Trudeau pledges $1 million for clearing landmines, cluster bombs in Cambodia, Laos

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrapped up the first leg of his trip to Southeast Asia by announcing nearly $1 million to help clear the region of unexploded landmines and cluster bombs.

As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit wrapped up in Cambodia, he pledged $990,000 at an event focused on women in security.

The funding will support grassroots and government programs in Cambodia and Laos to clear unexploded ordnance from U.S. bombing during the civil and Vietnam wars.

“When the land is cleared, not only are people safer and children can play, but the land can be used for agriculture and development,” Trudeau said during a roundtable with local groups focusing on women’s participation in peacebuilding.

For decades, Canada has urged countries in the region to stop using these types of munitions and to fund remediation. The 1997 Ottawa Treaty sought to ban the production of anti-personnel landmines and commit to remediation, a commitment accepted by most, but not all, countries.

The funding will support Laos’ first dedicated national demining team and support grassroots groups such as Self-Help Demining in Cambodia.

Bill Morse, a former U.S. soldier who helped the group during the Vietnam War, said Trudeau’s statement goes against a trend of people thinking that landmines are no longer a problem.

“Canada’s commitment to continuing funding, when we’re almost done and everyone else here is cutting funding, is a big step in the right direction,” Morse said.

Cambodia could be free of landmines by 2025 if local organizations have enough resources, he said.

Instead, cluster bombs sunk into the ground decades ago still maim farmers, while mines designed to hit vehicles and tanks remain unexploded until something heavy rolls over them.

Landmines kill about 50 people in Cambodia each year, down from thousands in the 1990s, Morse said.

“If we had 50 people blown up by landmines all over Canada, we’d pour all the money we could put into the Canadian Army to clean these things up,” he said.

Landmines continue to be used in conflicts around the world, including by Russian and Ukrainian troops, and Cambodian groups help train Ukrainians to restore land.

Trudeau called it “a real example of countries coming together and learning from it.”

Earlier in the day, Trudeau met with leaders of the ASEAN bloc, who praised him for making Southeast Asia the focus of Canada’s forthcoming Indo-Pacific strategy.

He also met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during the summit, and both praised the connections made by the country’s large diaspora in Canada.

Trudeau also visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which documents casualties of the Khmer Rouge regime.

“Human beings are capable of committing unspeakable evils on each other — forgetting or ignoring the fundamental humanity in all of us — and this is something we must continue to be reminded of,” Trudeau said, to prevent future atrocities.

Later in the day, he said China’s mistreatment of the Uighur minority could amount to genocide, but an ongoing investigation by international experts should distinguish that.

The House of Commons voted in October to recognize that the Uyghurs “face ongoing genocide,” with Trudeau’s cabinet abstaining.

Trudeau’s visit to Cambodia, accompanied by Foreign Minister Melanie Jolly and International Trade Minister Mary Wu, included the announcement of $333 million in projects related to the looming Indo-Pacific strategy.

The Liberals will leave the summit with an ASEAN pledge to elevate Canada as a strategic partner, the group’s highest level in a country outside Southeast Asia.

On Monday, Trudeau will travel to Indonesia for the G20 leaders’ summit on Monday.

Dylan Robertson, Canadian Press

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