrate the NMAS into its national budget – and vice versa – and increase the amount of national funds going to clearance. If this is done transparently, it will reassure Cambodia’s international partners in a concrete way that the government is committed to accelerating mine clearance.

Mr. Senior Minister, the importance of these issues – and the NMAS itself – highlights the critical role of the CMAA in Cambodia’s national mine clearance effort. The U.S. has said many times that Cambodia’s governance structure for mine action – an empowered national authority that provides policy guidance to technically skilled operators – is a best practice. We encourage the CMAA to build on this excellent workshop today and incorporate the feedback you hear into a strong, detailed, and visionary NMAS that will win broad national and international support and drive Cambodia toward 2025.

Thank you again for the opportunity to present feedback on the draft strategy. I look forward to participating in the technical discussions today and reiterate the United States commitment toward our shared goal: a mine-free Cambodia by 2025.

Som ohgun.