May 17, 2007

Living in a Mine Field

It's a sick joke I made up: Did you know Cambdia is the only country with a base-five counting system? 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20. It was developed because they can only count on one hand.

When I visited Cambodia I entered the famous Ankor Wat ruins, not from the front as 99.9% of people do, but rather from a side entrance through the woods. As a travel note, I recommend it. You have the place to yourself and, upon emerging from the woods and seeing the ruins, you feel as if you've discovered the temple for the first time.

Travel log aside, I know what it feels like to be in a mine infested country. Even in areas that have been "cleaned" you're forced to think, "maybe they missed one." I stayed on well worn trails... ususally.

Reuters reports that an estimated 400 million people live in mine infested areas. I'll skip the debate about mine ban treaties.

The Reuters article focused on cluster bombs. These are bombs or missiles that disperse large numbers of smaller bomblets over their target, which each explode independently destroying everything in a wide area. They are effective at destroying small things that are difficult to target, like an advancing group of soldiers that is spread out, or small missile or gun emplacements. However, by their nature, they cause a lot of collateral damage, and conventions preclude their use in populated areas. Worse is the fact that they leave behind unexploded bomblets, often found by curious children and farmers after the conflict has ended.

The Handicap International report, cited in the AP report, said that 98 percent of the casualties of the weapons were civilians "killed and injured while returning home in the aftermath of conflict or while going about their daily tasks to survive."

In 2006, Israel committed what history will record was one of the greatest war crimes involving cluster munitions. Haaretz reported:
"In Lebanon, we covered entire villages with cluster bombs, what we did there was crazy and monstrous," testifies a commander in the Israel Defense Forces' MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) unit.

It's estimated that as many as a million unexploded cluster bomblets were left, and the truly criminal aspect is that Israel launched the vast majority in the final day or two when a negotiated settlement was imminent. It is viewed by many to have been yet another case of Israel's use of collective punishment via indiscriminate use of excessive force (a trifecta war crime). Many of the munitions were provided to Israel by the United States.

As noted above, there are prohibitions on the use of cluster munitions. Israel ignored them, and as a result, we have statements like the following being expressed in the aftermath of Israel's hammering of Lebanon in 2006:
The US Disaster Assistance Response Team Reports that the presence of unexploded ordinance continues to be the most significant security concern in the conflict-affected areas of Lebanon.
- US Government Situation Report, Lebanon, 9/5/06

The term "unexploded ordinance" is so common in these Lebanon situation reports that they have an acronym, UXO. The acronym is widely included comments like the following: Regarding Majdel Silim: "UXO scattered through the village," or "UXO prevents access to homes and agricultural lands", or in Borj Qalaouiye "UNHCR reports contamination by UXO," or in Marjaba village, "UXO significant problem," or Zaoutar Ghariya, Zaoutar Shargiya and Yahmour "90% of the land is inaccessible due to UXO," or in the Tyre District, villages of Deir Qanoun, Qana, Ramadya, Knisse, Henniyeh, Zibquin, Srifa, Maarake "UXO concerns."

And that laundry list is based on my incomplete work developing a Lebanon Village Damage Report.


Reuters: 400 million people live in "minefields": report, Robert Evans Wed May 16, 2007.

United States Government Situation Report, Lebanon Humanitarian Emergency, USAID citing various sources, Index of reports by date.
Web LINK to Index of All Situation Reports

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