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French Version

De-miners hope to finish work in South by end of year

The main organization clearing the estimated 1 million piece of unexploded ordnance (UXO) blanketing Lebanon after the summer 2006 war with Israel said on Wednesday that it hopes to have the South made safe by the end of the year.

Colonel Mohammad Fehmi, a representative from the National De-mining Office (NDO), made the hopeful announcement during a news conference held at the Movenpick Hotel in Beirut.

"Our goal is to have cleared South Lebanon of cluster bombs by the end of 2007," he said.

Chris Clarke, the program manager for the Mine Action Coordination Center in South Lebanon, said Israel had yet to provide specific figures as to how much ordnance it had sewn across Lebanon.

"Demands have been made continuously through the UN and other diplomatic channels to Israel for information about these cluster bombs, but there is no answer. Hence these numbers are merely estimations," he explained.

Cluster bombs scatter hundreds of smaller bomblets, intended to detonate on impact, but a significant portion do not.

The estimated area of contamination in Lebanon is some 35 million square meters, 24 percent of which has been de-mined to date.

The de-mining campaign has been carried out by the Lebanese Army, in cooperation with UNIFIL troops and various non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

"The main target so far has been to clear agricultural areas" Clark told The Daily Star,

"So far 113,241 cluster bombs have been cleared. In terms of progress, this is a phenomenal amount."

The UN General Assembly declared April 4 International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Tuesday called on the international community to "act immediately" to address the horrendous humanitarian affects of cluster bombs.

"[Cluster bombs] indiscriminately kill and maim civilians, just as easily and frequent as land mines do," Ban said during a speech at UN headquarters in New York.

The NDO says casualties from cluster bombs in Lebanon since August 12, 2006, the date of the cessation of hostilities under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, total 30 dead and 194 wounded.

Of these 224 victims, 170 were civilians, of whom 22 - all male - died from their wounds. Seven of these 22 were under the age of 18.

The NDO says 35 percent of the citrus sector and 35 percent of the olive sector have been rendered off-limits by UXOs.

UNICEF is partnering with the NDO and NGOs to raise awareness on the dangers of UXOs in Lebanon.

Since a significant percentage of the casualties have been young boys, one of the main goals in the UNICEF campaign is to create a behavioral change among young men.

"Many adolescence boys play with the cluster bombs, even though they know it could kill them," UNICEF representative Lubna Izzeddine told The Daily Star.

Other UNICEF initiatives involve educating trainers, providing physical rehabilitation, making schools accessible to disabled children and implementing awareness campaigns into school curricula.

If the South is in fact cleared of all UXOs by the end of the year, the next step will be to clear the rest of the country.

Beirut 05-04-2007
The Daily Star

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