Mines continue to kill,
maim long after war
April 3, 1996
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EST (0415 GMT)
From Correspondent Christiane Amanpour
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Support is growing for an international campaign to ban the use of anti-personnel land mines. As part of the campaign, senior U.S. military figures have sent an open letter to President Clinton, urging him to ban U.S. mine production (related story).
Clinton has already signed a law placing a one-year moratorium on the use of land mines, and the Pentagon is reviewing its policy against a ban.
The mines are stirring controversy because of their increasing use as offensive rather than defensive weapons, mostly in third-world civil wars. There are now an estimated 100 million mines strewn all over the world, with little or no record of where they were placed.
Afghanistan itself is home to 10 million mines and one of the United Nations' largest de-mining projects. In this Middle Eastern country, infants, teen-agers, and adults embody the times of war and peace their nation has seen. Many have been wounded by weapons that keep firing long after a conflict is over. Seventeen years of war, first against the Soviets and now against each other, have turned his country into one of the world's biggest minefields, 22 square kilometers in the capital alone. (663K QuickTime movie)
The International Committee of the Red Cross runs the city's only rehabilitation center. Alberto Cairo has been fitting mine victims at the ICRC center for the past six years, and can certify that the false leg business is not about to go bust.
"It's pure terrorism. You know perfectly well when you put a mine, the mine will hit someone innocent some one who is not a soldier, someone you are not fighting against," he says.
A mine blew off the leg of one innocent, a 13-year-old girl collecting firewood. In societies like hers, a woman who is maimed is not marriage material.
Popal, 16, his family's only bread-winner, also lost his leg to a mine. "I was just farming my land, how did I know there were mines?" he asked.
In one month, surgeons at one hospital in the Afghan capital of Kabul amputated 35 limbs. Land mines caused almost all the injuries. Almost all the injured are civilians.
A fight against mines is being waged in the capital and the countryside. Teams of sniffer dogs and 3,000 workers hired and trained by the United Nations search and destroy. Scraping through the soil inch by inch, it can easily take them three days just to find one mine.
It is difficult, slow, and scary work. But workers are dedicated. "I must do it for my country," says Shahpurkhan, a de-miner.
When a 120mm mortar shell is found in someone's garden, it is surrounded by sand bags, the alarm is sounded, and the shell is exploded. This slow, one-by-one process goes on day after day, week after week. Only a fraction of the mines have been cleared. Work will last into the next century, if the funding does -- while a mine costs $3 to make, it costs $1,000 to remove.
The United Nations, Red Cross, and other relief agencies are also trying to protect the innocent by teaching them to recognize and avoid mines because they kill about 10,000 people every year, and maim many more. Civilians, not soldiers, are the principle victims.
The Red Cross, a major player in the anti-mine campaign, has called for a total global ban on land mines. The U.S. military is considering joining the anti-mine campaign, since these mines have caused casualties among U.S. soldiers serving in Bosnia.
Advocates of the campaign hope that if the United States joins in, the move will encourage other countries to make similar commitments. Countries that make and stockpile mines resist the move.
Meanwhile, life in Afghanistan is on hold.
"We cannot start our school, our universities; people cannot work, farmers cannot cultivate their lands," said one resident. Not only mines, but tons of unexploded weapons help cripple economies, ruin farmland, and prevent refugees from returning home.
And at the Kabul hospital, where children's lives lay shattered, about 10 new mine victims are received each day. The hospital is bracing for double that number now that spring has come, snows are melting, and farmers are going out to plant again.
- Land mine warfare: detection and clearance from the Defense Technical Information Center Review
- Landmines: a scourge on children - UNICEF report
- Land mines: what needs to be done? - Transcript of a 1995 U.N. forum
- Detecting Land Mines from New Mexico Tech
- Landmines must be stopped - campaign from the International Committee of the Red Cross
- Vietnam Veterans Home Page
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