Mine Fatalities Said Down by Half in ’97

Mine and unexploded ordnance casualties in Cambodia decreased by 50 percent in 1997 from the previous year, according to a report released Friday by the Cambodian Red Cross.

The survey, which covered 90 percent of the mine affected areas in the country, showed casualties dropped to 1,353 in 1997, from 2,766 in 1996. That year, due to a large dry-season offensive, saw the highest numbers of deaths and injuries since 1979, according to David Hunsberger of Handi­cap International and a technical adviser for the Cambodian Red Cross Mine Incident Data Base Project.

He added that an interpretation of the survey indicates there is a correlation between fighting and mine casualties.

“Without new use [of mines]…there’s a radical decline in the number of incidents,” Hunsberger said at a press conference at the Cambodian Red Cross headquarters.

He noted that Kampot pro­vince, now stable, is one of the most highly saturated areas for mines in Cambodia, yet there were only 19 incidents there last year, compared to 425 in Battam­bang province where fighting continued.

The northwest provinces, Bat­tambang, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Siem Reap, account for 70 percent of all mine incidents in 1997, the report showed.

“These low levels of incidents [where old mines exist], shows that people learn to coexist with the mines,” he said.

Since Cambodia became a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty, which aims to ban land mines worldwide, the reduction in casualties “should be a fact of life from now on,” Hunsberger said.

Last year also saw a decline in deaths to 18 percent of the victims from its long-term average of 36 percent from 1979 to 1996. This he attributed to better medical care in rural areas.

Military-related casualties were a slight majority of the victims in 1997 at 52 percent, with 48 percent of the victims civilian. This figure reverses a trend that had civilians at 53 percent from 1979 to 1996, the report said. Death rates for civilians are higher at 21 percent, while 16 percent of military victims die. The report said the cause was most likely better medical care in the battle field.

Most victims are men. Women made of 10 percent of 1997 casualties, in line with previous years.

Data was collected by the Cambodian Red Cross and Mines Advisory Group, who hope to add previously off-limits areas such as Pailin, Phnom Malai, Anlong Veng and Preah Vihear province to the survey by the end of the year.

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