The number of land-mine victims is expected to increase as refugees from Thai border camps return to the heavily mined Samlot area, aid officials said.
The Cambodia Mine Action Center has cleared only an 18 km stretch of the repatriation route from Chong Khao Phlu camp on the Thai border to the UN reception center in O’Ta Teak village in the southwestern district of Samlot, officials said.
Mines have not been removed from most of Samlot, where CMAC identified 34 mine fields, totaling 6,900 hectares, officials said.
About 12,800 people are returning to Samlot from Trat in the voluntary repatriation assisted by UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
It is expected that all the refugees will be back within six weeks, before the planting season is over.
About a dozen mine accidents have happened in Samlot since January, according to aid agencies. Most victims were civilians.
No figures for previous months in Samlot could be obtained Wednesday.
But the sudden influx of refugees means more mine victims, officials say.
“Accidents are already happening,” said Susanne Elofsson, medical coordinator of Emergency, an Italian aid group that has a clinic for mine victims at the UNHCR processing center in Samlot.
CMAC considers Samlot a priority, said planning director Oum Sang Onn.
In addition to six demining platoons already in its Battambang unit, another eight platoons with 240 demining experts are to be deployed from Kampot to help open areas in Samlot, he said.
However, it is not realistic to expect all the mine fields to be cleared within months. Authorities will determine within a few days the priorities for demining, Oum Sang Onn said. “Demining takes time. It can’t respond to the rapid repatriation,” said Chab Vibol of Mine Advisory Group’s Battambang office.
But the dangers of land mines do not seem to discourage refugees.
Att Sok, a returnee from a Thai camp, said that she knows resettling in Samlot is risky because her house is still surrounded by mine fields.
“If I try to go to the forest or walk in the back yard a few meters away from my house, I could have lost my leg or even my life,” she said as she worked to fix her half-destroyed house. “But even if I die of a land mine in Cambodia, it’s better than living in the Thai camp.”
© 1999 – 2013, All rights reserved.