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Deminers demand security guarantees before resuming work in Kandahar

[Afghanistan] Deminers at work.
(Masoud Popalzai/IRIN)

Less than a month after three deminers were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, the Mine Detection Dog Centre (MDC) has announced it will not resume demining activities in the volatile Kandahar and Helmand provinces unless security is guaranteed.

“All parties to the conflict, including the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, should ensure that our deminers are not deliberately targeted,” Mohammad Shohab Hakimi, the director of MDC, said in Kabul on 29 August.

According to Hakimi, 80 percent of MDC’s demining activities have been suspended in Kandahar and Helmand provinces as a result of security concerns.

MDC says it now has a limited presence in the provincial city of Kandahar, where it raises public awareness of landmine issues.

Mine clearance agencies operating in Afghanistan say there are no particular security measures in place to protect their staff from hazards.

“Deminers are neutral and work solely according to humanitarian principles,” Haider Reza, the head of the UN Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (UNMACA), told IRIN.

Deminers’ impartiality breached

Deminers’ impartiality, however, has repeatedly been breached in Afghanistan’s “diminishing humanitarian space”. In the last 12 months alone, 19 mine clearers have been killed in Afghanistan, UNMACA said.

''All parties to the conflict, including the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, should ensure that our deminers are not deliberately targeted.''

Demining organisations also suffered material losses of US$500,000 in two separate attacks on their offices in Kandahar Province in 2007.

For MDC it is still unclear who murdered its staff in Kandahar’s Panjwai District on 5 August.

“Whoever might have killed our deminers, we call both on the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban to bring them to justice,” Hakimi said.

Officials in Kandahar Province, however, blame Taliban insurgents for the killing of deminers and other humanitarian aid workers.

“We will spare no effort in bringing the Taliban criminals who killed MDC’s mine clearers to trial,” said Saeed Aqa Saqib, Kandahar’s top police officer. No Taliban representative was available to clarify the insurgents’ position on deminers.

Over 50 Afghans killed or injured every month

The news about the suspension of MDC’s demining operations in Kandahar Province has sparked concerns among rural communities where anti-personnel mines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) affect peoples’ daily lives.

Photo: Masoud Popalzai/IRIN
Deminers at work

Since the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Army in 1979 hundreds of thousands of mines have been planted throughout the country. The UN demining programme says people in over 2,020 communities across Afghanistan still face the threat of landmines and UXOs.

Haji Agha Lalai, an elder in Panjwai District, said people in his village were finding it increasingly risky to travel within their locality. “Some people are even not cultivating their land because of landmine risks,” Lalai told IRIN.

In the last 18 years over 150,000 Afghans have been killed or disabled by anti-personnel landmines, according to demining organisations. Mine action agencies say every month landmines kill or injure over 50 Afghans.

“As long as mines exist in our country we will continue to see people losing parts of their body simply by treading on a landmine,” said Dost Mohammad Arghistani, head of Kandahar’s department for disabled and martyrs affairs.

Demining agencies have promised to clear Afghanistan of all landmines by 2013. However, reports from conflict-affected areas in southern Afghanistan indicate that Taliban insurgents and their associates have recently planted new landmines.


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:

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