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Afghanistan to Host Landmine Conference - 2002-07-27

Afghanistan will host an international conference on banning landmines, beginning Sunday. Delegates hope Afghan President Hamid Karzai will follow through on his commitment to join the international Mine Ban Treaty.

Experts say Afghanistan is one of the most mine-infested countries on earth.

The United Nations estimates that between 150 and 300 people are killed or injured each month by mines and unexploded ordnance that litter the Afghan countryside following two decades of war.

The Red Cross says there are 200,000 Afghans who have been handicapped after stepping on landmines. Victims hobble around on crutches throughout the country.

Landmines also have had a devastating economic impact, making valuable farmland unusable and hampering road-building and reconstruction work.

Tammy Hall is a spokeswoman for the Mine Action Center for Afghanistan, a United Nations project.

She says that, for the past 12 years, thousands of Afghans have been working to clear the minefields.

"The mines are all over the country, which makes it very difficult, in terms of operational requirements," she explained. "Only two provinces in the country do not have some mine contamination. So we have had to, in this enormous country, spread our operations around the country, because there are very high-priority areas all over."

In a sign of how big the problem is, Ms. Hall says the de-mining project has been the largest employer, outside of the Afghan government.

"A survey that we did showed that each de-miner supported approximately 20-to-30 people in their family," she said. "So that was a huge, huge infusion of resources into the Afghan economy, at the time where basically there was nothing."

Organizers hope the three-day anti-mine conference in Kabul results in the Afghan government formally joining the international treaty to ban landmines.

When President Hamid Karzai opens the conference Sunday, delegates will be listening to hear if he elaborates on a pledge he made earlier this year to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty.

The 1997 treaty forbids the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines. It has been signed by 143 countries. But another 50 countries remain outside the treaty, including the United States, Russia, China, India and Pakistan.