Land mines perpetuate war chaos

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 August, 1995, 12:00am

ABDULLAH JAN holds the hand of Aimaq, his five-year-old son, and points towards the field across the road from their house in a Kabul suburb. He says: 'Never go out there. You'll get caught in the fire.' The sturdy Pathan shopkeeper is just one of many Afghans terrified of the presence of up to 10 million land mines, planted during the 16-year war which began with the 1979 occupation of Soviet troops.

The mines are the country's most pressing problem now. More than six years after the Soviet withdrawal and three months after the end to fighting around Kabul, relief officials estimate there could be up to 500,000 handicapped people in the country, severely injured in mine explosions.

The plight of the victims is evident across the city's badly battered health-care facilities and hospitals.

Najam, seven, and Sobia, nine, lie in severe pain at Kabul's Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital. They lie helpless, unable even to touch their wounded faces because both lost their arms in a mine explosion.

Such tragedies in Afghan are focusing international attention. Last month, the United Nations sponsored a major international conference in Geneva to discuss the worldwide land-mine problem.

Western countries were strongly lobbied to support international efforts to ban the production and sale of land mines.

Whether the effort aids Afghanistan's tragic situation remains to be seen - the UN's programme to carry out demining operations is functioning on a shoe-string budget.

Forty-four teams of deminers work on the project, but as one senior UN official points out: 'Hundreds more are needed to carry out a half decent effort.' The UN is short of money. In response to its latest annual appeal for US$106 million (HK$819.70 million) in humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, announced 10 months ago, just over half of that amount has been committed so far. Many donors are worried such an effort would be futile until the civil war between Afghan mujahedeen ends.

But relief officials predict that, without new assistance for the country especially in removing the mines, the economy will remain a shambles and the war-hardened will find few reasons to give up arms.

The director of the UN's Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan, Martin Barber, says: 'The problem is that all donors feel before they can get into this there must be a political settlement.

'The difficulties in obtaining such a settlement include the fact that economic opportunities for young men in activities other than firing guns are very limited.'