Wednesday, July 18, 2007. Issue 3701. Page 4.
Bombs That Look Like Balls
By Roman Kozhevnikov
Scroll down to also read: Nobel Women's declaration that cluster bombs are synonymous with civilian casualties
and UN estimate that Landmines still kill 20,000 yearly
Sappers putting undetonated mines into a pit for destruction (Nozim Kalandarov / Reuters)
KHOST, Tajikistan -- Every spring, meltwater dislodges bomblets in the mountains and sends them down steep gullies toward inhabited areas.
That is how Salim Saimuddinov, 10, who was born after Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war ended, became one of its victims.
A green-eyed boy wearing ripped tracksuit bottoms and an old denim jacket, he lives in a small village in the Pamir Mountains of eastern Tajikistan.
Two years ago, he went out with his brother Narzikul to collect firewood, a necessity in a village where the electricity rarely works. It was Narzikul who spotted the bomblet and, thinking it was a ball, picked it up and threw it.
A sapper watching the mines being blown up (Nozim Kalandarov / Reuters)
"Suddenly something exploded. My leg and face were covered in blood," Salim said, looking frightened as he recalled the ordeal. "My brother brought me home and then we went to the hospital."
Shrapnel hit his right eye while his leg was pummeled by 160 small metal balls from the unexploded, Russian-made ShOAB-0.5 bomblet, part of what is known as the RBK series of anti-personnel cluster bombs.
These bombs have been found in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Uganda and are still used by the military in countries including Cuba, India, Syria and Ukraine, according to data compiled by Human Rights Watch.
Anti-personnel mine use may have declined after high-profile campaigns, but the process of clearing them is costly, and needs to go on for years after the guns fall silent.
"I was very scared," Salim said as his eyes filled with tears. "I do not want this to happen to me or anybody else again."
Tajikistan's civil war, which pitched a Moscow-backed secular government against a coalition of Islamists and others, killed 150,000 people. The country has been gradually recovering ever since.
The United Nations Development Program's Tajikistan Mine Action Center says 10,000 mines and unexploded ordnance are scattered over 25 million square meters of Tajikistan, a country that is 90 percent mountains.
Sappers using detectors to search for undetonated ammunition in Rasht (Nozim Kalandarov / Reuters)
Cluster bombs explode to scatter bomblets over a wide area, each one effectively becoming a land mine that will often remain deadly for decades.
A peculiarity of the ShOAB bomblets that wounded Salim is that the devices, 6 centimeters in diameter, often roll downhill, and, like other cluster bombs, they often arouse the curiosity of children.
"We need more deminers, we need more detectors," said Andy Smith, chief technical adviser of the Tajikistan mine center. "We do not have enough funding. The bombs will be near the land and the houses soon."
A land mine victim putting on a prosthetic leg at a hospital in Dushanbe (Nozim Kalandarov / Reuters)
There have been 300 confirmed deaths and about the same number of injuries recorded from mines in Tajikistan since 1992, many of them women and children, and there are presumed to be many more unreported deaths and maimings.
Two more people join the list of casualties every month, and there has been no downward trend.
Smith said funds for land mine clearance often flow to hot spots like neighboring Afghanistan, while more peaceful countries like Tajikistan are often overlooked.
"It will take a hundred years if this level of financing remains," he said.
Salim, whose local school teaches only Tajik and math, said his wounds made him want to learn medicine.
"I would like to become a doctor who treats eyes, to help others and to cure my own eye," Salim said.
Zafar Khamidov defusing a mine in Rasht, 185 kilometers east of Dushanbe (Nozim Kalandarov / Reuters)
Top Education Stories -- May 24 2007
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Stop world cluster bombs, urge six Nobel Prize winners
LIMA (AFP) - Jody Williams and five other female Nobel prize laureates on Tuesday urged civilians to press for the elimination of cluster bombs, which cripple children and others long after the fighting has stopped.
"While so many of the worlds arms cause so much human misery, cluster munitions deserve to be singled out as an especially pernicious weapon of ill repute," Williams said.
"They have become synonymous with civilian casualties," the US Nobel laureate read from the statement signed by her and five women Nobel Peace Prize winners: Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemala-1992); Shirin Ebadi (Iran-2003); Wangari Maathai (Kenya-2004); Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Ireland-1976).
An international conference opening Wednesday will seek to ban the weapons.
"We applaud bold initiatives that tackle such issues -- and lend our full support to this new process determined to eliminate cluster munitions," Williams said.
Williams, whose work to ban landmines garnered the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, represents the Cluster Munition Coalition, which urged South America to follow Central America, which has already banned the weapons.
Representatives of more than 100 countries are expected in Lima for the conference that follows up on work begun February in Oslo, where 47 countries signed the Oslo Declaration seeking to ban the weapons.
Before the conference ends on May 25, plans are to hammer out an international treaty to ban cluster munitions in 2008.
Taking part are countries that store or have used or produced cluster bombs, including Britain, France and Germany.
Many countries shattered by their effects such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Lebanon and Laos also were to be on hand.
Argentina, Brazil and Chile currently manufacture cluster bombs in South America. While Argentina and Chile have sent representatives, Brazil has not.
China, Russia and the United States, the largest manufacturers of cluster bombs, oppose the ban. Israel most recently used the bombs less than a year ago.
Cluster bombs dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground scatter hundreds of explosive "bomblets" over an area the size of two to four football fields, the groups say.
"They cause too many entirely predictable civilian deaths and injuries during attacks because they saturate such a large area with no degree of precision whatsoever," Williams said.
The bomblets explode, spewing fragments over a wide area, and are especially dangerous to children at play and other civilians during battle and for many years afterward, because many do not explode on landing.
"They go on killing and maiming, for days, weeks, years, even decades after the attacks because they leave behind huge numbers of so-called duds that act just like antipersonnel landmines," Williams said.
"These indiscriminate, inaccurate and unreliable weapons cannot be allowed to proliferate.
"Eliminated now, the world will not face their global contamination as it has with landmines," she added.
At least 400 million people live in areas contaminated by these unexploded weapons, the groups said, largely in the Middle East, where they are used by Israel, the former Yugoslavia and South East Asian
countries, where the United States deployed them in the 1970s.
"Few weapons present such a humanitarian problem," says the Cluster Munitions Coalition. "Weapons that do, such as landmines and incendiary bombs, have been banned or regulated and widely stigmatized."
April 3 2007
Landmines still kill 20,000 yearly, despite moves toward elimination – UN official
3 April 2007 – Although efforts to curtail landmines have been successful, much remains to be done as the devices still kill nearly 20,000 people every year, the top United Nations peacekeeping official said today on the eve of the second-ever International Day dedicated to curbing the scourge.
In the 10 years since the conclusion of the anti-personnel mine-ban treaty, known as the Ottawa Convention, “much obviously has been achieved in terms of eradicating devices which are in the ground and stigmatizing any new use of such weapons, in eliminating stockpiled devices, in assisting victims,” Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno told reporters in New York.
Casualty rates have been slashed by 50 per cent, “which has enabled millions of people in mine-affected countries to resume their normal lives by making land safe for farming and by allowing children to walk safely to school by opening roads to transportation and commerce,” he added.
However, between 15,000 and 20,000 people are killed annually by landmines years, or even decades, after the end of a conflict in such places as Western Sahara and Cyprus.
“So long as there are mines, they are a danger to the local population. They are a great impediment to the resumption of local life,” he said, calling for stronger international agreements which address the humanitarian impact of such deadly weapons.
Mr. Guéhenno also pointed out the lethality of explosive remnants of war, which include different types of ammunition, unexploded rockets and mortars. Also included in this category are the especially dangerous cluster bombs, which scatter hundreds of smaller bombs, or submunitions, intended to detonate on impact, but of which a significant portion do not.
He cited Kosovo, Iraq, Viet Nam and Lebanon as areas in which mines pose significant problems. In Lebanon, he said, the UN has helped to clean up 100,000 submunitions from cluster bombs, but a million still remain, and there have been casualties among both UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese.
The vast majority of victims of these weapons are civilians, and in Afghanistan, most victims are below the age of 18.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also emphasized the civilian component of the issue.
“Civilian populations are often the first, and always the last, casualties of war,” said Judy Cheng-Hopkins, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner. Mines and other devices “ensure that the suffering [of civilians] continues well past the signing of peace treaties or accords, past the withdrawal of armed forces and past the ‘normalization’ of relations between warring countries are groups,” she said.
UN agencies operating in Sudan also reiterated their commitment to the mine-clearing process, education and assistance to those affected by landmines.
Not only do these devices kill and injure people in Sudan every year, but they also hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid, impede refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from returning safely home and thwart the implementation of humanitarian and development programmes, according to the UN Mine Action Office in Sudan (UNMAO).
UNMAO also said that mines are preventing the “smooth implementation” of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended 21 years of separate civil conflict between north and south Sudan.
Currently, 14 UN agencies, programmes, departments and funds are active in mine action services – including finding and destroying landmines and explosive remnants of war; assisting victims; teaching people methods to remain safe in mine-affected areas; and destroying mine stockpiles; and encouraging universal participation in international agreements such as the Ottawa Convention – in dozens of countries.
To commemorate the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action tomorrow, numerous events will be held throughout the world. Exhibitions will be held in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eritrea and Switzerland, while a festival in which children will participate will be held in Chechnya.
At UN Headquarters, a mock minefield will be installed to show how the de-mining process works, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will conduct mine-risk education workshops to the public.