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Mine clearance in Afghanistan: further Australian assistance required.



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WAYNE SWAN MP

ACTING SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

MEDIA RELEASE

19 January 2002

MINE CLEARANCE IN AFGHANISTAN: FURTHER AUSTRALIAN ASSISTANCE REQUIRED

The Acting Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Wayne Swan, today renewed Labor’s call for the Australian Government to make a significant additional contribution to the urgent task of anti-personnel landmine clearance in Afghanistan.

“The wounding of a highly-trained Australian Special Air Service soldier underlines the great danger posed by uncleared landmines in Afghanistan”, Mr Swan said.

“As a consequence of nearly a quarter of a century of conflict, Afghanistan is one of the three most mined countries in the world. United Nations agencies estimate that nearly 1,000 sq km of the country is mined, and that 334 sq km of this is in key agricultural areas.”

“According to the UN, up to 300 civilian casualties a month are still occurring through landmine accidents -- that is, ten every day, including children. The total number of casualties is probably greater, as fatalities, by definition, do not report themselves.”

“The landmine clearance problem is compounded by the massive amounts of unexploded ordinance arising from the current conflict - including unexploded, yellow-coloured cluster bombs which are particularly visually attractive to children.”

“Mine clearance is an urgent priority, both because of the need to reduce civilian casualties and to remove a major impediment to the distribution of emergency food aid and the repatriation of 3.1 million refugees back to Afghanistan and the return of more than 1.5 million internally displaced persons within the country.”

“Mine clearance is a vital part of the efforts to deal with the Afghan refugee crisis. If roads, fields and villages are mined, people are not going to go return to their homes.”

“Australia has been a modest contributor to the United Nations Mine Action Program in Afghanistan for some years, although this contribution was reduced to zero in 1999. In 2000, Australia contributed one tenth of the amount contributed by the Netherlands, a country of comparable economic size to Australia.”

“It is matter of concern that the Australian Government has still not responded to the urgent recommendation for further support for mine clearance activities made by the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, following his visit to the Pakistan/Afghanistan border a month ago. In his report on his visit, Mr Rudd recommended that Australia contribute an additional US$2 million to mine clearance efforts in Afghanistan.”

“The Howard Government should delay no longer and make an urgent additional contribution to help reduce the terrible human toll of landmine casualties in Afghanistan.” (An extract from Mr Rudd’s report is attached.)

Contact: Wayne Swan 0418 795 329 or Philip Dorling 0418 861 602

AFGHANISTAN TACKLING THE REFUGEE PROBLEM AT SOURCE

A Report on a Visit to Islamabad and Peshawar by Kevin Rudd MP, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs 10 December - 15 December 2001

Extract

De-mining Afghanistan

16. De-mining is equally fundamental to the restoration of security in Afghanistan. Afghanistan after 20 years of civil war has become one o f the most mined countries in the world. UN agencies and NGOs with whom I spoke in Islamabad regard an acceleration of the de-mining program as fundamental to security for returning IDP’s and refugees; for the delivery of emergency food and the reconstruction of roads and agriculture. The UNHCR Country Co-ordinator for Afghanistan advised that his office in certain cases has had to advise internally displaced persons against returning home because of the mine threat

17. Prior to the renewal of conflict after September 11, the total contaminated area of Afghanistan had identified was 948 square km. This included

• 157 square km’s of agricultural land . • 14 square km’s of residential and commercial land • 3 square km’s of irrigation canals • 32 square km’s of roads • 138 square km’s of grazing land

18. The human and economic impact of the landmine problem has been immense. Quite apart from the impact on agriculture and transportation, non combatant causalities are estimated to be as high as 150 - 300 per month - with many more believed to die before receiving medical treatment. I encountered a number of civilian’s casualties of land mine accidents at the Shamshatoo refugee camp near Peshawar.

19. In January 1990 UNOCHA initiated the mine action programme for Afghanistan (MAPA) the year 2001 marks the 12th year of MAP’s mine action work in Afghanistan. The current workforce of MAPA includes 10 expatriates and 4,800 Afghans. The Director of MAPA advised that in the 12 year history of the programme, there had only been one causality from among the many de-mining teams working across Afghanistan.

20. Some 20 supporter countries including Australia have contributed to this programme (of approximately $20 million US per year) since the early 1990’s. Australia has been a modest but consistent contributor - with the exception of 1999 when it contributed zero. The pattern of donor country contributions can be found in Attachment F.

21. Because of the impact of post 11 September hostilities, the proliferation of unexploded ordinance (in particular yellow coloured US Cluster Bombs which are particularly attractive to children who, attracted to the brightness of the colour are in danger of mistaking unexploded cluster bombs for similarly coloured US Aid food

packages dropped across Afghanistan) in addition to fresh mine laying by retreating Taliban, the mission of MAPA has become massively compounded. As a result of this, the UN Co-ordinator for Humanitarian Affairs has launched an emergency plan for donor states for the period October 2001 - March 2002. This appeal is for a total of US $34 million for the upcoming 3-4 month period in order to undertake emergency mine clearance in areas impeding refugee repatriation and the return of internally displaced persons. Of this amount, as of 13 December, UNOCHA advised that there was still a shortfall of US$15.8 million.

22. Australia has provided US $256,000 to the general appeal. This does not appear to take into account the urgent and expanded demands of the mine action programme. It also noteworthy that Australia’s contribution stands at less than 10% of the Netherlands - a country of comparable economic size to Australia and arguably a country less effected by refugee outflow from the region than Australia. It is also noteworthy that according to UNOCHA, Australia’s contribution represents little more than half that of New Zealand.

23. According to the UN Co-ordinator for Afghanistan, the UN estimate is that it would need US $30 million per year for 12 years to clear the bulk of unexploded landmines in Afghanistan. The UN could achieve this in 3 years if donor countries provided US $200 million per year.

24. Australia has a proud history of involvement in engagement in de-mining operations - most particularly in Cambodia and, in the early 1990’s in Afghanistan itself. Australian Defence personnel deployed in the Afghanistan de-mining operation have since been employed by the UN to assist with the UN’s global responsibilities in the area of de-mining. The Programme Co-ordinator for MAPA also advised that a South Australian firm had produced the best de-mining device available on the international market.

Recommendation

It is recommended that for the upcoming emergency requirements of the period until March 2002, Australia should contribute an additional US$2 million to the emergency UNOCHA donor alert for the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan. This additional contribution should be made immediately and ideally this contribution should be made in cash. The Programme Manager of the Mine Action Programme indicated that some supplementation of an Australian contribution could be made in kind given the considerable expertise that Australia has in the de-mining area.