Casualties from land mines and unexploded ordnance have plummeted in the past two months, after provincial authorities discouraged scrap metal buyers from purchasing the valuable, but potentially deadly devices, an official said Wednesday.
Kem Sophoan, director of the Cambodian Mine Action Committee, explained that due to an increase in the price of scrap metal, casualties for the first five months of 2004 were the highest he had seen since the early 1990s. But after pressing authorities to address the scavenging issue, he said, the number of reported casualties dropped dramatically over the past two months.
“I have asked the provincial governors and authorities at all levels to fine scrap buyers or confiscate any UXO scrap,” he said. “That is why they are afraid to buy.”
Although prices for scrap metal remain high—about $0.25 per kg—the market for unexploded ordnance has been discouraged, subsequently leading to a decline in scavenging, Kem Sophoan said.
The Cambodian Red Cross reported 68 casualties in June and July, down to almost half of the 118 casualties reported during the same two months in 2003.
“I am very happy that UXO casualties have decreased significantly due to our measures, because before I was shocked,” Kem Sophoan said.
In the first four months of 2004 the Cambodian Red Cross reported 457 casualties from unexploded ordnance, 91 of which were fatal.
Kem Sophoan said that Kompong Speu, Svay Rieng, Kandal and Battambang provinces bore the brunt of the abnormally high casualty rate.
While scavenging for unexploded ordnance seems to have decreased, Kem Sophoan said, children and farmers are still particularly prone to accidents.
“Children like to play with UXO…. And some farmers hit UXO when they clear their land,” he said.
The UN Children’s Fund released a statement Monday that noted: “Land mines and UXO are a danger to nearly half of all villages in Cambodia,” and called on regional governments to redouble their efforts in the fight against conflict-related casualties.