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Landmines Pose Danger for Afghan Refugees - 2001-09-26

A leading campaigner against anti-personnel landmines warns that Afghan refugees are in danger from landmines in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is cited as one of the most heavily mined countries in the world in this year's Landmine Monitor report. The report is published by the Nobel-prize winning organization, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Steve Goose is Program Director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch and Chief Editor of the Landmine Monitor Report. He says Soviet forces placed millions of landmines in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In recent years, he says, more landmines have been planted by the Taleban and Northern Alliance opposition forces.

Mr. Goose says the landmines have killed or injured thousands of civilians. He says the current crisis triggered by the terrorist attacks in the United States can only worsen the situation in Afghanistan. "In any operation that takes place in Afghanistan, there are going to be mine casualties," he said. "There are just very few areas in the country that are going to be considered mine safe and, as I say, there are newly discovered areas all the time. Even Kabul, the capital city has been heavily mined over the years so that there are few places where you can operate where you will not encounter anti-personnel landmines."

Besides the risk to people inside Afghanistan, Mr. Goose says refugees fleeing across borders into several Central Asian countries also will encounter dangers. He says over the past year, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan - and also Russia in Tajikistan - have laid new landmines on border areas. These countries say there are no risks because they have marked the areas where the landmines have been placed. But, Mr. Goose says the Landmine Monitor Report documented dozens of new civilian casualties in these countries last year. "I would hope that all the work that has been done to survey the minefields, to identify the minefields, to mark and fence the minefields would minimize the danger to what is now a massive refugee flow," said Steve Goose. "Experience shows that areas that have been marked and fenced sometimes continue to pose dangers because markings and fences get torn down. "

Mr. Goose says he suspects there probably will be many disturbing reports of Afghan refugees becoming victims to landmines.