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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Conflict adds to mine woes

Conflict adds to mine woes

WHILE representatives from Cambodia and over 100 other nations meet in Oslo to push

for a treaty to ban the use of landmines, new mines are being laid in the northern

Cambodia.

Aid workers and others returning from the Samrong/O'Smach area confirm that new mines

are being placed. However, most of the devices are basic, badly disguised anti-personnel

mines which are not highly dangerous, according to Piers Zog of the Halo Trust demining

agency.

"All the mines we have seen have been only improvised mines... only on the edges

of the road," said Zog. During his three-day survey of the area between Samrong

and Kong Kriel - roughly halfway to O'Smach on Rt 68 - his team cleared160 mines.

"They're fairly crap and very, very easy to find," he added.

He indicated that the mines had been manufactured and laid by the resistance forces,

but could not say whether they were produced by the Khmer Rouge or by Funcinpec.

Almost all were placed in tall grass alongside Rte 68 to aid in ambushes of advancing

CPP troops, Zog said.

The 30cm mines, containing 1.5kg of explosives, sit on the ground, covered in foliage,

with an electric wire leading to a pressure plate 30cm away. Their simplistic design

makes them injurious but "not particularly dangerous," said Zog, since

the fragments tend to explode vertically and the victim is at a distance from the

mine.

"I spoke to three soldiers who had trodden on them. They only had superficial

fragmentation damage to their upper bodies," he reported.

Representatives of the anti-Hun Sen resistance have freely admitted that mines are

their main form of defense. "We have laid a lot of mines... In five minues,

we can lay 10 to 15 mines," one said last week.

It is unclear how many victims mines have claimed in the fighting. A recent visitor

to two Siem Reap hospitals, where the more badly injured from the O'Smach area are

usually taken, saw about 20 people, soldiers and civilians, with mine injuries.

Medical and aid workers are concerned at the prospect of refugees returning to the

Samrong/O'Smach areas through newly-laid mines.

"I am afraid they will go back and clear their rice fields limb by limb and

leg by leg," said Friedrun Medert, Head of Delegation of the International Committee

of the Red Cross.

Piers Zog acknowledged the fear. "We know there are new mines around O'Smach,"

he said. "This will mean problems for repatriation on Route 68 north of Kong

Kriel."

While Zog said that he had "no reason to suspect that the government forces

are doing it," a freelance photographer reported seeing CPP soldiers laying

the same type of mines in early August.

Tea Chamrath, Co-Defense Minister, said he had no knowledge of either government

or resistance troops laying the devices. "Mines? I don't know about that."

he said.

Ieng Mouly, Minister of Information and president of the Cambodian Mine Action Center,

led a Cambodian delegation to the Oslo conference. A draft law to ban mines has been

presented to the Council of Ministers, but has not yet progressed to the National

Assembly for a vote.

On August 18, a group of five NGOs sent a letter to the Council of Ministers expressing

concern about press reports of new landmine use by government soldiers.

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