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AFGHANISTAN: Landmines impede civilians' return to volatile Arghandab

KANDAHAR, 22 June 2008 (IRIN) - Dozens of landmines have been discovered in Arghandab District, in the southern province of Kandahar, where fierce fighting between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan army backed by international forces has killed over 90 people, mostly insurgents, and displaced thousands of civilians, according to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence (MoD).

“The Taliban had laid landmines - anti-vehicle and anti-personnel – on roads and footpaths in Arghandab District,” Abdul Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the MoD in Kabul, told IRIN.

“We began mine-clearance activities on Thursday [19 June] and it will take several days until we clear the whole area. We hope by Monday [23 June] we will complete mine clearance and after that we will allow people to return to their homes,” Azimi said, adding that any previously left unexploded ordinance (UXOs) and abandoned explosive ordinance (AXOs) in the conflict-affected areas would also be removed.

Tens of Taliban fighters reportedly raided several villages in Arghandab District, about 10km north of Kandahar city, in the second week of June and ordered locals to evacuate the area for their safety.

Up to 5,000 people were displaced from their homes when hundreds of Afghan and international forces came to Arghandab to drive back the insurgents on 18 June, according to estimates by the provincial department of the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

No civilian casualties were reported but 92 Taliban fighters and two Afghan soldiers were killed in the battle, which lasted less than 24 hours according to Azimi.

ICBL concerned

Reports of the Taliban’s use of anti-personnel landmines have raised widespread concerns about the safety of civilians in conflict areas.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) said it wants the Taliban to publicly reiterate their commitment against the use of anti-personnel landmines.

“The ICBL calls upon the Taliban to publicly reconfirm and honour the commitment it made in 1998 to non-use of anti-personnel mines," the organisation said in a statement on 19 June.

A Taliban spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

The Taliban are also accused of destroying several major bridges in Arghandab District, which will complicate food deliveries and transportation.

Arghandab is the greenest and most populous of Kandahar’s 17 districts and makes the bulk of the war-torn province’s fruit production, particularly pomegranate, which are sold in international markets.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has instructed officials in Kandahar Province to help those displaced by the fighting return home and resume their normal lives, said a statement issued by Karzai’s media office on 19 June.

Landmines and UXOs kill and maim up to 60 people every month in Afghanistan, mine clearing organisations say.

Millions of landmines were dumped across Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, killing and wounding over 70,000 people so far, according to the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMAC).


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict


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