June 1, 2015
Ambassador Toscano, His Excellency Prak Sokhon, His Excellency Heng Ratana, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman.
On behalf of the U.S. government, I am honored to be here today to welcome you to GICHD’s (Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining) first symposium on long-term ERW management in Southeast Asia. It’s wonderful to see such strong regional participation here this morning, and I am encouraged that through our collaboration and partnerships we can work together to reduce the serious threat that mines and explosive remnants of war pose to the safety, health, and lives of civilian populations.
A few months ago, I visited many areas of the K5 mine belt and saw for myself the problem this nation faces in dealing with mines and UXO. I visited a village in Oddar Meanchey where I heard the village chief express a deep appreciation for our efforts to help rid the area of mines. He noted that in the six years since the village was declared mine-free, its population had grown five-fold. He said that because of this growth, the village now had a new school to educate its children, an improved road that had boosted the local economy, and a new market that better supplied local needs. This village is a shining example of the transformative effect that removing mines and UXO can have on the people of Cambodia and all over the world. When we take action to eliminate these dangerous legacies of war, we are working to make our planet a better place by protecting the lives of the innocent and increasing opportunities for some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. We are talking about real people and real lives, not just statistics.
I am proud to say that the United States is the largest financial supporter of efforts to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance around the world. In Cambodia alone, the United States has invested over $65 million in demining and UXO clearance operations over the past 20 years. Recently, a U.S. funded CMAC dive team successfully completed its first operational task when its divers removed a 500 pound bomb that had been discovered by fisherman in the Mekong River. These investments have not only benefitted Cambodia, but many other parts of the world as well, with Cambodia now serving as an active contributor to UN peacekeeping operations to clear mines in countries as diverse as Sudan and Lebanon. Here in Cambodia, our efforts to combat this scourge, which are carried out in close collaboration with our colleagues at CMAC, at HALO, at NPA, at MAG, and at Golden West, is having a real impact. The numbers of casualties have trended dramatically and steadily lower, and while we are far from ridding this country of mines and UXO, we are well along the way.
The task, however, is far from over and we must look to ways to maximize our resources. As such, today we are gathered to increase cooperation among demining organizations active throughout Southeast Asia and to contribute to the development of effective and efficient policies, strategies, and practices in managing ERW contamination over the coming years.
Thank you everyone and I look forward to the productive conversations during this meeting. As Ambassador Toscano said in his speech, we all come from different countries and backgrounds, but we have a common mission. I can sense that sense of mission in this room. As you share best practices and learn new approaches, I hope you can take those ideas back to your communities and countries to implement. Thank you.