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Parade in Kabul Heightens Awareness of Afghan Mine Problem - 2003-05-05

Mine victims and de-miners paraded in Kabul as Afghanistan began observances of mine awareness month. It's hoped the event will encourage the destruction of stockpiles, part of Kabul's agreement last year to the global ban on land mines. Laura Keel reports.

These survivors, just a few of those who have been maimed by land mines, are parading to raise awareness of the dangers that lie hidden in the fields of Afghanistan after 23 years of war.

Along with a corps of trained de-miners, they are supporting Afghanistan’s vow to get rid of all mines within the next ten years.

Some 100 people are killed or injured by land mines and other left over military explosives each month in Afghanistan, one of the world's most heavily mined countries.

Many of the weapons were left behind after the 10-year Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Others were laid down during fighting in the late 1990s while at least 180 sites, some of them littered with thousands of cluster bomblets, are the result of the U.S.-led bombing that ousted the Taliban in 2001.

This man lost a leg and two fingers when he stepped on a mine in Herat.

There are as many as 40,000 war amputees in Afghanistan.

Ten-year-old Shakila is one of them. Three years ago she stepped on a landmine that blew off her right leg.

In a conservative country where physical abnormalities are not accepted in women, a deformity such as this may prevent Shakila from being able to marry.

Dan Kelly, Program Manager for the U.N. Mine Action Center for Afghanistan, says it will take five years to clear high priority areas and another five to complete the job.

"We have approximately 850 million square meters of land that is suspected mine area and that is land that the internally displaced people and the returnees, the 1.5 million returnees that have come back to Afghanistan, that's the land that they want to go back to carry on with their normal lives."

Afghanistan's mine clearing program is now the biggest in the world but it's an expensive and dangerous business.

The program needs 61 million U.S. dollars this year to carry out its work but donor countries have only offered 65 percent of that amount.

With attention now shifting to post-war Iraq, aid workers fear further financial problems will prolong the dangers posed by landmines to the people of this war-torn nation.