Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Killing fields still deadly

Colin Burke
The Daily Iowan (Iowa, USA)

The lands of Cambodia still lay littered with land mines - posing danger to the lives of millions in the Southeast Asian country.

Alexis Bushnell, who worked with the Cambodia Mine Action Centre in 2005, said that beginning in 1975, the Khmer Rogue regime placed an "astronomical number" of the mines - designed to maim and kill people and even destroy tanks.

During her talk at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., on Monday, she detailed the improvements in life for Cambodians and the lingering costs that residents have to pay for the years under the communist government.

"The situation isn't this great for a lot of the people, still," said Bushnell, a program associate with the UI Center for Human Rights.

Before the Khmer Rouge assumed control, the Viet Cong laid many of the concealed munitions in 1965, followed by more undetonated bombs from the United States, Bushnell said.

Roughly 50,000 tons of unexploded bombs and 3.75 million undetonated small munitions from cluster bombs remain, according to the United Nations.

Extracting the mines can cost up to $3,000 each, Bushnell said.

Despite the costs, recent figures from the Mine Action Centre show progress is taking place.

Nearly 311,000 antipersonnel mines and almost 5,600 antitank mines were removed between 1992-2005.

But despite the progress, Bushnell said, the nearly 14 million people in Cambodia still pay a high personal and economic price.

The CIA World Factbook shows that 75 percent of the labor force is based in agriculture, and the mines can endanger agrarian efforts, Bushnell said. Most Cambodians only earn the equivalent of $300 per year.

The most recent U.N. figures show that nearly half of all Cambodian villages are affected by the explosives, with 875 people either injured or killed in 2005 and 300 accidents reported in the first half of 2006.

But when asked how the general population felt about the situation, Bushnell said people are not expecting sympathy.

"They don't want pity," she said. "They just want people to learn more about their issues."

E-mail DI reporter Colin Burke at: colin-burke@uiowa.edu

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