Afghanistan: mine clerance making good progress


Kabul : Mine clearance agencies have made “unprecedented progress” in clearing the country of mines, according to the head of the UN Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (UNMACA).

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The agencies had demolished 38,294 anti-personnel landmines, 419 anti-tank mines and over 957,000 explosive remnants of war over the past six months, Haider Reza, the director of UNMACA, told reporters in Kabul on 21 July.

He noted that 389,000 anti-personnel landmines had been neutralised in the 18 years since mine clearance work began.

The monthly number of landmine victims – dead and injured – declined in June to 24, compared to an average of about 40 in previous months.

“If each mine [normally] causes one death, then we have saved the lives of 38,294 people,” Reza said.

About 70,000 Afghans, mostly children, have been killed and/or maimed by landmines over the past 18 years, UNMACA said.

Landmines were planted all over Afghanistan after the former Soviet Union invaded in December 1979. Thousands of mines were also laid when Mujahedin parties embarked on internecine fighting in the 1990s.

Afghanistan destroyed its last formal landmine stockpile in 2007 and has made a commitment not to produce, use, or stockpile anti-personnel landmines, in accordance with the Ottawa Convention. The country is also committed to rid its territory of mines by 2013.

However, worsening insecurity and repeated attacks on demining organisations have affected mine-clearing efforts, officials say.

In the past eight months 11 deminers were killed and nine injured in several deliberate armed attacks, UNMACA said.

“Insecurity is a major challenge for us… If security further deteriorates and impedes mine clearance activities, we will not be able to meet the 2013 target,” UNMACA’s Reza said.

About four million Afghans are still living in 2,286 communities contaminated by landmines, UNMACA’s statistics show.

The Interior Ministry has accused Taliban insurgents of planting new landmines, and causing death and injury to many civilians.

Three schoolchildren were reportedly killed and four wounded in a landmine explosion in the Gerishk District of Helmand Province (southern Afghanistan) on 20 July, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

No Taliban spokesperson was available to comment on charges that the Taliban are laying new landmines.

Reza said his organisation did not have “facts and figures” to confirm whether new landmines were being planted by anti-government elements, but he acknowledged “indirect reports” about landmine casualties in areas where the problem had not been reported in the past.

UNMACA called on all warring parties, and specifically the Taliban, to respect Afghanistan’s commitment to the Ottawa Convention and “stop planting new landmines”.