Surveying the Thai-Cambodian border

APOPO has been working with Thailand Mine Action Center (TMAC), the Humanitarian Mine Action Units (HMAUs) and the national NGOs on the development and implementation of a detailed land release concept since 2011. This collaboration allows for the efficient release of land through survey, and minimizes the use of scarce mine clearance capacities in areas that later turn out to be mine-free. If Thailand is to resolve its landmine problem and fulfill the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty (APMBT) obligations within the deadline, this land release methodology must be distributed and streamlined through all mine action operators, and used to enhance the effectiveness of current operations.

Thailand offers its hospitality to millions of tourists every year and has become one of the biggest and most attractive tourism areas in the world. Yet few are aware of a considerable mine problem along the borders, especially with Cambodia, and that people living in these areas suffer from landmine accidents, fear of accidents and limited access to arable land. This problem can be resolved with international assistance, and the implementation of a robust Land Release methodology.

The Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) in 2001 identified the Thai-Cambodia border to account for three quarters of the LIS estimate and 51 of 69 highly-impacted communities. On a national scale, the LIS identified 530 communities in 27 of 76 provinces and more than 500,000 people affected by mines. More than half of the mine incidents have occurred on the border with Cambodia. Artillery and mortars also make-up part of contamination on the borders, fired by Vietnamese and government forces, in addition to caches of abandoned mortars, rocket propelled grenades and ammunition left by Cambodian guerrilla groups. The LIS also identified 139 affected communities on the border with Myanmar, and 240 contaminated areas. Survey or clearance activities have not been previously possible due to periodic spill over into Thailand of fighting between Myanmar government forces and Burmese non-state armed groups. Contamination on the border with LAO PDR is limited and on the border with Malaysia it is negligible.

Currently, only four HMAUs and two small national NGOs with international partners are conducting mine clearance activities within Thailand. This capacity is, however, very small and needs significant expansion and enhancement to address the problem within an acceptable time frame.

Capacity building

Thailand still has a long way to go to fully comply with its APMBT obligations and there is a need to continue building and developing a national capacity which will enable Thailand to fully address its landmine challenge. APOPO intends to continue to assist in developing this sustainable national capacity that can address the mine problem within an acceptable timeframe.

The existing capacities can be strengthened and re-focused in order to achieve a greater efficiency with the same assets. This will be achieved through investing in developing skills and knowledge about how best to conduct survey, and release land using this process as an essential component of national capacity development. A major problem today is a lack of understanding about how to conduct non-technical and technical survey and effectively release land from this process. With the necessary donor support, APOPO intends to continue to assist in institutionalizing this capacity within TMAC.

Thailand’'s mine history

Thailand was inadvertently drawn into the conflicts of its neighbor countries in the mid-1970s. The Cambodian wars in particular lead to considerable fighting on both sides of the 700 km long border, and landmines were used extensively. While the Thai army laid some minefields, Cambodian and Vietnamese military factions and Khmer Rouge in particular laid most of the mines. Very few original military minefield records exist and mines are thought to be present along major parts of the Thai–-Cambodian border.

TMAC was established in response to a growing consensus about the scope of the landmine problem, and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) conducted a countrywide Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) in 2001. The LIS identified more than 2,000 km² of mine suspected land. That said, the LIS focused on impacted communities and was not designed to identify the precise boundaries of the mined areas.

Pockets towards the Cambodian border have since been re-surveyed by local organizations and the military HMAUs under TMACs supervision. Subsequently the overall size of suspected areas has been reduced to approximately 530 sq km. If all these areas were to be cleared in full, it would take decades and cost at least 500 million USD.

Thailand signed the APBMT on 3 December 1997 and ratified it on 27 November 1998, becoming a State Party on 1 May 1999. In 2009 Thailand´s request for an extension on its clearance deadline was extended to 1 November 2018. Thailand will, however, not be able to meet its treaty obligations without the full implementation of a Land Release methodology, which will permit much more release of land by survey and less by clearance.

 

Tripop Trimanka, Demining Team, APOPO-PRO

Tripop Trimanka, Demining Team, APOPO-PRO

In my opinion, what we have is very important. I am helping to lead my country in the right path towards the implementation of the Convention to Ban Landmines. Despite the complexity of this problem, we will solve it on time.

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