Editor’s Note: The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded today to the International Campaign to Ban
Editor’s Note: The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded today to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and its coordinator, Jody Williams. Angola is one of the countries with a high number of land mines.
HUAMBO, Angola (AP) _ Buildings riddled with bullet holes are evidence of the savage street-fighting that occurred in Huambo during Angola’s civil war. But a more deadly legacy lies underground.
Twenty minefields containing thousands of anti-personnel mines have been located in this central highlands city, which was the scene of a 55-day battle in 1993.
Huambo is just the tip of the iceberg. The United Nations estimates 9 million land mines are buried in Angolan soil, while some Western aid groups put it at 20 million. The mines keep fearful people penned up in cities and hinder agriculture and efforts to tap Angola’s huge potential wealth in minerals, diamonds and timber.
The southwest African nation of 12 million people is so heavily mined _ only Afghanistan in southwest Asia has more _ that Princess Diana came to Angola last January to draw attention to the worldwide campaign to ban land mines.
That effort, led by the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and its coordinator, Jody Williams, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today.
Albino Malungo, the government minister overseeing the Angola’s mine-clearing program, said it will take up to five years to rid his country of the explosives.
``We could do it more quickly, but we need more money to put more brigades to work,″ Malungo said. ``The international community must provide us with more funds.″
Some areas are so dangerous they can be reached safely only by air.
Of an estimated 4.5 million Angolans displaced by two decades of civil war, only 300,000 have returned to their homes because of fear of the mines, the U.N. Development Program says.
At a sprawling U.N. demobilization center, a former rebel commander looked out through a barbed-wire fence at a sandy plain dotted with clumps of bushes outside Lumeje in eastern Angola.
``It is dangerous to stray too far from the center,″ said Col. Shinbizhika, who uses only one name. ``The people can’t go out to plant crops.″
Because so many people fear they will step on a mine while plowing, much of fertile Angolan land remains uncultivated, making the country more reliant on food aid.
About 90,000 Angolans, half of them noncombatants, have lost limbs to land mines. That is the world’s highest percentage in terms of total population, says the Mines Advisory Group, a London-based humanitarian group.
Removing mines is a laborious task, as can be seen at Huambo’s biggest minefield. A ring around the airport, it is 6 miles long and 30 feet wide and contains an estimated 20,000 mines.
Under the watch of U.N. peacekeepers who trained them in mine removal, former Angolan combatants crouch down and carefully probe the dusty gray soil, inch by inch, looking for mines. Each worker is protected only by a blue flak vest and plastic visor.
They find and destroy about a dozen mines each day.