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Fatalities in Serbia

7 Aug

All eyes are on the Olympics at the moment, but beyond the madness of London, cluster munitions are still executing their dirty deed with gusto. In Serbia last week, two soldiers were killed during a clearance operation along the border with Kosovo. According to the Serbian defense ministry, the soldiers died after a cluster bomb exploded as they cleared a mine field near their barracks on Mount Kopaonik in southern Serbia. The cluster bomb was from NATO’s bombing campaign during the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict.

Serbian cluster bomb survivor and campaigner against the weapon, Branislav Kapetanovic, said the deaths highlighted how “absurd” it was that Serbia had still not signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a landmark treaty which bans the stockpiling, use, transfer and production of cluster munitions. It sets strict deadlines for land clearance and stockpile destruction and requires victims be given assistance.

In comments carried on the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) website, Branislav said: “This tragedy demands urgent action. It is absurd that after all these years Serbia still hasn’t joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. We cannot allow new casualties from this weapon. Every unexploded cluster bomb can cause an accident, every cluster bomb stored can be used some day. Only by destroying them and banning them entirely [can] we prevent future suffering”.

Despite having around 15 square kilometres of cluster munition contaminated land, Serbia has not signed the Convention on Cluster Munition, and according to the CMC, maintains a stockpile of the weapon.

Figures of mine and explosive remnants of war casualties in Serbia are not available. The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor reports that in 2004, 1,360 casualties (24 killed; 1336 injured) were reported between 1992 and 2000 by Serbia and Montenegro.

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In Memory of A Demining Hero

12 Mar

Kaido Keerdo in Dafniyah preparing munitions for destruction last month (Photo: Marcus Rhinelander)

According to the Libya Herald, an Estonian deminer was killed earlier this month by a cluster munition.

The newspaper said: “Kaido Keerdo, 31, was a veteran of the Estonian Army’s Explosives Ordnance Disposal unit and had trained in Kenya and worked in South Sudan before coming to Libya. He was working with the charity Danish Church Aid (DCA) when he died.” He was reportedly killed by a “Type 84″ anti-tank mine, a Chinese cluster munition that that seriously wounded two other de-miners working in the same area last year.

Keerdo and many other brave women and men risk their lives every day to try and eradicate cluster munitions and other repugnant explosive remnants of war. They get up every morning to go out to risky areas so that the rest of us may be safe from harm. Sadly, many die in their efforts, killed by indiscriminate and inhumane weapons of war. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you Keerdo for his selfless work and offer my heartfelt condolences to his family and every other family who has been affected by cluster munitions. Keerdo and his colleagues died doing the most noble work there is:  protecting others. May he rest in peace and may the world one day be free from cluster munitions.

Cluster Bombs: The weapon that keeps on killing

12 Sep

By Dalila Mahdawi

A deminer with MAG searches for buried cluster munitions in Kfar Joz village in South Lebanon. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.

KFAR JOZ, South Lebanon, Sep 12, 2011 (IPS) – Even in the summer heat, the hills of South Lebanon are an impressive sight – a patchwork of green, brown and red fields interrupted only by sleepy villages, rock formations and dirt tracks.

Most residents here have traditionally depended on agriculture to provide for their families. But instead of sowing crops or herding their flocks through the grassy terrain, for the last five years locals have viewed the surrounding hills with caution. Lurking in these fields are hundreds of thousands of cluster munitions, silently waiting to claim their next victim.

“Every day we find cluster bombs in between the houses and in the fields,” says Ali Shuaib, community liaison manager at the Mines Advisory Group, a British non-governmental organisation clearing landmines and other remnants of war in Lebanon. “There are tens of villages like this all over the South.”

Although Lebanon has been plagued by landmines since its 1975-1990 civil war and subsequent Israeli occupation, it faced unprecedented contamination levels from cluster munitions after Israel launched a 34-day war in July 2006. According to Human Rights Watch, Israel’s use of the weapons was the most extensive anywhere in the world since the 1991 Gulf War.

In the last 72 hours of fighting, at a time when the United Nations Security Council had adopted Resolution 1701 calling for an immediate halt to hostilities, Israel dropped more than four million cluster bombs over South Lebanon. Of those, at least forty percent failed to explode upon impact, according to the UN, becoming de facto landmines across Lebanon’s agricultural heartland.

These are the most indiscriminate weapons of modern warfare; 95 percent of all victims of cluster munitions are civilians, according to the NGO Handicap International. Since the cessation of hostilities five years ago, 408 Lebanese civilians have been killed or injured by cluster munitions, 115 of them under 18 years old. Unless properly disposed of, the weapons keep killing and maiming for decades.

Cluster munitions continue to wreak havoc on the Lebanese economy, too. With an estimated 36 percent of contaminated land being used for agricultural purposes, the already deprived South Lebanon has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in income, says Major Pierre Bou Maroun, chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces’ Regional Mine Action Centre in Nabatieh, which oversees all demining operations in the country. In 2007 alone, Lebanon lost an estimated 126.8 million dollars in agricultural revenue because of cluster munitions.

Israel’s use of the weapon in Lebanon helped galvanise an international ban in May 2007, when 107 countries voted for the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions. The convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of all forms of cluster munitions. It also requires countries to clear contaminated areas within 10 years, destroy supplies within eight years and provide assistance to victims.

Lebanon was among the first countries to sign the convention in December 2008 and although it only entered into force in May this year, officials have been keen to take an international leadership role on its implementation. This week Beirut hosts the second international meeting of states parties to the Convention. Delegates from over 110 governments, UN and other international organisations will attend the week-long conference along with survivors of cluster munitions to discuss how to further advance the Convention’s obligations.

The meeting “is a golden opportunity for Lebanon,” says Haboubba Aoun, one of Lebanon’s representative members of the Cluster Munition Coalition and International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and a member of Lebanon’s National Committees on Risk Education and Victim Assistance. “We hope the people of the world will take a closer look at the cluster bomb problem in Lebanon and decide to continue supporting clearance activities and victim assistance activities.”

Clearance teams have made formidable progress in Lebanon despite almost continuous funding concerns. “We have 2,259 well-known minefields” in addition to thousands of other contaminated areas, says Bou Maroun. Some 1,578 minefields have been now been cleared and returned to residents, but 22 million square metres of contaminated land remains. This figure does not include heavily contaminated areas along the so-called Blue Line border area between Lebanon and Israel, whose clearance has been left to the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL.

“Our vision is a Lebanon free from cluster bombs, land mines and explosive remnants of war,” Bou Maroun tells IPS. With sufficient funding and support, he says Lebanon could be cleared of cluster munitions by 2016. Following international pressure, Israel provided the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with maps showing the areas it targeted with cluster munitions. But, says Bou Maroun, as these maps do not show the coordinates of those targets, they are merely “papers for the trash”.

Mine clearance is painstakingly slow and dangerous work. Deminers sent to the field must abide by strict regulations and are flanked by ambulance and medics. “It’s a calculated risk,” says Daniel Redelinghuys, MAG’s Technical Operations Manager. Two MAG deminers have lost their lives and 18 have been injured in the five years since hostilities ceased, he adds. The LAF and other clearance organisations have also experienced considerable losses.

Yet the possibility of an accident doesn’t deter Hussein Tabaja, a mine clearance site supervisor with MAG. “You’re working for your country,” he says with a shrug. “When you see the faces of people after you have cleared their land, you see how many people you have helped, who can go back and use their fields again, it makes you happy. Sometimes during the holidays I actually miss coming to work.”

While there is growing international support for a universal ban, there remains staunch opposition from the world’s biggest producers, traders or users of cluster munitions, such as Israel, China and the U.S., who have not signed the Convention. As recently as late August, Handicap International censured Israel for laying fresh landmines along the border of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

And for many, any international ban will come too late. “I wish I could change my leg and get a new one,” says 12-year-old Mohammad Abd al-Aal, who has been left with a prosthetic leg after stepping on a cluster bomblet while herding his family’s goats. (END)

Lebanon closer to signing land-mine-ban pact

16 Nov

Country’s actions in sync with global trend to curb use of mines, cluster munitions
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 16, 2009

BEIRUT: Despite not signing the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, Lebanon has made considerable progress on mine clearance operations in recent years and appears to be moving closer to signing the treaty, a report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has said. “Landmine Monitor Report 2009: Towards a Mine-Free World,” released Thursday at the UN, said that although Lebanon was continuing to carry out mine-clearance activities, these efforts were facing significant set-backs because of a lack of funds.

Lebanon’s actions were in sync with a global trend to curb the use and effects of mines and other unexploded remnants of war, the 1,253-page report said.

“The norm against mine use is firmly taking hold,” said Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch, Landmine Monitor’s Ban Policy editor. “Antipersonnel mines have been stigmatized as an unacceptable weapon globally, including by countries still outside the Mine Ban Treaty.”

Lebanon is contaminated by land and sea mines laid by Israel during its withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 and during a 34-day war in July 2006, and to a lesser extent, by mines planted by Syria during the 1975-90 Civil War. Around 5 percent of the country’s agricultural land is affected by cluster munition contamination.

Some 80 percent of the world community has signed the Mine Ban Treaty, and though 39 countries, including Israel and the US, have yet to join, most are more or less in compliance with the treaty’s core provisions.

“Positive movement toward [Lebanon] joining the treaty in 2005 and 2006 was set back” by a war with Israel in 2006, ICBL said. Like Israel, Beirut has cited regional tensions as the reason why it can’t sign the document, although it appears to be slowly moving towards formal acceptance. “Lebanon’s signature of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions has given rise to hopes it will also join the Mine Ban Treaty,” said the report, adding Beirut “appears generally committed to mine action.”

Although there are thought to be at least 2,720 mine and explosive remnants of war survivors in Lebanon, victim assistance programs fall short of expectations, ICBL said, citing a similar global trend.

“Victim assistance has made the least progress of the major mine action sectors over the last decade, with both funding and the provision of assistance falling short of what is needed,” said Stan Brabant of non-governmental organization Handicap International, a Landmine Monitor editorial board member. “Progress in the most affected states has been variable, with some countries actively engaged, and others hardly at all. Hundreds of thousands of people need more and better assistance, and they need it now.”

In Lebanon, the report found the cost of services and transport, insufficient psychological and financial support, and lack of awareness of services available were barriers to the rehabilitation of survivors. Risk education programs also needed improvement.

The ICBL report also noted that although Lebanon was the fourth top recipient of mine action funding in 2008, receiving some $28.2 million, donor fa­tigue has since led to serious cut-backs in clearance operations.

There were 64 mine-clearing teams operating in Lebanon in the months following the war in 2006, with Hizbullah volunteers also working to clear an unknown number of cluster submunitions. Today only 18 teams remain. But with seven deminers and peacekeepers killed and 12 injured since 2002, 352 people injured or killed by cluster bombs since the cessation of hostilities in 2006, and the fact that “areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants [in the agriculture-dependent South Leba­non] … are very difficult to mark,” clearance efforts are es­pecially urgent, the report noted.

ICBL used its annual report to encourage states that have not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty to sign up, and urge signatories to make greater efforts to protect their citizens from the effects of war. “The Mine Ban Treaty has led to lives and limbs saved over the past decade,” said Jacqueline Hansen, Landmine Monitor’s Program Manager. “In the next decade more countries must meet their clearance obligations and efforts to educate affected communities about mine hazards should be sustained to ensure no more people are killed or injured by these indiscriminate weapons.”

UN Chief ‘Urges Israel to Pay Lebanon $1 billion’

10 Sep

UN chief ‘urges Israel to pay Lebanon $1 billion’
Request aims to compensate environmental damage
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Monday, September 08, 2008

UN chief 'urges Israel to pay Lebanon $1 billion'

 

BEIRUT: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has renewed calls for Israel to pay Lebanon around $1 billion in compensation for damage inflicted during the summer 2006 war with the Jewish state, news reports said on Saturday. The figure, which is based on calculations made by the World Bank, is intended to reimburse Lebanon for environmental and material damage it suffered during the war but most notably Israel’s bombing of the Jiyyeh power station, said the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper.

The attack, considered to be Lebanon’s worst ever environmental disaster, released between 12,500 and 15,000 tons of fuel oil into the Mediterranean Sea, polluting two-thirds of Lebanon’s coastline and endangering already vulnerable marine life. It also affected northern neighboring countries, including Syria.

Ban will present a report on the oil spill to the UN General Assembly before October this year, said Al-Akhbar. The report is said to include findings by the Lebanese National Center for Scientific Research and the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, both of which have gathered evidence in Lebanon showing the increase of such medical conditions as skin diseases and pneumonia following the war.

In addition to environmental destruction, Lebanon suffered substantial damage to its infrastructure during the 34-day war, in which 1,200 Lebanese – mostly civilians – were killed and 4,409 wounded. Throughout and following the conflict, Israel maintained a tight sea and air blockade on the country, hampering humanitarian assistance and evacuation efforts.

A report published by the UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon in November 2006 found that Israel had used “excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force” during the conflict, which followed Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers.

The Lebanese government said 32 “vital points” came under attack, with 109 bridges, 137 roads and 137 factories targeted by Israeli air strikes. Thirty UN positions came under “direct attack,” added the report, resulting in the death of internationally “protected personnel.” A number of medical facilities and private homes also came under fire.

The UN report said it was “convinced” that the bombing of Jiyyeh was a “premeditated” attack and that it “considers that it will take years for Lebanon, with the help of the international community, to be able to rebuild all the damaged buildings and other facilities.” Israel’s actions, which the UN dubbed “collective punishment,” led to the internal displacement of 735,000 people and the evacuation of 230,000 others.

The report also stated that the “failure” of Israel “to take the necessary precautionary measures violated Israel’s obligations to protect the natural environment and the right to health. In particular it caused significant damage to the Byblos archaeological site, included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.”

Lebanon also continues to suffer from the presence of unexploded cluster munitions. Israeli artillery and warplanes dropped an estimated 4 million cluster bombs over South Lebanon, most during the last 48 hours of the conflict – after a cease-fire was assured – the UN estimated. Earlier this month, the body responsible for de-mining efforts in Lebanon, the UN Mine Action Co-ordination Center, said it would be forced to halt its work due to a lack of funds.

Israel has ignored all UN requests made since August 2007 to compensate Lebanon.