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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 02:09 GMT
Angola's landmine legacy
By Adam Mynott
BBC correspondent in Angola

As an international conference in Nairobi considers the progress towards implementing a land mines treaty agreed five years ago, the BBC's Adam Mynott assesses the legacy of mines in war-ravaged Angola.

An Angolan landminer
Landmines will continue to maim Angolans for years to come
Nobody knows how many landmines lurk beneath the soil of Angola. Some experts say it may be somewhere between 500,000 and one million, others say there may be as many as six million.

Angola is among the worst land-mine affected countries in the world. The victims of anti-personnel devices are everywhere.

The worst affected province in Angola is Bie which bore the brunt of nearly 30 years of conflict between Angolan government forces and Unita rebels.

The war ended three years ago, so it is not surprising that much of the country is still in chaos and nearly half of the land in Angola is considered too dangerous to walk on.

Precise figures for landmine casualties are not known, but hundreds have been killed and perhaps as many as 80,000 injured.

De-mining organisations have been working in Angola since before the conflict ended in 2002.

Mine clearance

The British based Halo Trust has been there since 1994. "The situation is very severe, and presents us with a huge challenge," says the organisation's project head in Bie, Ally Batten.

"But we have been demining here for a decade and if we continue to get adequate funding then we can make this country largely safe within seven or eight years."

Funding is the key. Donors have been very generous pouring millions into the operations to rid Angola of mines.

But it is a painstaking, time-consuming operation. Deminers working in reasonable conditions can cover about 30 sq m a day.

Thousands of Angolans are having to grow used to living with a serious disability

Hundreds of square kilometres remain uncleared and, perhaps more importantly, many of the roads in Angola are still peppered with mines.

It is during the wet season that more mine accidents tend to happen. When the soil gets softer, drivers are tempted to leave the roads and drive on the verges to avoid water-filled pot-holes

Anti-personnel mines are indiscriminate killers. They are, of course, intended to maim and not to kill. Kill a soldier and he is out of the battle, maim him and his injuries will occupy three or four of his comrades as well.

Most of the victims are innocent civilians, like George Sajinga from Kuito. He lost a leg walking in the fields near his home.

He has been unable to work since. He has been fitted with a prosthetic limb, in a programme run by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kuito, the capital of Bie province.

Thousands of Angolans are having to grow used to living with a serious disability, many manage to continue to lead a remarkably normal life considering their disability.

More progress needed

At the landmines conference in Nairobi this week the international community will be urged to redouble its efforts to rid countries like Angola of landmines as quickly as possible.

Find out more about the global landmine problem

It is now five years since the Ottawa Landmine Convention was ratified. Progress has been good, but more remains to be done.

Since 1999 more than 150 countries have agreed to ban the use of landmines targeted at individuals - mines intended to destroy vehicles fall outside the convention.

In that same period tens of millions of stockpiled landmines have been destroyed before they could be planted in the ground and over 1,000 sq km of land has been cleared of five million mines.

The numbers are impressive and the commitment of signatories to the Ottawa Convention to rid the world of anti-personnel devices is far -reaching. But there is no room for complacency.

Three of the most world's powerful nations - the United States, China and Russia - have refused to sign the convention and it is estimated that 15 countries are still producing anti-personnel mines.

Angolan children play on a wrecked tank
The lengthy civil war casts a long shadow over Angola
Every day there are still dozens of landmine casualties, almost exclusively innocent civilians and many of them children.

In countries like Afghanistan, Cambodia and Angola, where people displaced by conflict are returning to their homes, the death and injury toll is very high.

There is also concern in some quarters that donor funding for mine clearance and, crucially, mine risk education and rehabilitation has fallen.

Legacy of mines in war-ravaged Angola

Meeting logs landmine progress
28 Nov 04 |  Africa
US promises 'safer' landmines
27 Feb 04 |  Americas

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