Regional Meeting Focuses on Ottawa Treaty

Representatives from Cambo­dia attended a two-day conference in Bangkok last weekend to discuss ways to implement last year’s treaty to ban land mines, according to participants.

Local NGO representatives and officials from the Cambodian Mine Action Center joined counterparts from seven Southeast Asian countries plus New Zea­land and Australia, said Sister Denise Coughlan of the Cambo­dian Campaign to Ban Land­mines.

“The purpose was to talk about the human face of the problem. It’s not an esoteric treaty,” she said.

A featured speaker at the conference was Tun Channareth, a Cambodian mine victim who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize last year on behalf of International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Last December, a week before the Nobel ceremony, 126 countries signed a landmark treaty in Ottawa to ban land mines.

The “Beyond Ottawa: Toward a Mine-Free World” conference set up working groups to help monitor the treaty’s progress, Coughlan said.

The groups will also try to determine how much demined land is going to ordinary people, especially mine victims.

They will also compile detailed records of mine casualties regionwide to find out how well the treaty is working, and monitor governments and companies to ensure that mine stockpiles are being destroyed, she said.

Nhiem Chouleng, deputy di­rector of CMAC and a participant in the conference, said Tuesday that original government estimates that the country’s mine stockpiles could be eliminated within a year have proved too optimistic.

“It takes time,” he said. “It will take a lot of coordination between the government, military and NGOs.” The process won’t begin until after the National Assembly ratifies the treaty, he added. That is likely to come after the July 26 elections.

The treaty gives signatories four years to destroy their stockpiles.

Seventeen of the 126 countries have ratified the treaty so far, which already makes it the fast­est-moving convention in history, Coughlan said.

Nhiem Chouleng said this is an optimistic time in Cam­bodia’s struggle to rid the country of mines. Khmer Rouge defections and the subsequent integration of territory are positive events.

“If war ends, then nobody will be interested in using these arms again,” he commented.

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