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Landmines in Cambodia

Three decades of war in Cambodia have left scars in many forms throughout the country. Unfortunately, one of the most lasting legacies of the conflicts continues to claim new victims daily. Land mines, laid by the Khmer Rouge, the Heng Samrin and Hun Sen regimes, the Vietnamese, the KPNLF, and the Sihanoukists litter the countryside. In most cases, even the soldiers who planted the mines did not record where they were placed. Now, Cambodia has the one of the highest rates of physical disability of any country in the world. While census data for Cambodia is sketchy, it is generally accepted that more than 40,000 Cambodians have suffered amputations as a result of mine injuries since 1979. That represents an average of nearly forty victims a week for a period of twenty years.

Landmine victim The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there may be as many as four to six million mines and unexploded ordinances in Cambodia. In 1998, there were 1,249 known new casualties.

While the Khmer Rouge were the worst offenders, deliberately targeting the civilian population with mines and booby traps, all sides have shown blatant disregard for the long-term consequences of the use of mines. Furthermore, the blame extends beyond the warring factions. Their patrons... the Chinese, the Soviets, the Americans, and a host of smaller nations... continued to supply the weapons with callous indifference to the effects of their actions. The CMAC reports that mines found in Cambodia have been manufactured in the US, China, Vietnam, the former USSR and East Germany, the former Czechoslovakia, India, Chile, South and North Korea, Thailand, Iran, Iraq, South Africa, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Poland.

Regretably, the CMAC itself became embroiled in controversy earlier this year, when it was revealed that large amounts of land in southwestern Cambodia, cleared of mines at a cost of more than $1 million, was turned over to government officials, wealthy businessmen, and army generals. (Associated Press, 2/24/2000).

While it is believed that no military groups are still deploying mines, the devices are still being used in new and horrible ways: Civilians have used mines to protect property and settle disputes; poachers are reportedly using mines to hunt tigers, which are prized for use in medicines in neighboring Vietnam; and in once incident in 1998, police surrounded a forest with mines in order to capture a murder suspect who had hidden there. He emerged from the forest and stepped on a mine, and was then shot to death by police.

At the current rate of progress, it may take as many as 100 years to clear all the mines in Cambodia, and the UN estimates that with current technology, it will take nearly 1,100 years to clear all the mines in the world.

To read a letter from a victim of the landmines, click here.

Sources for this article:
Cambodia Mine Action Centre
Horrors Begging For Solutions
Conventional Arms Transfer Project Newswire

Other Recommended Sites:
Landmine Monitor - Cambodia Country Report

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