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Sunday, 28 July, 2002, 01:29 GMT 02:29 UK
Afghanistan's landmine legacy
Mine clearance operations in Afghanistan
A mine-free Afghanistan is many years away
BBC News Online's Marcus George

Widespread fighting may have finally come to an end in Afghanistan, but the threat of landmines still casts a dark shadow across the country.

Renewed focus on the issue comes as an anti-landmine conference which opens on Sunday in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Organisers of this Sunday's conference are hoping Afghan authorities will sign the treaty
Organisers hope Afghan authorities will back the ban
The event, run by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), will be hosted by Afghanistan's new transitional government.

Organisers of the conference aim to put pressure on the Afghan Government to sign the 1997 Ottawa Treaty which bans the use, stockpiling and sale or transfer of landmines.

Landmines have been used indiscriminately in Afghanistan since the arrival of Soviet forces in 1979.

Click here for a map of Afghanistan's most heavily mined areas.

As result hundreds of thousands of mines lie unmapped and undiscovered in large areas of the country.

'Most mined country'

According to statistics released by British de-mining agency the Halo Trust, Afghanistan is the most mined country in the world.

Civilians are in a desperate state and there can be no question of the benefit of mine clearance to them

Tom Dibb, Halo Trust
The agency, whose operations in Angola drew a great deal of international attention when they were visited by the late Princess Diana, has estimated that over 500,000 landmines could still lie dormant.

Other agencies estimate there could be as many as 10 million mines in the ground.

Now employing 1,800 Afghan staff the charity recently celebrated clearing its millionth explosive in the beleaguered country.

Halo Trust spokesman Tom Dibb told BBC News Online that vast number of returning Afghan refugees was making their operations even more critical.

"We're finding ourselves right in the thick of it. Civilians are in a desperate state and there can be no question of the benefit of mine clearance to them.

"Refugees are living in tents literally right beside mine fields."

In Afghanistan red-painted stones alert people to mine fields
Red painted stones alert people to mine fields
Over an average month up to 100 Afghans are injured or killed from mines.

A surge in worldwide funding has brought the agency's budget for this year to $8m, making it the largest de-mining agency operating in Afghanistan.

With the co-operation of the UN Mine Action Programme, and several smaller de-mining agencies, Afghanistan's heavily mined regions could be mine-free in eight years, the Halo Trust estimates.

Ratifying treaty

The ICBL are confident the conference in Kabul will soon lead to Afghanistan ratifying the treaty in the coming months.

"We want to urge the Afghan government to join the treaty and ban landmines as soon as possible," said ICBL spokeswoman Liz Bernstein.

A young Afghan boy receives emergency treatment after standing on an anti-personnel mine
Landmines claim another young victim
"Hamid Karzai has indicated his intention to do so. The Afghan authorities understand the effects of landmines.

"They recognise its importance to move forward. And we'll be watching to see if their words will be matched by concrete actions."

Peace has finally brought a greater emphasis on the importance of de-mining operations in Angola after nearly three decades of civil war.

Seventy varieties of mine still scar the earth, most of them manufactured in Western Europe.

In Cambodia, an estimated 40,000 people have suffered amputations after suffering landmine injuries since 1979.

The Russian PMN anti-personnel mine is the most common in Afghanistan
The Russian PMN mine is the most common in Afghanistan
Despite their problems both nations have signed and ratified the treaty and this, says Ms Bernstein, sends the right message out to Afghanistan.

Over 140 nations have already signed up since 1997. Of these, 125 have integrated the treaty into their laws.

Other states, including the USA, Russia and South Korea, have avoided the issue, insisting that anti-personnel weapons are important to national security.

"The US should sign up immediately," says Liz Bernstein.

"It's very disappointing. The country calls itself the leader in human rights issues."

Map of the most mined areas in Afghanistan

Click here to return

Progress report on the treaty on landmines to be discussed on global interactive phone-in programme broadcast online on SundayLandmine ban
Has enough been done?
See also:

10 Dec 01 | South Asia
04 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jan 02 | South Asia
15 Nov 01 | UK
09 Oct 01 | South Asia
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