Saturday, March 06, 2010

Afghanistan: Marjah - landmines pose deadly threat to civilians

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - While active fighting has ended in the Marjah area of Helmand province, improvised mines and other explosive devices are preventing a return to normal life and will continue to put lives at risk, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned today.

"Improvised mines and other explosive devices are posing a deadly threat to civilians in Marjah," said Reto Stocker, the head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul. "They make it almost impossible for people to venture out or to evacuate the sick and wounded, who therefore receive little or no medical care." As neither patients nor medical staff have been able to move about safely within the town of Marjah, several clinics have closed. Little food has reached the town recently, as very few commercial vehicles have been able to enter. Exact figures are hard to come by, but the number of displaced families still unable to return to their homes following the fighting runs into the thousands.

"Sooner or later, residents and displaced persons will have no choice but to move about, if only to find food and water," said Mr Stocker. "Sadly, there will almost certainly be casualties, as improvised mines and unexploded homemade bombs do not differentiate between a military vehicle and a boy on a bicycle."

The ICRC's first-aid post in the town of Marjah is operating again, having been closed during most of the offensive carried out by Afghan and international forces against the armed opposition. The ICRC has managed to move additional medical supplies and medical staff from other agencies into the town, but basic health-care services that were interrupted during the offensive have still not been fully restored. People from Marjah continue to depend on medical facilities in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, which remains extremely difficult to reach.

The widespread use of improvised mines and the presence of makeshift unexploded bombs in Marjah along with the absence of precautionary measures to protect civilians runs counter to the most basic principles of international humanitarian law, which prohibit indiscriminate attacks and require that all feasible precautions be taken to avoid or minimize incidental harm to civilians.

Decades of conflict have left Afghanistan with a lethal legacy, in the form of millions of anti-personnel mines. Any use of these weapons, which are prohibited in the country under the Mine Ban Convention just as they are in 155 other countries, is completely unacceptable.

International humanitarian law requires that parties to an armed conflict take all possible measures to protect the civilian population from the dangers posed by mines and explosive remnants of war in areas they control after active fighting. Such measures include marking, fencing, and monitoring affected areas, warning the civilian population about their location and clearing such areas as soon as feasible.

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