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Land Mine Workers Kidnapped in Afghanistan

FILE - An Afghan soldier uses a mine detector during a demining drill at Camp Shaheen, a training facility for the Afghan National Army (ANA), west of Mazar-i-Sharif, Dec. 13, 2014.

Gunmen have kidnapped 15 anti-land mine workers in western Afghanistan and a military operation is underway to rescue them, officials said Saturday.

The incident happened Friday evening in the Kohsan district of Herat province, which borders Iran. All the hostages were Afghan nationals employed by the non-governmental HALO Trust mine clearing organization, said provincial government and police officials.

They blamed Taliban insurgents for the kidnappings.

The kidnapping took place as Afghanistan prepares to mark the international day of land mine awareness, which is observed Monday.

Serious threat

The war-ravaged nation is one of the world’s most heavily mined countries.

The HALO Trust is among eight key partners of the Mine Action Program of Afghanistan (MAPA) that has been clearing land mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) for the last 27 years.

The existence of land mines and unexploded ordinance in Afghanistan still poses a serious threat to the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Afghan citizens, MAPA said in a statement issued in connection with Monday’s celebrations.

It said that 388 Afghans were killed or injured by mines and ERW in 2015, representing an 18 percent decrease from 2014.