Cambodia’s tumultuous history, marked by 30 years of violence has left millions of landmines around the country. During the civil war, warring factions laid an estimated four to six million landmines. Over a million have been cleared by the government, and others have exploded or been cleared unofficially, but many more remain.

These explosives have maimed or killed over 64,700 Cambodians, and have turned farming or going to school in certain areas into a mortal risk. There is no exact map of all the minefields in Cambodia, hence locating mines is mostly based on the local knowledge of the villagers, or farmers who discover mines whilst farming.

The situation is severe. Platoon #137 of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre was sent to Peam Ta village, located in Cambodia’s northwest and part of the K-5 mine belt that runs 740 kilometres along the border with Thailand. Some say the K-5 mine belt is the most heavily mined area in the world. In Peam Ta village alone, 11 mines and 118 other explosive remnants of war were cleared from just one of the 32 minefields there.

Cambodia is one of 161 countries that have signed the Mine Ban Treaty. This is an attempt by the International Community to free the world of mines by 2025.

The government’s Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) regulates, plans, coordinates and monitors mine action activities. With technical and advisory support from the Mine Action Unit at UNDP Cambodia, CMAA works with affected communities to plan mine clearance activities. By involving communities that are living in high risk areas, resources can be better channelled, maximising time and cost effectiveness.

Mr. Tong Try, coordinator of the Mine Action Unit at UNDP Cambodia, has dedicated his entire career to being an interpreter and planner to help free his country of mines and unexploded bombs, grenades and other explosive remnants of war. His work supports CMAA in their efforts to remove mines and other explosives, while also providing support to survivors with rehabilitation, education, vocational training, job opportunities, and social activities.

In total, some 1,690 square kilometres of contaminated land have been cleared and released for farming and other productive use. When mines are cleared, farmers can grow food and help end hunger, children can go to school, and roads can be laid. This helps the economy grow and the country thrive, benefitting future generations.

In 2017, the Government of Cambodia provided rehabilitation services to over 3,500 survivors, and gave another 3,000 artificial limbs. Cambodia’s efforts and dedication have led it to become a global leader in the effort to remove explosives, sharing innovative demining techniques with other signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty. Cambodia has learned a great deal about clearing explosive remnants of war and building peace.

There are technical lessons, such as how trained dogs can be used more effectively, and how land can be declared mine-free if it has been ploughed repeatedly with no accidents; and there are planning lessons, such as how to work methodically according to national standards, collaborate with partners, map progress, and make the work of deminers more efficient.

Also, there are greater lessons about peace and reconciliation, and the need to work together towards a shared vision of the future.

Public servants like Mr. Tong are encouraged by every mine that is removed, and they hold on to the dream that one day, Cambodian families will no longer be encumbered by the threat of mines. They are making Cambodia more peaceful and liveable for all – leading the way internationally on recovering from the disastrous effects of violent conflict. Cambodia has had a long and difficult road, and serves as an example to the world to keep the flame of hope alive.

Cambodia has a long way to go, having only cleared a small fraction of its mines, but the pace of demining is accelerating. There are more deminers now than ever before, with 3,200 working nationwide. The commitment of Cambodia’s public service has enabled the CMAA to sustain its activities throughout challenging stages; from conflict to stabilisation, reconstruction and development assistance.

“The day when Cambodia can declare itself mine-free will be a historic day,” says Mr Tong. “We’ll eat and drink. We’ll sing. People around the world will share in our happiness.” High levels of violence and insecurity have a destructive impact on a country’s development, affecting economic growth and resulting in long-standing grievances that can last for generations. The public sector plays a key role in upholding peace, stability, and effective governance, so that countries once torn by violence can work towards a sustainable future. This involves building effective, accountable, and transparent institutions at all levels, in order to build public confidence.

”The day when Cambodia can declare itself mine-free will be a historic day.”

Governments must endeavour to promote inclusive and participatory processes in policy development, and ensure that they develop the capacity needed to achieve excellence in public service delivery.

This article was originally published by UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence in the book ‘Public Service 2030: Making the Sustainable Development Goals happen’.

Image from UNDP Cambodia Facebook page – CC BY 2.0