APOPO alongside local partner the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) is conducting a humanitarian landmine clearance project in the northern Siem Reap and Preah Vihear provinces. The APOPO/CMAC teams are targeting the most mine-affected villages in order to return safe, productive land back to communities where it makes the biggest impact.
Joint APOPO - CMAC Project
In April 2015, APOPO sent its mine detection rats (MDR) to Cambodia following successful mine clearance projects in Angola and Mozambique. This was the first time the MDR were assigned to a country outside of the African continent. The MDR teams are implemented to support existing conventional demining CMAC teams in order to speed up clearance operations in Cambodia.
At least 26 million explosive sub-munitions were dropped on Cambodia during the Vietnam War, mostly in eastern and northeastern areas bordering the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Vietnam. The bombing is estimated to have left between 1.9 million and 5.8 million cluster munitions remnants. Over 64,000 landmine and other Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) casualties have been recorded in Cambodia since 1979. With over 40,000 amputees Cambodia has the highest ratio of mine amputees per capita in the world.
Joint APOPO/CMAC operations are being carried out in the Srey Nouy area of Siem Reap, where suspect land along roads and farmland has not been safe to use for almost 30 years. The surrounding rural population is dependent on agriculture. Clearance of the area will return much-needed safe land back to the communities as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. This in turn will allow them to improve their livelihoods by increasing their livestock and expanding their farms.
As of November 2018 APOPO/CMAC teams are also working in Preah Vihear province not only returning safe land to the local communities and allowing for resettlement - but clearing land near the Preah Vihear Temple area which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. An area that is riddled with landmines, cluster munitions and other deadly legacies of past conflict.
APOPO first began joint operations with CMAC in 2014. During this initial phase APOPO’s capacity was made up of manual demining teams, technical survey and clearance teams, mechanical armored brush cutters as well as explosive ordnance disposal teams. The project focused on Siem Reap province in northern Cambodia.
When the MDR first arrived they went through a period of acclimatization followed by performance tests, which they all passed. The MDR teams then continued onto trials for 3 months on live minefields and were quality controlled for a further 3 months by CMAC who checked the zones after the MDR using metal detectors. The shadowing CMAC manual teams found that the MDR did not miss a single mine and fully approved them allowing them to proceed to standrad operations.
So far APOPO/CMAC have found over 45,000 landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), releasing over 15 million square meters of safe land back to the local communities allowing people can get their lives and livelihoods back on track.
APOPO continues to clear minefields in Srae Nouy Commune which lies in Varin district of Siem Reap Province. For the first time an additional APOPO/CMAC team is now working in parallel in the Preah Vihear province, where they will be clearing approximately 500,000 m2 of land in Trapeang Prasat and Choam Khsants districts which includes the area around the Preah Vihear temple. This will allow for safe access to the Preah Vihear Temple (a Hindu temple to Shiva) and conservation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
APOPO has plans to expand its teams even further with newly trained rat reinforcements from Tanzania expected to arrive in the first half of 2019. Once the new recruits are accredited they will strengthen teams in both provinces. The APOPO program in Cambodia aims to have 40 landmine detection rats in 2019 and is currently seeking funds to build a third team and expand its operations further.