More than 16,000 Cambodians were killed by land mines and unexploded ordnance between 1979 and 2000, according to a report from the Cambodian Red Cross and Handicap International Belgium.
The report, to be released in the coming weeks, counted 50,915 casualties during the time period. It recorded 170 deaths from land mines and UXOs in 2000 and found that mine/UXO casualties steadily declined between 1997 and 2000, following a peak in 1996, when there were 4,127 casualties. That was the highest number since 1979—the year the Khmer Rouge were overthrown—when there were 4,493 reported casualties.
There were 2,048 casualties in 1997; 2,012 in 1998; 1,097 in 1999 and 832 in 2000. Among the 662 people who suffered nonfatal injuries in 2000, 38 percent resulted in amputations. The report was compiled by 150 volunteers working with full-time Cambodian Red Cross staff based in every province and municipality, activists said.
Local officials, soldiers, hospital staff, policemen, villagers and relatives of mine/UXO victims act as a network of informants for the survey, which is called the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System.
The tracking of casualties, whether an injury or a death occurred last month or 15 years ago, is ongoing. Cambodian Red Cross staffers continue to learn about mine/UXO accidents that occurred in the early 1980s, when Vietnamese and government troops established the “K5” land mine belt along the Thai border to prevent incursions from Khmer Rouge rebels.
Because information on casualties can take months, or even years, to reach authorities, the latest report is updated only through 2000. Previous reports were released in 1998 and 2000.
The survey searches for patterns in mine/UXO accidents. It shows the ratio of casualties among children and adults, soldiers and civilians, and men and women. It documents what victims were doing when they were injured, where the injuries and deaths occurred and at what time of year the incidents took place. It also reports on the quality of care victims received in the hours after the accident.
Between 1997 and 2000, Battambang province suffered by far the most, with about 1,000 land mine casualties and more than 300 UXO casualties.
Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Banteay Meanchey and Pursat provinces all incurred approximately 500 land mine casualties during that time period. Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham and Banteay Meanchey reported between 100 and 200 UXO casualties between 1997 and 2000. More casualties occurred in Battambang’s Samlot district (44) than in any other district in 2000. Sala Krau district in Pailin suffered 36 casualties, which is 5 percent of its residents.
Military personnel suffered 7 percent of the land mine/UXO accidents in 2000. Civilian casualties remain at levels similar to the years 1986 to 1991, which indicates a continuing need for mine education among civilians, the report said. Just 15 percent of land mine/UXO victims in 2000 had received mine awareness education, according to the report.
The report also found a need for more health care services in Anlong Veng district in Oddar Meanchey, Svay Chek district in Banteay Meanchey and Samlot and Ratanak Mondol districts in Battambang—areas with high death rates from land mine/UXO accidents. Ten percent of victims who do not receive care within two hours of the accident die, the report found. Forty percent undergo amputation if they do not get medical attention within two hours.
Between 1997 and 2000, casualties increased at the end of the rice harvest. That’s because most rural Cambodians seek other sources of income during the dry season, such as entering potentially mine-infested forests to collect wood, the report said.
The Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System was started by the Mines Advisory Group in 1994 and has since expanded from six provinces to the entire country. The report will be sent to more than 700 organizations, which will use the data for planning road and school building projects and to determine which areas need greater attention. The project is run primarily by the Cambodian Red Cross, and eventually it will take over the entire survey, said Handicap International project adviser Ray Worner.