Updated January 9 at 1030 KST to include dates of the trip and comments from the ICRC.
A group of North Koreans from various organizations traveled to Cambodia in late December to exchange information and learn from that country’s experience clearing mines, bombs, and other remnants of war, according to a local government official who led the meetings.
“The International Red Cross has sponsored and lead a delegation of North Korea (sic)” to meet with the Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC), the organization’s Director General Ratana Heng said on January 2 in a post to a Facebook page documenting the organization’s activities.
“The delegation has a great interest in landmine and ERW (Explosive Remnants of War) clearance and in particular on aerial bomb technical clearances!” he added.
The Khmer Times reported that following his initial post, Heng stressed that the two countries were not preparing to carry out joint activities on the matter and that the exchanges were strictly educational.
“We didn’t talk about providing assistance, we only exchanged information,” Heng said, according to the Khmer Times. “The delegation was very interested in how we are doing clearings.”
The ICRC later clarified the group stayed in Cambodia from December 17-21, with a representative telling NK News the organization led a program “in strictly humanitarian activities.”
The focus of the program was “on training on safe removal of explosive remnants from the 1950-1953 Korean war and on prevention of accidents for operators and the civilian population living in hazardous areas,” said Graziella Leite Piccoli, ICRC Communications and Public Relations representative for Asia.
“The legacy of this war continues affecting the population. During flooding these ordinances surface. Thus, the danger and casualties you still read” about, she added.
During the training, which the ICRC said was held for senior members of the DPRK’s Ministry of People’s Security, individuals were familiarized with “concepts and best practices on usage of magnetometers used for detection of unexploded ordnance (UXO),” and were expected to then train others back in North Korea following their return.
In addition to education on detection and removal of dangerous remnants of war, the ICRC is also focused on training in “medical blast trauma care and general risk awareness.”
“The UN sanctions committee (UN/SC/1718) is fully aware of our activities in DPRK,” Leite Piccoli emphasized.
Images Heng posted to Facebook show two members from the ICRC, a group from CMAC, and at least seven North Koreans taking part in the meetings.
Among the North Koreans were Choe Ju Song from the ICRC Pyongyang Mission, Kim Jong Ho from the DPRK Red Cross, Song Kwang Nam from the Ministry of People’s Security, and head of a Pyongyang explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) unit Kim Kyong Ryong.
Representing the ICRC were Johnny Thomsen of the Regional Weapon Contamination Delegates for Asia and another unidentified individual.
Photos showed members from all sides participating in formal and informal talks and touring an exhibition hall while visiting the CMAC headquarters in Phnom Penh.
The North Korean participants could be seen talking with the ICRC delegates while inspecting a decommissioned bomb, as well as accepting a plaque from CMAC Director General Heng.
The technical cooperation between Cambodian and North Korean officials with the assistance of the ICRC appears to be part of ongoing efforts, begun between the ICRC and the DPRK in 2015.
NK News interviewed an ICRC spokesperson in December 2017, who said the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee in charge of North Korea confirmed in October 2015 their “proposed project for the development of domestic capacity in the [DPRK] for the conduct of safe and effective humanitarian explosive ordnance disposal” did not violate sanctions.
An ICRC Weapon Contamination (WeC) Unit, including Thomsen, then traveled to North Korea in November 2017 to train local EOD police teams in management and disposal of UXOs.
North Korea and Cambodia were both the targets of massive aerial bombing campaigns by the U.S. during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the North claims over 5000 incidents leading to more than 16,000 casualties have resulted from remaining UXOs from the Korean War.
The two countries have a long history of close relations, first established in the 1960s before being disrupted by the Khmer Rouge, then rekindled in the 1990s. Both maintain embassies in each other’s capitals.
Sharing experience and knowhow in clearing remnants of war presents a natural opportunity for cooperation for the two, Caroline Kearney, Korean Peninsula program manager for the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies based in Cambodia, told NK News.
Kearney said relations between the two states are not as close as they have been in the past, but that there continue to be “regular exchanges at governmental and nongovernmental levels,” with DPRK passports eligible to receive on-arrival visas and “a few hundred DPRK citizens currently living in Cambodia.”
The recent cooperation “demonstrates the DPRK’s interest in improving their demining capabilities, which could be indicative of their willingness to enter into future inter-Korean agreements to demine additional portions of the DMZ,” she aded.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Ratana Heng, Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC)
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 886 words of this article.