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Agence France Presse

Mine-Filled Iraq to Accelerate Clearance


Iraqi incendiary experts walk in line as they survey the ground for mines in the Rumayiah oil fields (AFP)

BAGHDAD - Mine-filled Iraq plans to accelerate the clearance of anti-personnel mines that threaten to kill up to five percent of the country's population, officials announced on Monday.

"Iraq has one of the world's largest contamination problems of landmines, unexploded ordnance and other explosive remnants of war," Iraq's environment minister Narmin Othman said in a statement.

"Clearing these mines is essential and urgent. We intend to increase coordination within the government on this is important issue," she said.

Iraq is a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty, which bans anti-personnel landmines. However, after decades of war the nation has about 20 million mines and more than 20 million cluster bombs.

The majority of the ordnance is in the eastern part of the country and dates back to 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War and the first Gulf War in 1991.

The autonomous Kurdish region, which has enjoyed relative independence since the early 1990s and the US-led invasion six years, ago also been mined in areas.

"Landmine clearance is a key element within broader efforts to stimulate Iraq's economy," said David Shearer, deputy special representative of the UN Secretary General and a UNDP envoy to Iraq.

"Mines are limiting access of farmers to their lands, preventing increased oil production and putting the lives of Iraqi civilians at risk," he added.

About 1,730 square kilometres (667 square miles) are mined in 4,000 locations in 13 of 18 provinces, affecting 1.6 million Iraqis.

According to the UN, more than 8,000 Iraqis, 25 percent of them children have been killed or disabled by cluster bombs.

"The number 8,000 is very conservative. It's a very rough number," UNDP spokesman for Iraq Paal Aarsaether told AFP.

"Now that the security situation is improving, we and the Iraqi government will carry out a very comprehensive survey of land mines," he said.

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