• Kyodo

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The United States has decided to defund a Norwegian nongovernmental organization’s efforts to clear Cambodia of land mines and unexploded ordnance, causing concern that Washington might cease such funding altogether.

Heng Ratana, director-general of Cambodian Mine Action Center, said he had received a confirmation letter from Norwegian People’s Aid that its funding from the U.S. government will cease by the end of this year.

The Oslo-based NGO has been supporting a project for clearing explosive remnants of war, or ERW, for many years past in eastern Cambodia, including U.S. bombs dropped during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“It’s very disappointing and sad news,” Heng Ratana said of the defunding decision, which he said was received at “short notice” and with “no proper justifications.”

Asked for comment, U.S. Embassy spokesman David Josar said the United States “remains strongly committed to our partnership with the Cambodian people in support of their goal to make Cambodia free from the humanitarian impact of land mines by 2025, and our shared goal of clearing U.S.-origin unexploded ordnance (UXO).

“The United States intends to award funding for this effort on a competitive basis. A request for proposals, which we will prepare in consultation with the government of Cambodia, will be released this month,” he told Kyodo News in a written response.

Since 1993, the United States has spent more than $120 million on ERW remediation in Cambodia, according to the embassy.

It was not immediately clear whether the United States intends to end all such funding or redirect its funds to another organization.

In a speech in May, however, U.S. Ambassador William Heidt said nowadays other countries deserve priority for such funding, while he suggested it is high time that the Cambodian government to increase the amount of national funds going to mine clearance.

“Unfortunately, there have been more conflicts around the world, and there are many more mine-affected countries, some in very dire situations,” Heidt said.

“Our joint success in bringing down so dramatically the number of casualties from mine, UXO, and ERW casualties has made it more difficult to argue that, from a humanitarian perspective, Cambodia should be the top priority for international funding,” he said.

Noting that Cambodia has developed dramatically since 1993, and has now crossed the threshold to the World Bank’s lower middle income country status, he said, “This strengthens the expectation that, over time, Cambodia should begin to take more responsibility for financing its own mine clearance activities.”

In recent months, bilateral relations have been strained, with Cambodian authorities accusing Washington of backing an alleged effort by Cambodia’s main opposition party to topple the government.

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