At Present Rate, Demining Would Take 300 Years CAMBODIA: A CASE STUDY

By Matthew Lee, | The Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 1994 | Go to article overview

At Present Rate, Demining Would Take 300 Years CAMBODIA: A CASE STUDY


Matthew Lee,, The Christian Science Monitor


PERHAPS no other country symbolizes the worldwide land-mine problem better than Cambodia.

More than 20 years of conventional and guerrilla warfare relying heavily on land mines has left Cambodia reeling in poverty and grim mine statistics. One in every 236 Cambodians - or a total of 35,000 - has lost a limb or limbs to one of the estimated 7 million antipersonnel mines scattered across the country. Eight Cambodians a day are killed or maimed by mines, exacting a huge economic cost in lost wages and care.

At the current rate of clearance, Cambodia will not be totally demined for another 300 years, leaving thousands of acres of arable land unusable for generations.

"We must not accept this horrible fact of death," says Australian Justice Michael Kirby, the UN special representative for human rights in Cambodia. "We must make sure that these terrible instruments of death are made a thing of the past."

While an enforced universal ban might put an end to Cambodia's future problems, it would not solve its current challenges, which are exacerbated by their continued use by both the government and Khmer Rouge rebels. A government plan to unilaterally stop using mines has not progressed since it was proposed following Mr. Kirby's visit.

On Oct. 2, King Norodom Sihanouk appealed to both Khmer Rouge guerrillas and the government to stop laying land mines. "I ask that the use and placement of land mines ... be very severely and definitively condemned."

In the meantime, mine-clearance teams, sponsored by international relief organizations, the UN, and foreign governments, are working overtime.

While they were not involved with actual mine clearance, a group of US soldiers Sept. 23 completed a two-month demining course with Army troops, the first US military training program in the country since the early 1970s. The goal was to teach the Cambodians the techniques to operate clearance programs themselves. …

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