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Landmine/UXO victims higher than in 2001

Landmine/UXO victims higher than in 2001

Statistics from last year show no improvement in the numbers of people killed and

injured by landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO). And experts warned the final

figures were likely to show a higher casualty rate than 2001.

The Cambodia Mine/UXO Information System recorded that 828 people - more than two

a day - were killed or injured by mines and UXO between January and December 2002.

One in three were children.

Ray Worner, project advisor to Handicap International-Belgium (HI), said the final

figure would increase by around 30 people as information came in from outlying provinces.

Worner said the most worrying trend was the increase in the numbers injured by UXO.

Hunger and poverty, he said, were driving villagers to dismantle and sell metal from

UXO, or use the explosives for fishing.

"It is mostly for their livelihoods," he said. "A lot of the people

... were soldiers and they all have some training. These guys don't see it as dangerous.

Then they pick up something and it goes bang."

Of the 468 people killed or injured by UXO, more than half were tampering with the

device when it exploded. Worner said it was extremely difficult to change such behavior,

since villagers were reluctant to stop using explosives that improved their often

difficult lives.

"When you have the problem that villagers don't tell anyone, what can you do?"

he asked. "That is the mindset of the villagers. It can be looked at as a development

issue. When they have food, then they won't use the explosives."

He said another reason for the expected increase was that many people were settling

on new tracts of land.

"[There are] a lot of new villages," he said. "As they expand they

are going into heavily mined land."

But changes to the way some demining operators work could in future years cut the

number of victims. HI, in conjunction with the Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAC),

recently helped introduce Mine Risk Reduction Teams to high-risk areas.

Heng Ratana, deputy director-general of CMAC, said the idea was to raise awareness

in the communities so that demining teams only cleared areas regarded as essential

to villagers' lives and livelihoods.

"The overall aim is to reduce the casualty rates in high casualty areas,"

he said. "In order to do that we have to provide multi-skilled teams [which

will] raise awareness within the community, introduce permanent marking, and do limited

mine clearance."

CMAC began deploying teams last month to a targeted 500 villages in the most affected

provinces of Battambang and Banteay Meanchey. It hopes to reduce mine casualties

by as much as 50 percent by 2005.

Battambang province remained the worst hit last year with 182 casualties. That, however,

was down from 206 the previous year. Nationwide 145 people were killed. Another 210

were so badly injured that they required amputation, while the remaining 473 were

wounded but did not lose a limb.

Eleven of the 24 provinces reported more incidents, and eleven had fewer. Men accounted

for 61 percent of the casualties, women 6 percent, and children 33 percent.

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