Ukrainians Wrap up Landmine Clearance Exercises in Cambodia

AP Photo/Heng Sinith
Director General of Cambodia Mine Action Center Heng Ratana, right, shakes hands with Ukrainian deminers during a tour of the Peace Museum Mine Action in Siem Reap province, northwestern Cambodia, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) — A group of 15 Ukrainian deminers on Friday wrapped up a week of training in Cambodia, where experts who have cleared minefields from one of the world’s most contaminated countries shared their expertise with the relative newcomers to the dangerous job.

Cambodia is still strewn with mines from three decades of war and internal conflicts that ended in 1998, while the problem in Ukraine is a new one since the Russian invasion last year.

Ukrainian deminer Stanislav Kulykiusky told reporters that his team was grateful for the training, saying that at home already 64 deminers had been injured and 13 killed in the line of duty.

“It is a very difficult situation,” he said.

The NGO Landmine Monitor in its 2022 report listed both Cambodia and Ukraine among the nine countries with “massive” mine contamination, meaning they had more than 100 square kilometers (38.6 square miles) of uncleared fields.

Kulykiusky said that the main challenge for Ukrainian deminers was the scale of the job, but that it was critical to ensure all mines are removed before people return to villages and farms.

“This is a precondition of the recovery,” he said.

Cambodian deminers are among the world’s most experienced, and several thousand have been sent in the past decade under U.N. auspices to work in Africa and the Middle East.

The team of Ukrainians has been at different sites over the last week learning to use an advanced Japanese mine detector known as the Advanced Landmine Imaging System.

On Friday, the group visited a museum dedicated to explaining the different landmines and unexploded munitions found in Cambodia, then took part in practical training at a site nearby.

They wrap up their journey Saturday with a day off of training to visit Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat temple complex before returning home.

The training will continue, however, with regular video conference calls, and a team of three to five Cambodian experts will travel to Poland in April to train more Ukrainians, said Oum Phumro, deputy secretary general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, the government agency that oversees the clearing of landmines and unexploded ordnance in the country.

He said Cambodia was also giving Ukraine experienced sniffer dogs and training them on how to use them to detect mines.

“Our deminers have experience clearing mines for about 30 years and we have trained many countries,” he said. “Today we are proud that we are training Ukrainian deminers.”

____ Rising reported from Bangkok.