Cambodia plans to send deminers to Ukraine “very soon” to train Ukrainians to clear mines, demining officials said Wednesday following a phone call between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We are in discussion, but it will be very soon and we plan to send them around next month,” said Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC).
“We are not waiting until the war is finished. We will go where we can work and be safe. We are not going into the war zone,” Ratana said.
CMAC had not confirmed the number of deminers to be sent, he added.
Ukraine has been at war since Russia invaded the country in February. Cambodia has voiced opposition to the invasion and support for Ukraine through both the United Nations and Asean.
During a phone conversation between Hun Sen and Zelensky on Tuesday, Hun Sen told the Ukrainian leader that Cambodia, with support from Japan, was “ready to dispatch deminers to help train Ukraine’s deminers at an appropriate time,” according to a Foreign Affairs Ministry statement released on Wednesday.
Since the invasion, Russian forces have used antipersonnel mines in at least four regions of Ukraine: Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv and Sumy, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have extensively used anti-vehicle mines (also called anti-tank mines) in at least six regions,” HRW said.
Casualties due to landmines have been reported during the eight-month conflict and new mine use has also resulted in denied access to civilian homes, infrastructure, transportation routes and agricultural lands, the rights watchdog said.
“Evidence indicates that agricultural production is being affected by the use of landmines in fields and on rural paths and roads,” it added.
During the Tuesday call with Zelensky, Hun Sen also proposed appointing ambassadors to each other’s countries, and expressed “his sympathy for the tragedy that has taken place in Ukraine,” as well as concern over the recent attacks on the capital Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.
The prime minister also reiterated Cambodia’s position on the war, stating that the country adheres to the U.N. Charter, and opposes “aggression, the threat of or use of force over sovereignty and the territorial integrity of an independent State, and does not support the secession or the annexation of territory by other countries.”
Zelensky said he had thanked Hun Sen for Cambodia’s support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including via U.N. resolutions.
He also assured Hun Sen that Ukraine “will remain the guarantor of food security for ASEAN countries,” according to a post on Zelensky’s Twitter page.
The U.S. has provided Ukraine with more than $17.5 billion in military assistance since the start of the Biden administration, including $625 million in additional arms, munitions and equipment announced in October. U.S. President Joe Biden will be in Phnom Penh next week to attend the Asean summit.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Chum Sounry said the Chinese delegation to the summit would be led by Premier Li Keqiang while the ministry had not received confirmation about which Russian leader would attend. President Vladimir Putin was invited and Hun Sen has said he is willing to facilitate talks between Russia and Ukraine.
The Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to emailed equations on Wednesday.
Ly Thuch, first vice president of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, told CamboJA that the mission by Cambodian deminers to train Ukrainians would not affect relations between Cambodia and Russia.
“Cambodia has more experience in demining, and we want to share the experience to help Ukrainians,” he said. “It is humanitarian assistance and Cambodia has sent thousands of deminers in the international framework and it is not related to political issues.”
Thuch said more than 8,000 Cambodian deminers have worked in seven countries in Africa and the Middle East since 2006.
Political analyst Meas Nee said Cambodia’s public pledge in support of Ukraine demonstrated Cambodia’s position to the international community.
“More or less, this will upset Russia, but Cambodia cannot choose both when we see that one thing is wrong,” Nee said, adding that Cambodia would likely also have talks with Russia.
During his call with Hun Sen, Zelensky had requested to deliver a video statement during the Asean summit and reiterated Ukraine’s desire to become an Asean Sectoral Dialogue Partner, according to the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry statement. Hun Sen said Cambodia would work with Asean member states so that Ukraine could become a dialogue partner.
Nee said Ukraine was seeking support from Asean during the gathering of the bloc’s leaders.
“In the situation, it is an opportunity for Ukraine to bring its concerns to the world, and this is not the first time for Zelensky to do so,” he said.