Lebanon demining program running out of money (Lebanon)

AITA AL-JABAL, Lebanon (AP) - Demining chief Hussein Alayan watched from a distance this week as his men in orange overalls slowly moved their mine detectors in search of cluster bombs and land mines buried under the sands of this southern Lebanese village.


It was the men's last day at work before their demining company, the Britain-based BACTEC International Limited, shut down its field activities Friday.
Money has run out for BACTEC and is dwindling for other demining companies after two years of mine clearance work that began after the 2006 summer war between Israel and Hezbollah - even though many mines remain in the ground.

Companies such as BACTEC have been contracted under the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center in Lebanon to remove unexploded ordnance that peppers the country's south. BACTEC is one of the largest, with 11 of the 44 demining teams working here.

But lately, the interest of donor countries has slackened and some nations have told the U.N. mission they will no longer be able to fund demining groups.
U.N. experts have warned that in the absence of new funds, demining will drop sharply - threatening people in the south, where tens of thousands of cluster bombs, land mines, unexploded shells and other ordnance remain undiscovered.

The U.N. and human rights groups say Israel dropped about 4 million cluster bomblets during its war with the militant Shiite group Hezbollah. Up to 1 million of the devices failed to explode.

Lebanon has long called for Israel to hand over maps of where the bombs were dropped, but there has been no response.

Cluster bombs, which look like huge canisters, open in flight and eject hundreds of bomblets - sometimes as small as a flashlight battery - across the land. Some fail to explode and stay on the ground long after armies leave, only to detonate later at the slightest touch or disturbance.

No international laws forbid their use, but the Geneva Conventions outline rules to protect civilians. Because the bomblets often maim civilians after fighting ends, human rights groups have criticized Israel for using them against targets in cities and towns.

In addition to the cluster bombs, Lebanon's south is riddled with land mines laid by retreating Israeli soldiers who pulled out in 2000 after an 18-year occupation.

The Lebanese army, which is working with the demining groups, says cluster bombs have killed at least 20 civilians and wounded 195 since the 2006 war ended in a U.N.-brokered cease-fire. Other unexploded ordnance has killed seven civilians and wounded 39, the Lebanese military says.

Dalya Farran of the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center says 14 demining experts and members of the Lebanese army also have been killed and 41 wounded in demining work. The 2008 demining budget for Lebanon was $10 million, but she said the U.N. hasn't been able to get the entire amount because of declining donor interest.

Farran said 1,058 "contaminated sites" were identified over an area of 11,869 acres in the south.

Out if these, 39 percent have been fully cleared; demining groups also have intentionally exploded about 150,000 cluster bombs found so far.
In villages like Aita Al-Jabal, where two Lebanese soldiers died of cluster bombs and several people were wounded, BACTEC has discovered hundreds of bombs, 20 in the last month alone. Deminers still have not searched the ground near many homes and private gardens, where fear of bombs has prevented owners from picking olives from their trees.

This week, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut said the U.S. government will provide $825,000 for demining programs in Lebanon, bringing the total of U.S. assistance for non-proliferation, anti-terrorism and demining activities in the country to $16 million since 2006, according to the U.S. Embassy.

But Hussam Hijazieh, who also works for BACTEC, said this was not enough. And he said most of the cluster bombs found in south Lebanon were U.S.-made.

A Lebanese army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations, said each of the 44 demining teams in Lebanon costs $3,000 a day.

Villagers like Hassan Ibrahim, whose back is scarred from a 2006 cluster bomb explosion, worry that if demining stops, casualties will rise.

"Hope that all cluster bombs will be removed will be gone," said Ibrahim, gazing at the deminers from under a huge walnut tree. "Lives will again be in danger."

Von: 18.10.2008, by BASSEM MROUE, http://ap.google.com

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