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1,300 Ethiopians Killed or Injured by Landmines in Past Two Years, Says Aid Agency - 2004-03-11

A Norwegian aid agency says nearly 1,300 Ethiopians have been killed or injured by landmines in the last two years. The grim statistics come amid international pressure on Ethiopia to sign an international convention banning landmines.

Norwegian People's Aid and the Ethiopian government released a joint survey Thursday showing 1,295 people have been killed or injured by landmines in the Horn of Africa country during the two-year survey period.

The study estimates landmines have killed or maimed about 16,000 Ethiopians since the 1930s. It says as many as 2 million people are at risk of injury or death from mines or unexploded ordnance scattered throughout the country.

Adam Combs, of Norwegian People's Aid, says the areas most heavily contaminated with landmines are in the north, near the Eritrean border, Ogaden near Somalia, and Tigray. All three areas have been the sites of bitter battles throughout the country's recent history.

Mr. Combs says, in addition to maiming and killing people, the landmines prevent herdsmen from farming or grazing their animals.

"The impact of a landmine is not only based on the number of landmines that are in the ground," said Mr. Combs. "You can have a situation where you have a relatively few number of mines, or the threat of those mines, in a central area. For an example, lets just take Somali where you have water resources that are very, very dear. If they have to go 50 or 100 kilometers out of the way to reach the water hole, or the watering point, that is a very high impact on the people."

He says residents in a vast majority of the 1,500 communities surveyed reported they were unable to use their land because of landmines.

The survey comes at a time when a Canadian delegation, headed by Ross Hynes, is in Ethiopia to press the government to ratify the 1997 Ottawa Convention on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines.

Ethiopia and Somalia are the only sub-Saharan African countries that have not ratified the convention.

Ethiopian officials could not be reached for comment, but a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, Solomon Abede, told VOA last week his country will ratify the Ottawa convention soon.

Mr. Combs says he is optimistic."There's a strong goodwill within the Ethiopian government for the usage of the survey results."

Under the 1997 landmines convention, signatory states are obligated to clear all mine fields and destroy their landmine stockpiles within specified deadlines.