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Scattered landmines turn Afghans into amputees.

Summary: Moussa Khan had just been making his way back from a long day's work at a copper mine south of Kabul thinking about the son he lost a week earlier to a landmine blast. That day, Khan too stepped

Moussa Khan had just been making his way back from a long day's work at a copper mine south of Kabul thinking about the son he lost a week earlier to a landmine blast. That day, Khan too stepped on a landmine.

Seven months later, Khan, his lined face wrinkled in concentration, still struggles to find his balance with a prosthetic limb in place of his right leg.

"When I heard the bang, I suddenly found myself flung nine meters away. May God punish them all," raved Khan, 50, his frail body clothed in blue greyish traditional Afghan long shirt and baggy trousers.

Who knows who planted the mine. In Afghanistan, with its three decades of conflict, it could have been the "Russians, the Communists, the Taliban", he said. Last year alone, landmines caused 5,197 casualties worldwide, a third of them children, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

Countries will gather in Cartagena, Colombia from Nov. 29 to Dec. 4 for a major review conference of the ten-year-old Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, which has been ratified by 156 states, according to the ICBL.

Large countries such as the United States, Russia, Pakistan and India have yet to sign up, but campaigners hope to persuade them.

Some 44 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines have been destroyed over the past decade by states under the treaty. But in Afghanistan, vast undetected areas remain covered in mines.

An orthopedic center run by the International Committee for the Red Cross in Kabul registered 842 amputees in the first 10 months of 2009, three quarters of them victims of land mines.

"Life will not stop"

The center provides prosthetic limbs and designs wheelchairs and crutches for disabled patients. Najmuddin Helal, head of the orthopedic center and a mine victim himself, said more than 90 percent of the employees are disabled.

"We call it discrimination, but positive discrimination."

Amputee employees, having been through the trauma of an accident and learning to live with an artificial limb can better relate to patients affected by a similar experience, he said.

"To lose part of the body is not easy to accept. When they (patients) come here of course they are so disappointed and they are depressed," Helal said.

"In a way it helps them to see many other disabled here, who can get prostheses and can walk again. It's a hope for them, to help them psychologically. They see that with a disability, life will not stop."

The center, a sprawling maze of workshops, clinics and a gymnasium-like space for patients to test their prostheses, focuses a lot of work on social re-integration of its patients.

Amputee patients are encouraged to continue education, learn a trade or work at the center if there is room for them.

The center offers a $600 micro-loan to be paid over 18 months for patients who want to start their own business, such as selling goods in a shop. So far about 6,000 people have been the beneficiaries of that project.

"To find jobs for non-disabled people in Afghanistan is almost impossible, for the disabled it makes it worse."

No mapping

Throughout Afghanistan's tumultuous history, warring factions have changed and frontlines have shifted, leaving the country littered with landmines and little mapping system to locate them.

"To put the mine, it is very easy. But to clear them, is so difficult," said Helal.

About 650 square kilometers (250 sq miles) of Afghanistan is still littered with mines, said Shahab Hakimi, head of Afghanistan's Mine Detection Dog Center, which trains bomb-sniffing dogs and carries dangerous out mine clearance work.

It's an area almost the size of New York City. Assuming security and funds are available, MDC could clear it in 4-5 years, said Hakimi.

In Tangi Sayedan village south of Kabul, a team of some 20 de-miners use mine-sensor tools and sniffer dogs to detect mines. It is dangerous, painstaking work. Between 30 and 35 MDC workers have been killed on the job and 25 permanently disabled.

The organization has dug up mines manufactured in places as far-flung as Egypt, Italy, Iran, India, Pakistan and Russia.

A 2009 Landmine Monitor Report says 160 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines remain, mainly in the stockpiles of five countries which have shunned the treaty -- China, Russia, the United States, Pakistan and India.

Teenager Nour Rahman does not know who planted the landmine he hit four months ago when driving a tractor. Hoisting his maimed leg towards the sun at the ICRC center and sporting a red leather jacket, Rahman says his life has not changed.

"I just lost a leg, otherwise I'm the same. I have a bright future," said Rahman, who still dreams of being an engineer.

For Helal, Rahman's optimism is the reason why he has been doing his job for so long. Helal himself lost both legs nearly 30 years ago, when he was 18 years old. He had just finished school and was hoping to join university when disaster struck.

"I thought my life was finished, I was completely hopeless," he said, until he came to the ICRC center where he was fitted with prostheses and was then asked to work there.

"When I see people coming without legs or crawling and then leave the center with their own legs, it's a big hope, it's happiness. Some people when they come to the center, they see it's a sad place, but in reality it's a happy place."

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Publication:Al Arabiya (Saudi Arabia)
Date:Nov 27, 2009
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