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International Group says India, Pakistan Laying Huge Numbers of Landmines in Kashmir - 2002-09-13

Kashmir has seen the largest landmine-laying operation in decades, carried out by India and Pakistan. The Nobel-prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines also says unmarked mines in Iraq could pose a danger in a possible military assault there.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines presented its annual findings on landmine destruction just ahead of a United Nations conference on the subject starting next Monday in Geneva.

Five years ago, the group successfully helped to bring about the first U.N. treaty to ban the production, sale and use of land mines.

The group's strongest criticism of land mine use this year is reserved for India and Pakistan.

Spokeswoman Mary Wareham said the military buildup between India and Pakistan has seen a huge number of mines laid in the disputed Kashmir region. "This one by India and Pakistan is startling because of the length of the border, because of the nature in which the mines have been placed, in some places for hundreds of meters, up to a kilometer or more, the density of minefields which have been laid and their proximity to villages and to farming land they have taken away. They have taken away a lot of farming land from the local villagers," she said.

Ms. Wareham said the anti-land mine campaign is urging the countries to halt this action, but neither has signed the treaty.

Turning to Iraq and the possibility of military action there, Ms. Wareham said Baghdad had not publicized its landmine operations. The only known mine removal that has been taking place is in the Kurdish-controlled north. She said Iraq's border with Iran remains heavily mined from past wars and other areas in the country may also be affected. "The problems faced in Iraq would be similar to the problems encountered in Afghanistan, which is a mine-infected country," she said. "The majority of mine-infected areas are most likely not marked or mapped or demarcated in any way, but even more than Afghanistan, where you had a huge mine clearance action, mine clearance operation in place, one of the first. We do not believe there are any mine clearance activities taking place in Iraq at this time. So there is no authority that the coalition, or whoever, if they decide to go in, can turn to ask about where the most problematic mine-affected areas are."

On a positive note, the anti-land mine group reports that more than 7 million stockpiled mines have been destroyed over the last year, bringing the total to 34 million since the treaty was negotiated. It says the number of land mine accidents has also dropped to around 15,000-20,000 per year, compared with 26,000 in the past period.