AFGHANISTAN: Taliban plant hundreds of mines in Helmand Province (AFGHANISTAN)
Haji Sharrif, 54, a tribal elder in war-torn Sangeen District of the southern Afghan province of Helmand, laments being unable to attend a funeral in his native village of Hasanadab. "There are numerous mines laid everywhere on the way to Hasanabad," Sharrif told IRIN on 24 July.
A local woman and her one-year-old son died on 10 July in Mazad village, Gherishk District, in central Helmand Province, when the mother trod on a hidden mine, said Juma Khan, a relative of the victims.
In late May, three children - Ezatullah,6, Janan, 5, and Storey, 4 - died at a military hospital in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand, after stepping on a mine in Sangeen, according to Richard Dostili, a British military commander in the province.
"I wish I had been killed in that explosion," cried Assadullah, 25, who lost both legs in a mine blast in Helmand's Kajaki District, about three months ago. "Life without my legs is worse than death," Assadullah said.
Planting new mines
Provincial officials say Taliban insurgents have planted hundreds of anti-personnel mines in several districts of Helmand in the last six months.
Engaged in long battles with Afghan security forces backed by NATO-led international troops, Taliban fighters have turned to landmines to block entry to areas where they operate, said Nabijan Molakhiel, a former police chief and a military expert.
Qari Yusuf, an alleged spokesman for the Taliban, has reportedly confirmed the planting of new mines by insurgents, saying they are only intended to cause harm to the Afghan army and international forces.
"Mines only kill or injure civilians - children, women and non-combatants," the governor of Helmand Province, Assadullah Waffa, told IRIN.
Although Afghanistan has never produced mines or any other anti-personnel weaponry, the country joined the Ottawa Convention against the production, stockpiling and use of landmines in September 2002.
"Insurgents import landmines and other weapons from neighbouring countries and harm people in Afghanistan," said Waffa.
Public awareness campaign
A UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Helmand has identified the need for a public awareness campaign to inform people, particularly children, about the risks of mines.
"We educate children to keep away from isolated and risky places. We also tell them if they see anything suspicious they should mark it with stones and report to elders," the British army's Dostili said.
During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, and subsequent chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet-backed government in Kabul in 1992, hundreds of thousands of mines were buried throughout the country.
According to several non-government organisations (NGOs) involved in de-mining operations in Afghanistan, until recently up to 100 people were falling victim to landmines every month.
Mine clearance NGOs estimate up to 150,000 Afghans have been affected by landmines over the past 28 years.
"Numbers of mine casualties have gone down to an average of something like 44 accidents per month," said Haider Reza, director of the UN's mine clearance programme for Afghanistan (UNMACA).
In the last 17 years, over 5.5 million mines have been detected and destroyed by deminers in Afghanistan.
While the country is committed to clearing all its territory - 652,225sqkm - of landmines by 2013, the current re-mining of Helmand Province makes the ambition all but impossible, said Reza.