Norway witnesses Thailand destroy remaining landmine stockpiles

The Thailand Mine Action Centre (TMAC), which is supported by Norway among others, destroyed its remaining stockpile of 2,500 anti-personnel landmines on April 24 in Lop Buri with a thunderous explosion, fulfilling the country’s obligations under the Ottawa Convention to eliminate all stockpiles by April 2003.      This made Thailand the first country in mainland Southeast Asia to complete the destruction of its landmine stockpiles, though border areas are still mined, said General Kitti Suksomsatan, TMAC director.      The Philippines is the only other country in the region that has completed destruction of its stockpiles as required of the Ottawa Convention’s signatories.      Major General Pisal Buasuang, Deputy Supreme Commander of the armed forces, presided at the ceremony at the Kao Pu-Loan Artillery Centre in Lopburi Province north of Bangkok. Government officials, ambassadors, military attaches and representatives of international organizations that sponsored the TAMC, including Norway, Switzerland and Belgium, attended the ceremony to mark the event.      Since 1999, two years after being the first country in Southeast Asia to sign the convention, Thailand has destroyed over 390,000 mines, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.      The country will hold on to 4,970 stockpiled landmines for training in mine clearance and research, as allowed under the Convention.      The stockpile destruction demonstrated Thailand’s support for the international campaign to rid the world of anti-personnel landmines, but the country still has an estimated 2,557 square kilometres of land that remain contaminated by mines and unexploded ordnance. Some 530 villages lie within affected areas. Areas along the borders with Burma, Laos and Malaysia are also mined, General Kitti said.      “Although important, destroying landmine stockpiles is the easy part,” said UNDP Resident Representative Robert England. “The big challenge is clearing the mines that are still contaminating large areas, an impediment to people’s livelihoods as well as a danger to human life.” Once cleared of mines, land can be returned to viable economic use for further development of the country, he said.      Chonruthai Kaewrungrueng, a volunteer with the Thailand Campaign to Ban Landmines, said landmines remained a very real global threat and Thais could make a difference. He urged more Thai volunteers should join the global effort to rid the world of landmines.      According to the Landmine Monitor Report 2002, about 7,987 accidents involving landmines occurred worldwide in 2001, although the number of countries producing landmines had decreased from 55 to 14.      Three countries that stand out as producers are Egypt, South Korea and the United States, while the area that has seen the largest deployment of landmines in the last half decade is the Indian-Pakistani border.

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