Mine Casualty Numbers Drop to New Low

The number of people injured or killed by land mines and other explosive devices has hit a three-year low, according to a report issued by the Mine Incident Database Project.

The group—which gathers da­ta from the Cambodian Red Cross, Unicef, Handicap Inter­national and the Mines Advisory Group—recorded 54 casualties for the month of October. That is the lowest number since the group started compiling the statistics in 1996.

Mine experts say the re­duction can be attributed to the end of hostilities in many regions.

“The fighting is decreased,” said Ream Phally, the surveying coordinator at MAG. “And people don’t have to move so much.”

Compilers of the statistics are unsure whether the decline can also be connected to demining or a reduction in the amount of new mines being laid, but they are reasonably sure that the reduction in the fighting is key.

“When there is fighting, that means there is displacement of the local population,” said David Hun­sberger, technical adviser for Handicap International.

“When there is displacement of the local population, that means that they are going to wander into areas which they normally wouldn’t be in and therefore they are vulnerable and therefore they become more likely to be mine victims.”

The reduction in casualties as compared to previous months is also due to the fact that October is part of the rainy season. There are always more casualties during the dry season which runs ap­proximately from January to May. The numbers for October, however, are also low compared to previous rainy seasons. Sixty-seven casualties were recorded for October 1997 and 133 were recorded for October 1996.

The compilers are waiting to see if the numbers continue to fall during the coming dry season be­fore deciding whether the number of casualties caused by land mines and other unexploded devices is truly in decline.

“If we get through January, February, March this year, and we continue this low level of incidence, that will really mark a turning point in the mine incident situation in Cambodia,” Huns­berger said.

The report also recorded a higher percentage of casualties caused by UXOs—unexploded ordinances—rather than mines, because farmers are experiencing a difficult time. UXOs include any kind of unexploded ammunition left over from war.

“[Farmers] are turning to alternative sources of income and therefore to more tampering as a result,” said Hunsberger. “Inci­dents with UXOs are also increasing because people are going into areas they wouldn’t normally try and cultivate.”

Tampering includes attempts to salvage UXOs for scrap and using unexploded bombs for fishing. Tampering with explosives is currently the leading activity that causes causalities.

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