Cambodia has marked 64 years since it gained independence as the US announced it would withdraw funding for de-mining operations.
The country, which was under French rule for almost a century, declared self-rule on November 9, 1953, and doves and balloons were released at the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh this week.
The French took over in 1867, taking charge of Cambodia as a protectorate after exploiting ongoing fears about aggression from neighbouring Thailand.
King Norodom Sihanouk declared independence from France in 1953 after seizing power a year earlier in a bloodless coup, but maintained good relations with Paris.
Reflecting subsequent decades of bloodshed, around 70 per cent of the population is under 30 and the number of Cambodians has almost doubled since the turn of the century.
After independence, Cambodia entered an era of US dominance resulting in vast quantities of ordnance being dropped on the country during the Vietnam war.
Around US$2 million was reportedly being invested in clearing the explosive remnants from America’s war in the region and the subsequent civil war with the Khmer Rouge.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said he would continue funding the operations.
The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) and Norwegian People’s Aid, which administer the US money, say they did not know why the funding was being cut.
CMAC Director General Heng Ratana said the money covered the salaries of about 300 staff, many of whom cleared mines.
Ratana, however, added that the government would fill the US$2 million annual funding gap and continue its programme.
“I don’t know what the real dispute [is about]. We just present the facts and we work together; they never indicated any dispute that we have had, but suddenly they cut the aid,” he said.
“But we are very lucky that the government, the head, the prime minister, granted approval that he will maintain our operation as usual so that means it has no impact on our operation,” he said, adding that funding would not be affected until next year.
The United States had a moral obligation to clear up the bombs it dropped on Cambodia during the war, Ratana said, adding that the government would allow ordnance and mine removal programmes to continue without any cuts in staff.
Cambodians still pay the price for the US carpet-bombing missions. Picture credit Wikimedia