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Somali Government, Armed Factions Agree to Destroy and Remove Landmines - 2002-11-13

Somalia's transitional national government and 18 of the country's armed factions have committed to destroying and removing landmines. An international humanitarian group made the announcement Wednesday.

The agreement should help eliminate mines in one of Africa's most heavily mined countries.

The humanitarian group Geneva Call said Somalia's government and armed factions have taken a major step toward making the country landmine free by signing a commitment to destroy and remove mines.

Geneva Call said the commitment, which was announced in Geneva on Wednesday, was made earlier this week during peace talks between government and faction leaders in Kenya.

The organization, which is based in the Swiss city of Geneva, tries to eliminate mines by working with armed groups that were not a party to the 1997 Landmine Treaty because they are not states.

It is estimated that, over the past seven years, more than 4,000 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Somalia.

Elisabeth Reusse-Decrey of Geneva Call said now that Somalia's main factions have agreed to deal with landmines, the challenge will be where to find them because they have been planted so haphazardly.

"It will take a long time to know first where are the mines. On the border, we know there are a lot and around Mogadishu but nobody has maps so it will be very difficult," she said.

Recently the European Union made available $3.5 million for removing mines from areas controlled by armed groups. Ms. Reusse-Decrey said her organization would like the United Nations, Switzerland and other countries to add their support to the effort in Somalia. She said financial as well as political backing will be needed.

"The problem will not be... yes, it will be the money, sure. But the problem will be political because if you decide to launch a program in a region under the control of one chief, the other will say, why not in the area under my control?" Ms. Reusse-Decrey said.

Geneva Call said the way to avoid this potential problem is to make a survey identifying the worst affected areas and to focus on removing mines from these areas first.