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Afghan Mines Endanger Fighters, Civilians - 2001-09-30

It is estimated that as much as 60 percent of Afghanistan is covered in landmines, a legacy of 22 years of continuous war that poses a threat to refugees and soldiers alike.

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. It is covered with landmines from the war with the Soviet Union, which ended more than a decade ago, and mines are still being laid by soldiers in today's wars between the Taleban and opposition forces.

The commander of the Northern Alliance troops near the border with Tajikistan concedes that landmines pose a danger to his men and to civilians. But General Muhebullah says they are a necessary weapon in the struggle with the Taleban, protecting his front lines.

The general says that if his forces leave the area, they will clear the mines, neutralizing them by blowing them up.

However, in most of the country, there has been neither the money nor the opportunity to clear landmines dating from the entire 22 years of conflict.

"We know where the mines are," says General Muhebullah says. "We have the maps. But because of the intervening wars we have not been able to clear them."

Two years ago, the Taleban evicted a British charity which was working to clear landmines from Afghanistan, accusing them of being spies.

The spread of landmines poses an additional danger, in an already serious humanitarian crisis, as huge numbers of refugees move across Afghanistan.