Afghanistan still has 700,000 live explosives: UN

DAWN, November 29, 1999
By Hasan Akhtar

Dawn ISLAMABAD, Nov 29: Three-fourths of a million live explosives, which still exist in Afghanistan posing extreme hazards to human lives, may need up to a hundred years to clear, in order to ensure the war-ravaged country safe for human habitation, according to a UN expert working on an explosive clearing programme.

Peter Le Soeur, technical adviser to a special explosives detonation programme, told a news briefing here the other day that the Russians had possibly rained a minimum of 200,000 ordnance on Afghanistan during a decade-long invasion and occupation in the 1980s, besides sowing landmines over vast areas, turning Afghanistan the most heavily mined country ever in the world. The landmines took a toll of several thousand lives besides maiming many more civilians, mostly children and women.

Peter estimated that 10 per cent of the bombs dropped by the Russians were still lying undetonated and undiscovered in Afghanistan. About 4,000 trained Afghans were engaged in clearance work under supervision of just a few expatriates employed by the UN with a budget of $25 million. On an average, undetonated explosive claimed one life and maimed dozens every month in western Afghanistan, the British UN expert said.

Peter Le Soeur , who is currently working on a delicate explosive detonation mission, is engaged in dismantling a deadly memorabilia from the defunct Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, housed in Zindejan town, 40 km west of capital city of Herat province, which could even accidentally trigger over 450 ordnance items, including eighteen 500kg bombs to explode in a chain reaction, leading to the likely death of most of 4,000 residents of the town.

Peter said the UN undertook the demolition of the weird museum on the request of the Taliban authorities who also handed over their entire stockpile of landmines for detonation. The museum built by a former Herat governor, Mulla Ismail Khan, also a key commander against the (former) Soviet invasion, intended to display the Russian and Italian made ordnance as a trophy of the 10-year-long war against the world's second superpower.

The Soviet armies were forced to withdraw by the Afghans, aided by the United States, Pakistan and China, in their war of liberation by 1989 under a UN-negotiated agreement in April 1988.

h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g