________________________________________________________________________ Cambodia predicts a century to clear landmines ____________________________________________________________________________ Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net Copyright ) 1997 Reuters PHNOM PENH (December 6, 1997 01:17 a.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - Cambodia could take up to a century to clear millions of anti-personnel landmines embedded in its soil, Cambodian co-Premier Ung Huot said on Saturday. Ung Huot, speaking at Phnom Penh airport upon his return from signing an international anti-personnel landmines ban in Ottawa, said he was very hopeful international funds pledged for mine clearance would reach Cambodia. "The international conference on anti-personnel landmines pledged $500 million to eliminate mines. Cambodia will certainly benefit from this money," he told a news conference. "Cambodia was brave to sign the ban on anti-personnel landmines even though some fighting continues," he said, referring to factional conflict in the Cambodian north and west. Cambodia, among the most heavily mined countries in the world, was one of 121 nations that signed a historic treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines worldwide on Thursday in Ottawa. The treaty commits countries not to make, use, stockpile or transfer mines, and also commits those with mines in the ground to remove them within 10 years if possible, with international assistance if needed. Ung Huot said it could take Cambodia as long as 100 years to remove the estimated four to six million landmines buried in his country's soil after decades of conflict. But he said with international funding and technical assistance, landmines could be wiped out sooner. "So we may not have to wait 100 years. If the world community has the determination, we can do it in less time," he said. Every month up to 200 people, most of them civilians, are maimed or killed by landmines in Cambodia. Ung Huot was appointed to replace ousted First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh in August, soon after powerful Second Prime Minister Hun Sen deposed the prince on July 6. Since July, Hun Sen's government has been fighting a rag-tag army of Ranariddh loyalists and Khmer Rouge rebels in Cambodia's north and west, where guerrillas lay new mines each day. "The Khmer Rouge continue to still lay down mines," said Ung Huot. "Please send this message to the Khmer Rouge: When you lay down mines, it is wrong, whoever is killed." Ung Huot said that during his trip to Canada, he had also met U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and senior officials from several countries to discuss Cambodia's political situation. He said he had told them that opposition politicians who fled since the coup were welcome to return and the Cambodian government remained committed to holding general elections on May 23.
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