May 14, 2009 / 4:27 PM / 10 years ago

Angola asks for help in clearing landmines

By Henrique Almeida

LUANDA, May 14 (Reuters) - Countries that took part in Angola’s civil war have a duty to help clear thousands of landmines left behind from the conflict, the African country’s social welfare minister said on Thursday.

The three-decade-long war pitted the ruling MPLA party, backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba, against the main opposition UNITA party, supported by the United States and South Africa.

"We are doing this alone when there were 11 or 12 different armies that mined our country," minister Joao Baptista Kussuma said on the sidelines of a national conference on landmines.

The war, which turned into one of the longest Cold War conflicts, resulted in half a million dead and hundreds of thousands of landmine injuries. Angola still has the largest number of landmines in the world after Afghanistan.

Asked if he thought some of the nations that took part in the conflict should help Angola clear the landmines, Kussuma replied: "I certainly do."

Angola has invested millions of dollars since the end of the war in 2002 to clear landmines and pave the way for the construction of roads and bridges and jump-start its once prosperous farming sector.

Still, 106 people were killed and 200 were injured by landmines in Angola from 2006 to 2008, according to a study by its De-Mining Commission released on Thursday.

The UN estimates that, despite an extensive de-mining programme, millions of landmines remain scattered across Angola. Large stretches of the country are still out of bounds, too dangerous to farm or to travel through.

"We have cleared over half of the 4,000 identified minefields," he said.

"But the size of our national territory, along with the fact that we have no maps for some areas could stop us from developing our de-mining operations faster," he said.

Every year, Angola hosts the "Miss Landmine Survivor" beauty contest in which 18 women take part — one from every province of the country.

(Reporting by Henrique Almeida; Editing by Giles Elgood)




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