The Guardian June 20, 2001


Living in a minefield

by Kinda Jayoush

A year has passed since Israel ended its 22-year occupation of south 
Lebanon, but residents of the region still live in terror of the landmines 
that are its despised legacy.

"I hate the land I used to farm because, whenever I see it, I remember that 
I lost my leg there", says Mustafa, the victim of a mine planted near 
Arnoun village in the occupation zone.

"Simply, and all of a sudden, I have become a disabled person", he adds.

Landmines, most of them laid by Israel and its client militia the South 
Lebanese Army, have killed 15 people and maimed 99 others in the year since 
the Israeli withdrawal, according to the National Demining Office (NDO), an 
arm of the Lebanese Army.

Hizbollah, the main force behind Israel's pull-out, also laid landmines in 
the area, but the guerilla group has worked to dismantle them since the 
withdrawal.

The estimated 130,000 mines that remain cast a pall over daily life and 
hamper economic development in the region.

According to NDO, the most common landmines in south Lebanon are Israeli 
anti-personnel and anti-vehicle weapons, which accounted for more than 80 
per cent of the mine-related casualties registered last year.

"Landmines are everywhere here. They lie on the side of the street, in 
farmland and even close to houses.

"The Israelis wanted to inflict the maximum damage to us", says Mustafa.

Lebanon's army and Ukrainian troops with the UN forces in south Lebanon now 
handle most demining work in the region.

The Lebanese army, which has about 120 deminers in south Lebanon, has 
dismantled about 5,000 Israeli landmines and about 25,000 different kinds 
of shell and grenade in the region in the last year.

The Ukrainian battalion has dismantled about 3,000 landmines in south 
Lebanon.

But with Lebanon's public debt reaching some 150 per cent of gross domestic 
product and the country in recession, the resources needed to stem the tide 
of victims must come from elsewhere.

The heavy casualties have spurred an international conference to demine 
south Lebanon, at which UN secretary general Kofi Annan's envoy Staffan de 
Mistura said that the region could be mine-free in four years.

He added that a 30 million pounds donation from the United Arab Emirates 
would help bring the needed equipment and human resources for the project, 
which might otherwise have lasted for decades.

He also noted that clearing south Lebanon would require about 1,000 
deminers.

Even with funding in place, a lack of expertise and dependence on old 
techniques to remove mines means that, for the foreseeable future, the 
residents of the south cannot rest easy.

"I was walking near my village with my friend at night and I stepped on a 
mine", says Nazem from Haddatha village in the zone, who was wounded by a 
mine three months ago.

"I was there lying on the ground and no-one was able to come and rescue me 
 not the Lebanese army, nor UNIFIL, as they feared that there were more 
mines around. It was dark and I was really scared", he says.

Israel has given the UN maps showing about 70 per cent of the mines planted 
along the border.

UNIFIL officers say that there are many thousands of others, the location 
of which they know only vaguely, leaving deminers to ply their trade one 
perilous inch at a time.

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Morning Star, Britain's socialist daily

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