Originally posted on NCT-MAGAZINE
Security situation overview: Antipersonnel mines in Thailand & Cambodia
As a region marred by a history of complex cross-border and international conflict, South East Asia is an area of particular focus when it comes to demining. With this profile focusing specifically on two countries – Thailand and Cambodia – it is notable that both have a partially shared history of heavy antipersonnel mine use, specifically alongside the Thailand-Cambodian border, an area which displays a high level of landmine contamination.
Cambodia is one of the most heavily mine and UXO-contaminated countries in the world, marking 64,000 deaths by explosive items since 1979. Many mined areas are still heavily contaminated by antipersonnel mines left behind by China, the USSR, the US and Vietnam, as well as UXOs remaining from many conflicts, including the heavy bombing of Cambodia and notably the bombings in the 1970s which saw over half a million ton of bombs dropped onto the country. The notable portion of landmines were laid alongside the border during the Vietnam War by both the Vietnamese and the Americans. The rest of inland Cambodia was subsequently mined by the Khmer Rouge forces in order to secure their acquired zones and mines were subsequently used heavily at later stages of the war by both sides. A few more waves of mine laying followed, predominantly alongside the Thai border. After three decades of heavy mining, it became common practice to lay much denser minefields than necessary and often also within the perimeters of civilian communities. Since maps of the minefields were not drawn, repetitive re-mining of already mined areas often took place. Moreover, in 1992, a large number of refugees were repatriated from Thailand, with many subsequently injured or killed by landmines during the crossing – an event which sparked the attention and involvement of many international demining NGOs. All in all, due to this complex history of mine use, the issue of unexploded landmines affects every one of Cambodia’s 25 provinces. 2019 has seen a sharp rise in UXO and mine-related incidents, with 66 people injured or killed this year alone, as compared to 23 in 2018.
Thailand similarly faces a rather high explosive threat, as it is one of the ten worst IED-affected countries, both in terms of incidents and deaths. Specifically, mines and explosive remnants of war (ERWs) / UXOs trouble the country, largely due to its history of internal as well as international conflicts with Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar. The vast majority of mined areas (circa 80%) in Thailand are to be found in the eastern and north-eastern provinces on the border with Cambodia, and the rest is found in the provinces of Chiang Mai (bordering Myanmar) and Pitsanuloke (bordering Laos). More than 3,000 casualties have been recorded to date. It is estimated that 13 Thai provinces still remain highly contaminated by landmines and ERWs.
With regard to international agreements regarding the use of antipersonnel mines, the two countries are signatory as follows:
- The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention / Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Treaty) (1999) – Thailand & Cambodia signatory and ratified
- Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) – Protocol II on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices (1980, amended 1996) – Cambodia only & currently in review in Thailand
- Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008) – neither country signatory
In terms of national legal framework, the situation is as follows:
Cambodia adopted a national law prohibiting anti-personnel mines (May 1999) just months before signing the Mine Ban Treaty. It has no national mine action legislation, but mine action is conducted according to the Cambodian Mine Action Standards (CMAS).
Thailand, though signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty, has not adopted any new specific national-level legislation to implement it, however its demining is conducted in line with the National Mine Action Standards (NMAS), recently updated to meet international requirements. However, the country is also active on the international scene in support of the mine ban.
STAKEHOLDERS IN MINE ACTION
Cambodian mine action separates the policy and regulatory functions from the field operations actions. The body responsible for mine action managementis the which has been active since 2000. The Prime Minister serves as its President, and a separate Secretary General is responsible for its day-to-day management. It is responsible for policy guidelines, regulation, licensing and strategic plan development for mine action in Cambodia, working together with other organizations, seeking to achieve national and international coordination in demining. The CMAA mainly focuses on mine clearance, mine risk education and victim assistance.
Additionally, the Provincial Mine Action Committees (PMAC) and Mine Action Planning Units (MAPU) are bodies comprising local authorities and demining organizations. They are tasked with determining the priorities in demining.
The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (AF) comprise many C-IED trained professionals. The AF also host a bilateral military exercise each year, with many key areas focusing on C-IED and EOD tactics and training.
- The Military Engineers unit has been involved in demining and EOD since 1994, working in some of the most dangerous heavily mined areas of Cambodia. The AF have removed thousands of antipersonnel mines and UXOs, and their demining is done according to UN standards.
- The Royal Cambodian Army nests a Special Forces unit called the 911 Special Forces Regiment (SF-911). This unit is directly commanded by the High Command HQ of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. It includes the National Counter Terrorism Special Forces (NCTSF) elite sub-unit created in 2008 specializing VIP security, hostage rescue, land and boat assaults, and EOD. They have a history of being trained in the EOD field by the United States.
In addition to governmental action there are other key demining-focused in Cambodia, with the most important ones being:
- The Cambodia’s leading demining organization. It was formed in 1992 as the organization responsible for implementing and coordinating demining efforts in Cambodia, having become an autonomous organization in 2000 developing programs about mine risk education, especially with regards to at-risk communities. The CMAC also undertakes mine detection and demining as well as mine disposal training. Its demining activities are the responsibility of the CMAC Executive Unit. CMAC currently has over 1,700 staff (with cca 1,400 field staff) and six provincial demining units (e.g. in Banteay Meanchey; Battambang; Siem Reap; Kampong Cham) as well as its own training center.
- The HALO Trust is a global humanitarian NGO originating from the UK, dedicated to humanitarian demining and UXO disposal across the world. The organization employs around 1,000 people in Cambodia’s mine-affected areas in demining work. Apart from demining, HALO also conducts mine risk education.
- MAG International is an NGO which has worked in Cambodia for over 25 years. Its main work consists of demining, cluster munition removal and education. They work for instance in the provinces of Battambang, Pailing and Ratanakiri, and they are the only international mine action organization working in the eastern and western part of the country. MAG uses a combination of manual and mechanical mine clearance as well as locally-trained K9 dogs. The organization has cleared over 5 million square meters of land and 12,350 pieces of landmines/UXOs.
- Cambodia Self-Help Demining (CSHD) is a small charity/NGO founded in 2007 focusing on ‘low-priority’ villages across Cambodia with 25 active deminers, having cleared over 5 million square meters of land. They are uniquely dedicated to clearing smaller minefields in ‘forgotten’ rural areas. Originally the charity was founded by a former child soldier who has conducted demining efforts on his own since the 1990s. CSHD also provides mine risk education to the communities it works in.
- The Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) is a demining and development NGO. Cambodia was the first country where the organization established a demining program in 1992 called the ‘Humanitarian Disarmament,’ focusing on destroying UXOs, landmines and cluster munitions.
In Thailand the National Committee for Humanitarian Mine Action (NMAC) oversees the national mine action program and is chaired by the Prime Minister who gives it its general official policy direction.
The main governmental actor in mine action is the Thailand Mine Action Center (TMAC), formed in 1998 and operating under the Royal Thai Armed Forces. TMAC spans across different ministries with the aim to develop cross-sectional policies as well as implement the national mine action program. It is further responsible for monitoring the national measures taken in light of the Mine Ban Treaty and conduct demining operations and mine risk education and training as well as landmine victim assistance. TMAC comprises four Humanitarian Mine Action Units (HMAUs).
The Royal Thai Armed Forces further nest the Counter Terrorist Operation Centre (CTOC) which falls under its Operations section.
The Royal Thai Army comprises multiple EOD units which have substantial explosive disposal experience due to the high IED threat in Thailand. These units have also undertaken many C-IED/EOD trainings which also included collaboration with EOD units from other countries. Many of their EOD personnel have undertaken training at the Asia Pacific C-IED Fusion Center. The Thai Army has been conducting demining operations along the border together with the Navy since 1987. The Ordnance Department nests for example the Explosive Recovery & Disposal Unit in Bangkok, the Arsenal Repair & Destruction Department in the Saraburi province, or the Anothai Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit under the Internal Security Operations Centre Region 4. The Army further comprises the Global Counterterrorism Center in Bangkok as well as the Royal Thai Army Ordnance School.
The Royal Thai Navy comprises the Explosive Recovery & Disposal Unit nested under the Naval Ordnance Department. The Navy also boasts the Diver and EOD Center/Division, specializing in waterborne IED destruction.
The Royal Thai Air Force nests the Explosive Recovery & Destruction Unit under its Ordnance Department.
The Royal Thai Police comprises multiple EOD and counter-terror units with a relatively good level of skills. As the police EOD units may often be the first responders to national incidents, they are trained accordingly in a minimum twelve-week course focused on detecting and disarming explosives, especially IEDs. Examples of EOD units include the Arsenal Explosives & Explosive Destruction Unit (SETTL) in Bangkok, the Border Patrol units in the provinces, e.g. the ChonBuri, Nakhon Ratchasima or Phitsanulok provinces, or the Naresuan 261 Counter-Terrorism Unit. The Police further more has its own Bomb Data Center which keeps records of both national and international bombings.
Apart from the four TMAC units, two more non-governmental organizations possess the operational accreditation to conduct demining operations on Thai territory:
- The Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) which after Cambodia also started its demining activities in Thailand in 2000. It collaborated with the TMAC on the Landmine Impact Survey and it resumed collaboration with the TMAC in 2011, mainly on the level of technical advice and strategic planning. Since then, NPA has been working to assist the Thai government in its demining activities in the west and north-west of the country. In that time period, the organization has decontaminated more than 41 million square meters of land and destroyed over 6,000 dangerous objects.
- The Thai Civilian Deminer Association (TDA) is a national demining NGO working on demining in Thailand. In 2017 it has 24 staff, including 17 field staff.
CAPABILITIES & RESOURCES
The CMAA is funded by the government and largely by international donations. It has recently declared it was being underfunded and would need an additional budget of $406 million and a further 1,000 mine-clearing personnel (mainly to be recruited from the Armed Forces) in order to meet the goal to clear 100% of Cambodia’s mines by 2025. So far the government has spent over $100 million on demining. Moreover, international donors are key for the CMAA’s funding, with the active ones including Japan, the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, the European community, Germany, China, France, Denmark and New Zealand. The CMAA estimates the country needs circa $50 million annually to carry out its demining activities to stay on track for its goal.
In terms of foreign assistance, since the lifting of a substantial amount of the restrictions on military-to-military relations, the US has strongly cooperated with the Cambodian military when it comes to demining and the tackling of IED incidents, especially in terms of sharing expertise and training. Cambodian deminers were trained by US Special Forces Teams in basic and advanced trauma management, minefield management as well as explosives and munitions safety and handling techniques. Moreover, U.S. Army and Air Force medical personnel are deployed in Cambodia to conduct life and limb-saving surgeries in mine affected regions, focusing on landmine and unexploded ordinance (UXO) casualties. The US further contributes to demining efforts through its Department of Defense (DoD)’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program responsible for the creation of products that broaden the capabilities for detecting, marking, clearing, and neutralizing mines, as well as provide equipment for training and post-clearance quality assurance. The HALO Trust also cooperates with the DoD on these efforts.
As with the CMAA, the TMAC’s need for financial resources is also not being met. The TMAC’s budget has been gradually falling over the past years. Between 2013 and 2014 it fell by 10% to 72.65 mil. baht, further falling by 3% to 68.27 mil. baht in 2016. Consequently, Thailand is also falling behind on its demining target set by the Mine Ban Treaty.
Despite complicated political ties, the US sees Thailand as a long-standing ally in the region and runs the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group Thailand (JUSMAGTHAI) with the Royal Thai Armed Forces. The Group supports a variety of US missions, including circa 60 yearly training exercises, International Military Education and Training (IMET), Foreign Military Sales, Humanitarian De-mining, and Military Medicine exchanges. The US Armed Forces have also trained the Thai Armed Forces and the Cambodian Armed Forces in CBRN capabilities on numerous occasions.
CAPABILITIES & RESOURCES
On , the Royal Thai Armed Forces conducted a large-scaleday-long mine clearing operation in the province of Sa Kaeo. During this operation, over 3,000 UXOs have been gathered and destroyed in a controlled explosion. Local residents, many of whom have been injured by leftover mines, were given presents by the Army, making this a statement operation on behalf of the Armed Forces and reaffirming the commitment to rid the country of landmines, despite the challenges and difficulties of demining in rural and border terrain.
For the time being, anti-personnel landmines remain a part of the complicated historical legacy of modern conflict in South-East Asia. Due to the establishment of both national strategies and national management bodiesin the 1990s as well as the increased involvement of the international community manifesting in the presence of international humanitarian demining organizations, demining efforts in Thailand and Cambodia have advanced. However, a long road to a landmine-free region still lies ahead, lined with challenges of lack of funding and attention to the issue.