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Africa: Plea to ban landmines on the continent
ADDIS ABABA, 11 Dec 2002 (IRIN) -

African leaders must ensure that landmines are banned on the continent, an international conference in Addis Ababa heard on Wednesday.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) said that the continent must comply with a 1997 treaty to ban mines.

In Ethiopia and Eritrea, tens of thousands of mines were laid during their 1998-2000 border war. Thousands still remain from World War II and the Italian occupation.

Despite many countries in Africa pledging to ban antipersonnel mines, only a handful of countries have destroyed their massive stockpiles.

Mihreta’ab Mulugeta, from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said important steps had been taken in preventing the use of landmines but "enormous" challenges lay ahead.

"Obviously the continent of Africa is the primary victim of these deadly weapons," he told the conference which is funded by the British government.

He said that given the magnitude of the problem, Ethiopia needed continued support from the international community to demine the country.

The UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is one of the frontline organisations in the fight against landmines. Ibrahim Jabr, head of UNICEF in Ethiopia, said that while mines take minutes to lay, they take decades to remove. He added that the devastating effects are seen years after mine disposal experts have left.

Tilahun Kidan, the head of Rado, an Ethiopian organisation which aims to raise mine awareness, pointed out that a third of the world’s landmines are found in Africa.

Angola, Mozambique, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia are among the most heavily mined countries in the world, he added.

"Mines prevent displaced persons and refugees from going back to their homes and interrupt their normal life pattern," he said. "They prevent farmers from farming their lands, pastoralists from using rangelands and water points, they even leave social infrastructures idle."