The number of injuries and deaths caused by land mines and unexploded ordnance jumped to 103 in March, the most reported in one month since May 1999, according to a report.
The number of incidents is 11 percent higher than in March 2000. The total of reported incidents from January to March reached 264, according to the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System Monthly Mine/UXO Victim Report for March 2001.
Out of the 103 injuries and deaths in March, 101 involved civilians and 2 involved military personnel, the report said.
“The reason this number is high in March is because there are many more people going into the forest to forage and collect wood,” said Hum Sophon, director of the program department at the Cambodian Red Cross. “This has nothing to do with new mines being laid—these are all existing mines that people step on.”
The number of people hurt by land mines and unexploded ordnance has been consistently higher during February, March and April than during any other time of the year, Hum Sophon said. Harvesting of crops, searching for firewood and increased traveling within the country all contributes to the increase in land mine injuries in these months.
A single mine incident near Sihanoukville that injured eight people is also a factor in the unusually high number of land mine injuries in March, said Eric Debert, coordinator for the Mine Department of Handicap International.
Battambang province continued to lead the nation in land mine and unexploded ordnance injuries, with 30 injuries and deaths in March compared with 18 in February 2001. Banteay Meanchey is the second most affected province, reporting 19 victims in March, compared to seven in February 2001.
The Cambodia Mine Action Center, the country’s largest demining group, which was forced to lay off close to 2,000 employees last November due to money shortages, currently has 1,000 deminers deployed in Battambang, Khem Sophoan, director general of CMAC, said.
There are an estimated 6 million land mines buried in Cambodia.
A study on the extent of demining in Cambodia is currently being conducted through a Canadian project called the Level One Survey. A team of four Canadians and 95 Cambodians will produce a detailed map by January 2002 of what has and still needs to be done.
So far, the team has completed surveys of Pursat, Battambang, Pailin, Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey and Banteay Meanchey provinces.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)