The bullet-riddled bodies of three de-miners shot dead on 5 July in Panjwai District in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar were brought to Kabul on a UN flight on 7 August, officials told IRIN.
Abdul Hassib, Mirwais and Meva Gul, who had been working for Mine Detection and Dog Centre (MDC), were abducted on 4 August and reportedly sentenced to death by a Taliban court.
"A man [speaking for the Taliban] called our office and said a Taliban judge would determine the fate of our colleagues," said Mohammad Shohab Hakimi, head of MDC.
The unidentified caller also asked whether the organisation would be ready to buy back a vehicle, two sniffer dogs and other equipment seized.
"We asked why we should buy back our own equipment," said Hakimi, adding that the kidnappers had not given them a chance to negotiate the release of the de-miners.
Nomad families who had set up tents near the insurgency-hit Panjwai District witnessed two Toyota trucks packed with armed men dropping off three handcuffed men who were then riddled with bullets, district police officials said.
Mine clearance has temporarily been suspended in Kandahar Province, an official who preferred anonymity told IRIN.
"We are shocked," said Nazar Mohammad, a de-miner in Kandahar. "They were murdered mercilessly," the young man said, reacting to the killing of his colleagues.
Officials say there are no special security measures in place for current mine clearing activities, even in volatile areas.
"Obviously we do not want to risk the lives of our staff. We will discuss de-miners' security with local elders, provincial authorities and other stakeholders and will make a final decision on whether to continue our operations or not," the head of MDC said.
On 17 June, 18 MDC workers were kidnapped in Ghazni Province.
After nine days of extended negotiations between Taliban commanders, local elders and other influential mediators, the kidnapped de-miners were released. No ransom was paid for their release, the MDC’s Hakimi said.
However, the kidnappers did not surrender five vehicles and other equipment (valued at about US$100,000) taken from the abducted de-miners, according to MDC.
In another incident in July, MDC’s Kandahar office was plundered by unidentified gunmen. Six vehicles and office equipment - worth over $100,000 - were stolen in the incident.
In the growing violence in Afghanistan in 2007, 10 de-miners have died and 17 have been injured in different armed attacks, according to several de-mining non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Changed Taliban stance on de-mining?
Before his ouster from power in October 2001, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a two-page decree in which anti-personnel landmines were proscribed as un-Islamic weaponry, while de-miners were praised as Mujahedin (Muslim fighters).
Sharing a copy of the decree with IRIN in Kabul, the director of MDC said: "I wonder if the Taliban have now changed their own rules and old leadership?"
Photo: Mine Detection and Dog Centre (MDC)
|Ten deminers have died and 17 others wounded in several armed attacks in Afghanistan in 2007|
It is still unclear why de-miners have been dragged into Afghanistan's armed conflict.
Millions of anti-personnel landmines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) have been planted or dumped in Afghanistan since the Soviet Army invaded in 1979.
Since 1989, mine clearing NGOs have cleared one billion square metres of over 8 million pieces of UXO and landmines of various kinds, the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA) reported.
Some 150,000 Afghans live with disabilities inflicted by landmines, and every month 50-60 people become casualties of mines or UXO, MAPA said.
Afghanistan is a signatory to the Ottawa Convention against the Production, Stockpiling and Use of Landmines, and is committed to clearing its 647,500sqkm territory of landmines by 2013.
"Should insecurity continue and de-miners face more threats, Afghanistan will not meet its targeted goal in the seven years ahead," warned the director of MAPA.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions