In 2011, as President Obama announced the strategic rebalance of U.S. foreign policy priorities to the Asia-Pacific region, Cambodia was nearing its third decade since the end of armed conflict. Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) dating back to the Vietnam War era and the Khmer Rouge years remain a deadly legacy in communities across the country. I recently completed my first international trip as director of PM/WRA to visit U.S.-funded demining programs in Cambodia, where I saw firsthand how we are making slow but steady progress to help address this difficult humanitarian challenge.
During the various Indochina wars, the Khmer Rouge, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, the Vietnamese military, and to a lesser extent the Thai army, were responsible for laying extensive minefields. These minefields are concentrated in the western part of the country, notably in the dense K-5 mine belt laid in the 1980s along Cambodia’s border with Thailand as protection against the Khmer Rouge. The eastern and northeastern areas of Cambodia are heavily contaminated with UXO, mostly from U.S. air and artillery strikes during the Vietnam War and also from numerous battles fought along the border with Vietnam. Cambodia has an estimated 124 mine-affected districts and approximately 1,914 square kilometers littered with landmines and other explosive remnants of war. Between Fiscal Years 1993 and 2013, the U.S. invested $90.5 million in Cambodia for humanitarian mine action.
I began my visit with several stops in provinces along the Thailand-Cambodia border, including Otdar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey, and Battambang, where I saw how great the need is for safe, cleared land for agricultural use. The Cambodian population is rapidly growing as the country rebuilds its infrastructure. As I visited with U.S.-funded implementing partners in these provinces, the impact of our efforts to make this land safe for communities became readily apparent to me.