Iraqi de-miners help save lives in southern Lebanon

Atsheet, Lebanon - From under his anti-blast visor, Rahem Khodr Rasoul carefully supervises his team members as they move their mine detectors into a field littered by thousands of cluster bombs.


The scene in Atsheet, a southern Lebanese village, is one that is common across the country's south these days, as a number of international workers labour daily to clear the area of the deadly bomblets, dropped in the 33-day Israeli war with Lebanon in 2006.

What's different here is that Rasoul, the field supervisor of this particular mission, is not British, German, French, or even Lebanese.
Rasoul comes all the way from war-torn Iraq.

His face wet with sweat under a clear blue February sky, Rasoul says he's come here from neighboring Iraq to ease the miseries of the Lebanese people.
He is a field supervisor working for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a British charity that specializes in anti-landmine operations throughout the world.
Close to one million unexploded bombs are estimated to litter southern Lebanon, according to United Nations forces engaged in the hazardous task of removing them.

MAG has been working in southern Lebanon since the August 15, 2006 ceasefire, providing an immediate emergency clearance response to the crisis.
The organization has searched and cleared more than 6.8 million square meters of land, destroyed more than 17,000 remnants, and is still assisting some 450,000 people to live safe and secure lives.

David Horrocks, MAG's programme manager in Lebanon, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that there are seven "Iraqi field supervisors," among them Rasoul, a Kurdish Iraqi.

Rasoul sees nothing ironic about his decision to come to Lebanon to lend expertise he has gained from working in his own, troubled home. Iraq's northern Kurdish region is currently under attack by Turkish troops to root out Kurdish rebels, and tracts of Iraqi land are also badly in need of de-mining.
"I have been working with MAG for the past 16 years," Rasoul told dpa.

He spends his time carefully watching over his team of de-miners as they scrape away the dry, stony earth, hoping to uncover the mines hidden beneath. Silence envelopes the area because no de-miner can afford to switch off for a second - after all, any mistake could well be his last.
'When we started, 90 per cent of the (bombs) were above the land,' he explained.

'After the winter, 70 per cent are now covered under the sand and only 30 are located on the surface, making our mission a bit slower.'
Rasoul explained that he came to Lebanon to ease the miseries of the people affected by the crisis since July 2006.

'It gives me great pleasure just to see the smile on the people's faces like Ali Hayek,' Rasoul said.

Ali Hayek, from the village of Atsheet, told dpa that thanks to the efforts of the MAG de-mining team - with the help of supervisors like Rasoul and the support of the German government - this was the first time since the war ended that he has been able to walk on the road leading to his house.

"The MAG teams who are funded by the German government helped fulfil my dream, and cleared all the area around my house enabling me to reach it safely," Ali told dpa and a German delegation headed by the German ambassador in Lebanon, Hansjoerg Haber.

Germany is supporting MAG's operation titled 'Conflict Recovery Programme for Lebanon' with a budget of 330,000 euros (499,000 dollars). Germany is funding eight mine action teams and two technical field managers.

"This German contribution enables us to extend the task and we can work until the job is done," MAG'S technical operations manager Andy Gleeson said.
But for Rasoul and his team, the main task is to believe that they will complete the job one day, sparing and protecting people from the killing fields. But he warned that the operation in Lebanon will take at least five years to be completed.

"What I saw on the maps will take at least five years to clear 70 per cent of the littered land," Rasoul said, with sadness.

Von:, 29.02.2008

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