The area cleared of land mines and unexploded remnants of war reached 31 square km for the first 11 months of 2009, surpassing the three previous yearly totals, which hovered at around 27 square km, according to data from the Cambodian Mine Action Center.
The increase was due to a combination of training in new methods of mine clearance and a flexible application of clearance tools, CMAC’s Director of Operations and Planning Oum Sang Onn said.
“Last year more and more teams had freedom on the spot, making decisions in the field on what tools to use,” Mr Sang Onn said. “The multiple-tool method allows them to speed up the process,” he said.
“This year we’re expecting to get somewhere around 36 square km” cleared, he added.
After years of practice, including a burst of training in 2008, CMAC teams are now skilled at using everything from mine detection dogs to bulldozer-like bush cutters that unearth and safely detonate mines and UXOs, Mr Sang Onn said.
Although the amount of land de-mined increased last year, the number of mines that were actually cleared decreased, from 26,206 separate mines in 2008 to 18,046 for the first 11 months of 2009. Mr Sang Onn said this may be because most of the heavily-mined areas of the country have already been cleared.
In contrast, the number of cleared UXOs increased from 114,101 in 2008 to 122,557 in the first 11 months of 2009, which Mr Sang Onn said was a result of continued efforts to teach villagers to report the locations of mines and UXO, and of more UXO-clearance teams being deployed beginning in 2008.
Most mines are found in the northwest of the country, with Battambang province having the largest share, Mr Sang Onn said. UXO are spread across the country, he said, a result of bombing in the east and ground fighting in the west.
Casualties of mines and UXO have declined steadily over the years, according to the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System, dropping from 450 in 2006 to 352 in 2007 to 271 in 2008. Figures for 2009 have yet to be published.