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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CMAC reports decrease in deaths, increase in money problems

CMAC reports decrease in deaths, increase in money problems

Anew report released by the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) has identified

the first substantial reduction in deaths due to landmines and unexploded

ordnance (UXO) since 2000.

The country has averaged 850 deaths a year

over the last five years, but final figures from January and February of 2006,

which total 119 for both months, indicate a dramatic decrease in the casualty

rate, said Khem Sophoan, Director General of CMAC.

He said that high risk

still exists for poverty-stricken Cambodians who collect UXO to sell for

recycling.

"I hope that the numbers of casualties by landmines and UXO

will continue to decrease in 2006," Sophoan told the Post on April 4.

He

said Prime Minister Hun Sen has said the government aims to reduce casualties to

zero by 2012, and the target date to rid the country completely of land mines is

2025.

According to Sophoan, the government expects that six modern

demining machines that will be imported to Cambodia from Japan in May will speed

up the clearance of mines and UXO.

On March 17, government officials and

the Japanese Ambassador signed a $3.88 million aid pact for the research and

development of mine clearance equipment and just over $900,000 for humanitarian

demining activities in six areas in Battambang province.

"I haven't seen

the machines yet, but I know they are modern and equipped with ground radar so

we can see mines on the computer screen," Sophoan said.

"At present we

use metal detectors and we search for mines/UXO by sound. Sometimes we find only

a nail or a metal fragment - and we lose time."

Japanese Ambassador

Takahashi Fumiaki said on March 17 that the development of new machines is

needed to further empower the demining activities and ensure safety for those

involved in the dangerous endeavor.

"I hope this project, by introducing

the new machines with high technology, will contribute to accelerating such

demining activities in Cambodia," Fumiaki said.

But despite the

encouraging findings and such technological advances, Sophoan said CMAC is

suffering financial problems. Donors suspended aid to CMAC in 2000 when it was

in a financial crisis because of allegations of corruption and fraud. But CMAC

officials said international assistance resumed after it implemented

across-the-board reforms.

Sophoan said CMAC has received about $8.7

million from donors such as the US, Japan, Germany and the Netherlands.

Australia and Canada contribute through the United Nations Development Program.

He added, however, that CMAC continues to post shortfalls of about $500,000 each

year because its annual budgetary requirements are between $9 million and $10

million.

He said a report made by the United Nations Transitional

Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in 1993 estimated that there were ten million

mines imported to Cambodia. A subsequent UN report in 1997 estimated six million

UXO, including mines.

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