China to fund UXO clear­ing

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE - Andrew Nachem­son and Kong Meta

PRIME Min­is­ter Hun Sen an­nounced yes­ter­day that China will be­gin fund­ing dem­i­ning ef­forts, just days af­ter the US said it would pull fi­nan­cial sup­port for a re­moval project with the Cam­bo­dian Mine Ac­tion Cen­tre in the east­ern part of the coun­try.

“China told Samdech Te­cho [Hun Sen] that the land­mine and UXO clear­ance is a pri­ori­tised ac­tion of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment,” reads a state­ment posted to Hun Sen’s Face­book page last night.

A fi­nal de­ci­sion on the new fund­ing will be made be­fore Chi­nese Prime Min­is­ter Li Ke­qiang vis­its the Kingdom in Jan­uary, ac­cord­ing to the post.

T h e U S E m b a s s y an­nounced last week that its an­nual $2 mil­lion in fund­ing to CMAC would in­stead go to a “world-class re­moval pro­gram” that will be open to bids – a de­ci­sion that fol­lowed weeks of near-daily crit­i­cism from Hun Sen and other of­fi­cials of the US’s han­dling of its war legacy in Cam­bo­dia.

CMAC head Heng Ratana ac­cused the US of down­play­ing the im­pact of chem­i­cal weapons it dropped dur­ing the Viet­nam War, prompt­ing a re­sponse from the US Em­bassy ac­cus­ing the gov­ern­ment of politi­cis­ing the is­sue.

Ratana said last night it was un­clear if the new Chi­nese aid would go to CMAC or an­other dem­i­ning group, as it is still “in the process of dis­cus­sion”. He con­firmed

that up un­til now, the gov­ern­ment’s dem­i­ning and ord­nance re­moval body had never re­ceived fund­ing from China.

Ear­lier in the day, the CMAC head kept up his cri­tique of the US, post­ing to his Face­book page var­i­ous pic­tures of young Cam­bo­di­ans with se­vere birth de­fects con­sis­tent with those caused by the de­fo­liant Agent Or­ange.

“Is it true that the chem­i­cal sub­stances that the Amer­i­cans dropped re­ally have no long term side ef­fects to the Cam­bo­dian peo­ple’s health?” Ratana asked rhetor­i­cally, ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to past US state­ments.

“We have doc­u­ments and ev­i­dence and equip­ment, we are not stupid like cows and buffalos,” Ratana added.

The cri­tique, how­ever, like many of those lobbed by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, ap­peared to con­flate Agent Or­ange with old tear gas bombs found in Svay Rieng’s Koki commune – the non­lethal bombs the US ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of politi­cis­ing, which sci­en­tists have not found to cause de­fects.

Some of the vic­tims shown in Ratana’s post yes­ter­day were pre­vi­ously in­ter­viewed in a Post in­ves­ti­ga­tion that first un­cov­ered the likely ef­fects of Agent Or­ange in Svay Rieng.

Khoun Chan­thy, the mother of one of those pre­vi­ously in­ter­viewed who was also fea­tured by Ratana, said that while CMAC came to take pho­to­graphs, no tan­gi­ble help was of­fered.

“There is no provin­cial au­thor- ity, district au­thor­ity or Health Min­istry com­ing to our vil­lage . . . CMAC did not ask us any­thing. They just walked around and checked the lo­ca­tion,” she said.

Ratana ac­knowl­edged yes­ter­day that The Post ar­ti­cle helped spark the gov­ern­ment’s own in­ves­ti­ga­tion, adding that he “strongly be­lieves” the de­fects are linked to Agent Or­ange.

How­ever, he said the Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment is wait­ing for as­sis­tance from the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons both in ver­i­fy­ing the types of chem­i­cals present and for of­fer­ing aid to those af­fected. The Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs submitted an of­fi­cial com­plaint to the OPCW in Oc­to­ber. Last week, the group con­firmed re­ceipt of the com­plaint, but de­clined to com­ment fur­ther yes­ter­day, cit­ing “strict con­fi­den­tial­ity”.

David Josar, spokesman at the US Em­bassy, said Amer­ica wel­comed an OPCW in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “We are aware of the let­ter to the OPCW and we wel­come their tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise. The Em­bassy re­mains in close touch with the U.S. Mis­sion to the OPCW in The Hague and Wash­ing­ton on next steps in the OPCW process,” he wrote via email.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Meas Nee yes­ter­day lauded the Chi­nese aid, but ques­tioned why it had not been of­fered be­fore, not­ing “Chi­nese land­mines have af­fected a lot of peo­ple”.

Nee con­trasted the gov­ern­ment’s vir­u­lent anti-Amer­i­can rhetoric – de­liv­ered while also ben­e­fit­ing from US aid – with its si­lence on China, say­ing the ap­par­ent dou­ble stan­dard hinted at a “po­lit­i­cal mo­tive”.


Dauk Paris, 22, who was born with a head de­for­mity and an un­der­de­vel­oped arm, was pho­tographed dur­ing a Post in­ves­ti­ga­tion that first ex­am­ined the pres­ence of Agent Or­ange in Svay Rieng.

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