Sunday, 20 February 2011

Sowing the seeds of a lengthy conflict

via CAAI

Published: 20/02/2011

Ironically, Cambodia, which was one of the leaders on the convention to ban cluster mines, backed out of signing it in December 2008 citing the Preah Vihear border conflict.

EXPLOSIVE: Kim Samnang, who lost his forearm; and what is believed to be a cluster bomb, found near Svay Chrum village.

Cambodia argued it was in no rush to sign, as Thailand was not yet a signatory. Cluster bombs are considered a major threat to civilian populations as they spread across a large area and can lay dormant for long periods of time.


''My base was shelled between 3:15-4:10pm on Feb 4,'' said Lt Col Sok Min of the Cambodian border police in Svay Chrum.

''I was standing at the gate looking at the mountain and I heard the sound of a bomb approaching, and made it just in time to the bunker.

''The only thing I could hear was BOOM, pop, pop, pop _ like popcorn _ and all I could see was smoke.''

Border policeman Kim Samnang said the bombs were distinctive by their sound. ''I suspected there was something different when I heard the pop-pop-pop,'' he said. ''I had heard about bomblets [cluster munitions] in other provinces.

''At 6pm the next day, we turned on the generator to pump water and decided to watch the Sunday boxing.

''Someone came in with this thing with a white string and I put my hand up and told him to put it down,'' he said.

Policeman Cheng Mol put it on the table and it exploded _ killing two, and injuring eight.

Samnang and Mol both lost forearms. They now share a ward at Siem Reap provincial hospital.

''I was injured by cluster munitions,'' Samnang told the Bangkok Post Sunday ''Two days ago, an NGO showed us a photo. It had slightly different colouring, but it's the same kind of bomblet. It looked like a cow bell or something,'' Mol said.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) arrived on the scene the morning after the explosion.

''I had never seen anything like them before, they're not like the American War bomblets,'' said Saem Ponnreay, CMAC Demining Unit 3 manager.

''People were playing with the things, spinning them in the air by their cords. We sent photos to headquarters and they confirmed that they were M42/46 submunitions.

''We had recently cleared this area. Now we have to come back.''

CMAC issued a statement on Feb 10 claiming that: ''During the cross-fire there [was] identified evidence of heavy artilleries such as 105mm, 130mm and 155mm used by Thai military, and CMAC experts have confirmed that these artilleries contained cluster munitions including M35, M42 and M46 types.''

Cluster Munition Coalition member Sister Denise Coughlin surveyed the situation this week. ''I am saddened by the suffering and displacement of people from both sides of the border. I witnessed with my own eyes, cluster munitions on the ground,'' she said.

''I have also spoken to the victims who identified the M46 as the munition that injured them.

''The use of cluster bombs causes devastating consequences years after the conflict. A friend of mine lost both his arms in 2004, from cluster munitions left over from the 70s.

''I dont want that to happen to anyone else.''

In a statement issued on Feb 10, the coalition, which represents 350 civil groups worldwide, asked both Thailand and Cambodia to clarify whether their armies had used cluster munitions in the recent conflict.

According to the coalition, both countries have stockpiles of cluster munitions, but little is known about their status or composition.

Cambodia has cited an ongoing review of its defence and security situation as the reason for its delay in joining the treaty, while Thailand says it has concerns over its ability to destroy its stockpile although it has said previously it would not use the weapons.

CMAC faces a huge task, even if the fighting stops tomorrow. ''We don't know how many shells landed around here. Some could have fallen in unpopulated areas. There are 72 bomblets in every shell,'' Ponnreay said.

''Before we can let civilians back in, we need to educate them. We have reached 4,000 families in the camps and told them not to touch them, and to call our hotlines if they see one.''

When he appeared before the UN Security Council on Monday, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya categorically denied ''the groundless accusation by Cambodia that Thailand used cluster munitions during the recent skirmishes''.

Mr Kasit added that Thailand has been actively supporting disarmament efforts, including the elimination of cluster munitions.

''We are seriously considering joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions,'' he said. The army also strongly denied the Cambodian cluster bomb allegation.

1 comment:

stan anderson said...

I agree something MUST be done , the stumbling block is the same one that allows so many Cambodians to be living below the poverty line, without clean water or sanitation.

Cambodia desparately needs our help in many ways. Cambodia doesn't seem to have a voice here in the UK. I have recently returned from Cambodia and was shocked by what I saw and heard from volunteers working at grass roots. So I made a video of my impressions to share with my friends, asking them to pass it on/. in the hope that others will want to help. Perhaps you could watch it and pass it on.