Mohammad Aman has defused hundreds of anti-personnel landmines in various parts of Afghanistan in more than 13 years as a de-miner with the Mine Detection Center (MDC), a local NGO.
Eleven de-miners were killed and 19 others wounded in non-mine security incidents in 2008, while nine deaths and 10 injuries were reported in 2007, the UN Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan (UNMACCA) said. (Photo: IRIN)
“If each mine were to kill, maim or injure at least one person then I have saved more than 1,000 people and I am proud of that,” he told IRIN in Kabul.
Mine clearance often requires working in very remote areas where de-miners are exposed to greater security risks and attacks by various armed and criminal groups.
“We not only face risks of hidden mines and ERWs [explosive remnants of war], but also those of abduction and death by criminal gangs and the armed opposition groups,” Aman said.
On 14 July, Aman and 15 other de-miners were kidnapped by unknown armed men while working in a remote location in Paktia Province, southeastern Afghanistan.
Their captors kept them hungry and blindfolded for more than two days before they were set free at the request of local elders.
“They threatened us to abandon our work, saying next time they will kill us,” said Aman, adding that his kidnappers did not listen to his repeated pleas regarding the impartial nature of their work.
Eleven de-miners were killed and 19 others wounded in non-mine security incidents in 2008, while nine deaths and 10 injuries were reported in 2007, the UN Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan (UNMACCA) said.
Attacks on de-miners have often resulted in the loss of precious assets and equipment vital for their work. All the belongings of Aman and his colleagues – personal and official – were seized by the kidnappers after their release.
Aman risks his life for about $170 a month, working in the scorching heat, and sees his family for 10 days once every two months in central Wardak Province.
Despite all the odds he continues to work in insecure rural parts of Paktia – more than 200km from home - and hopes he will not face his captors again.
“Armed escorts cannot protect us from them [insurgents and criminal groups],” Aman said. Instead he suggests security negotiations to be conducted with the insurgents, which he believes can yield security guarantees for de-miners and other independent humanitarian actors.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman, told IRIN from an unidentified location that the insurgents did not attack “independent de-miners” but he conceded some rank-and-file fighters could have been involved in a few security incidents.
Scope of the de-mining challenge
Despite two decades of mine clearance by several NGOs, Afghanistan is still replete with landmines and ERWs, and every month 55-60 people fall victim to them, according to UNMACCA.
Landmines were planted across the country during the Soviet invasion between 1979 and 1989 and the subsequent civil war in the 1990s. Mines have killed and/or maimed about 150,000 Afghans since 1989, according to UNMACCA.
Since the 1980s, hundreds of de-miners have been working to rid the country of landmines and ERWs. Afghanistan joined the Mine Ban treaty in 2003 and the 10-year mine clearance deadline expires on 1 March 2013. To meet that deadline, de-mining operations in the country will need US$500 million from donors, according to UNMACCA.