Afghanistan

Afghanistan speeds removal of millions of mines

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By Sanjeev Miglani

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan, the world's most mined country, is aiming to remove landmines and unexploded ordnance from all densely populated centres in four years in line with reconstruction plans, the United Nations said on Friday.

About 150 people are maimed or killed each month by some of an estimated 10 million mines strewn across the country, making reconstruction work slow and risky.

Under a new plan ordered by the transitional administration, each of Afghanistan's 32 provinces has been classified into high- and low-priority areas.

"This strategy looks at clearing all of the high-priority areas in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2007," said Dan Kelly, programme manager of the United Nations Mine Action Programme.

Kelly said by 2012 most parts of Afghanistan should be free of landmines.

"We think we would have broken the back of the problem by then, you must realise...there will be a residual of the problem which will remain for many, many years," he said.

For example in Belgium, about 300 tonnes of unexploded ordnance, left over from two world wars, are being cleared each year, he said.

Landmines in Afghanistan are the legacy of 23 years of war triggered by a Soviet invasion in 1979. Successive governments and factional fighters, and even home-owners, planted mines for security.

Kelly said about 100 million square metres (120 million square yards) of an estimated 850 million square metres (1,015 million square yards) of mined area of Afghanistan were cleared in 2002. That included 180 sites "contaminated" during the U.S.-led war on the Taliban regime and the al Qaeda in 2001.

De-miners have started working alongside construction workers who are rebuilding a highway connecting Kabul to the second city, Kandahar.

Kelly said an area of 25 metres (yards) on each side of the highway will also be cleared of mines to protect Kuchi nomadic people who pass through the area every year.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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