Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pakistan: Mystery surrounds bomb that took the lives of thirteen children

UXO pose threat to children across Pakistan's tribal areas, say officials

Thirteen children have been killed whilst playing with a bomb in Lower Dir, North West Frontier Province, near the border with Afghanistan, and there has been intense media speculation about where the bomb came from.

One theory says it could have been one of the thousands of pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) still said to be scattered across Pakistan's tribal areas, dating back to the Soviet-era conflict in the 1980s.

Another theory says the area around Lower Dir, heavily influenced by the Taliban, has seen numerous attacks on girls' schools in the recent past (the children were playing outside one such school when they found the bomb), and that the bomb could have been planted by extremists.

According to media reports, the children found a shiny, oval object near the wall of the government Girls Primary School in their village of Luqman Banda; they brought it home and it exploded. Ten of them were killed on the spot and three others died later of their injuries.

"It was an evil act. Who would wish to harm small children in this way," Gulshan Bibi, a resident of Luqman Banda, said. All the children were under 13.

Local police official Sultan Mehmood confirmed the bomb was found "outside a girl's school" but said more information was being gathered.

Schools attacked

The militants have over the past two years attacked 200 schools in the area, most of them for girls. Most of these incidents took place in Swat, but at least two schools have also been targeted in Dir. In many cases bombs have been planted in a manner aimed to create fear but minimise deaths.

"After the peace deal in Swat between militants and the provincial government crimes have increased in Dir, too. Development workers have been threatened and enrolment at girls' school dropped," Ibrash Pasha, who is engaged in Dir with the Peshawar-based NGO Khwendo Kor which promotes education for girls, told IRIN.

"There is so much violence here, anything is possible," Gulshan Bibi from Luqman Banda said.

UXO from Soviet invasion era

Saeed Zaman, another local police official who visited the scene, told the media the region was littered with UXOs abandoned during the 1980s by 'mujahidin' fighters.

While there are no definite figures as to the number of UXOs and landmines dating back to the Soviet invasion period, Raza Shah Khan, executive director of the Peshawar-based Sustainable Peace and Development Organization (SPADO), which campaigns against landmines, has said the tribal agencies of Bajaur and North and South Waziristan "are infested with mines from the Soviet time". He also said demining was difficult due to a lack of official policy on this.

Pakistan is not a signatory to the 1997 Ottawa treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel landmines, which has been ratified by 124 countries and signed by nearly 150 nations.

According to the Ottawa-based Land Mines Monitor, which campaigns against the use of landmines, in Pakistan, by May 2008, 66 people had fallen victim during that year to landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Of these, 26 people were killed and 40 injured. SPADO has pointed out that most casualties occur in tribal areas.

The Land Mines Monitor said: "There is no comprehensive casualty data collection mechanism in Pakistan. Under-reporting of mine/ERW casualties is certain, as most incidents occur in remote, conflict-affected areas which are not covered by the media. An NGO representative estimated that only 50-60 percent of casualties are reported.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits