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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia remains riddled with mines

Cambodia remains riddled with mines

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Last year 1,019 Cambodians were killed or maimed by landmines

AFTER years of mine clearing, Cambodia remains one of the most heavily landmine-affected

countries in the world.

This is one of the conclusions in the Landmine Monitor Report 2000 that was released

by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) on September 7.

Among other factors, the report states that 1,019 Cambodians were killed or maimed

by landmines last year - a casualty rate only rivaled by Afghanistan and Burma.

Nevertheless, this is a significant decrease from 1,715 landmine victims in 1998

and 3,047 in 1996.

The Landmine Monitor Report is an international survey of humanitarian mine clearance

and assistance to victims in landmine-affected countries. It also looks at the worldwide

implementation of the 1997 Ottawa treaty that banned the use, production and sale

of landmines.

Cambodia is among the 138 signatories to the treaty. In the report, the Cambodian

Government gets good grades for its efforts to implement the many aspects of the

treaty.

Cambodia enacted national legislation to ratify the treaty last year. Since February

1999 no evidence has been found of production of new mines, and military and police

forces continue destruction of their landmine stockpiles.

Mine clearing activities in Cambodia are also among the most intensive in the world.

However, the clearing of minefields is painstakingly slow. In 1999, 11.8 square kilometers

of land was cleared, making a total of 155 square kilometers of cleared land since

1994. But 644 square kilometers are still known to be mined and another 1,400 square

kilometers are suspected to contain mines.

Country Program Manager Archie Law from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), one of Cambodia's

three major demining agencies, acknowledges that despite all the efforts, Cambodia

will be affected by landmines for many years to come.

"There is no doubt that this is a long-term problem. Very large amounts of mines

were laid down in Cambodia, particularly in the 1980s, and clearing the country of

them is an almost infinite task," Law says.

At the same time, Law says the clearing of new land can be significantly sped up

with the deployment of more machinery to assist the human deminers. They often spend

a lot of time preparing a minefield for clearing by cutting away bushes and undergrowth

and picking up pieces of metal hidden in the topsoil.

MAG recently deployed two brushcutting machines and found that they increased the

mine clearing productivity by 50 to 70 percent. The organization hopes to deploy

another three brushcutters and is looking into fitting the machines with magnets

that can gather up a lot of the topsoil metal.

"We can't really do without manual mine clearance. But we can make the work

of the deminers more efficient by ensuring that they don't have to spend so much

time on 'gardening' and looking for metal. Instead they can concentrate on actually

clearing the mines," Law says.

According to the Landmine Monitor Report's Cambodian chapter, Battambang province

is the most heavily mine-affected region of Cambodia, followed by other northern

and northwestern provinces.

Local statistics show that Sala Krau district in Pailin has the highest casualty

rate - since January 1999 54 people of a population of 7,106 were killed or maimed

by landmines. Next on the list is Samlot district in Battambang with 199 casualties

among a population of 22,297.

But while the demining agencies have all pulled out of the southern provinces, mine

incidents still occur there - though not as frequently as in the northern parts of

the country. Kampot, for instance, has had eight mine casualties this year and Kampong

Speu nine, compared with 170 in Battambang and 81 in Banteay Meanchey.

"There really is no demining capacity in the south any more," says Law.

"We pulled out of Kampong Speu last month and moved our units to Preah Vihear.

They still have a landmine problem in Kampong Speu, but the need for new cleared

land is much larger in Preah Vihear. We have to make an assessment of where the urgency

for demining is biggest, but it is a very difficult decision to make."

He also points out that Cambodia may never be completely free of landmines:

"In Europe they still find mines from World War II today. In Cambodia we will

one day reach the point where there is an acceptable level of casualties and where

the population has enough access to rural land. The big problem is how to define

when the situation is acceptable, to decide where to draw the line."

Facts and figures

Landmine findings from the worldwide Landmine Monitor Report 2000:

  • 88 countries are affected by landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXOs)
  • 71 countries have had landmine victims since March 1999. In Cambodia 1,019 people

    were maimed or killed by landmines in 1999.

  • Cambodia remains one of the world's most heavily mined countries, together with

    Mozambique, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burma, Croatia and Afghanistan. A recent US State

    Department report estimated the number of mines in Cambodia at four to six million.

  • In 1999, seven of the largest demining programs cleared a total of more than

    168 square kilometers of land worldwide. 11.8 square kilometers were cleared in Cambodia.

  • Since December 1997, 50 countries have destroyed 22 million mines. RCAF has destroyed

    98,600 mines since 1994 and destruction continues.

  • 138 countries have signed the 1997 Ottowa treaty, banning the use and production

    of landmines. 101 countries have ratified the treaty, among them Cambodia. The three

    largest members of the UN Security Council, USA, Russia and China, have not signed

    the treaty.

  • 250 million anti-personnel mines remain stockpiled in 100 countries. China alone

    allegedly has 110 million.

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