Fifty school principals and mukhtars from the newly liberated area were lectured on how to educate students and residents about the dangers of land mines on Sunday.
Speaking during a seminar at the Dana Hotel in Ibl es-Saqi, a formerly occupied village near Hasbaya, army officers showed participants real plastic mines removed from Israel’s former occupation zone.
The seminar, the first dealing with land mines in the area since Israel completed its withdrawal on May 24, was organized by the Social Affairs Ministry and the Communist Party’s Popular Rescue Association.
It was financed by the Balamand University’s Protection Against Land Mines Unit and the US Agency for International Development. The army took care of the logistical aspects of the seminar.
First Lieutenant Sharbel Serhal focused on the areas where land mines were planted by militias during the civil war and by Israel throughout its 22-year occupation of parts of the South and the Western Bekaa.
“It’s very difficult to remove mines in Lebanon because maps of the minefields aren’t available,” he said. “The army was able to remove mines it had planted on the former front line in the Western Bekaa in three days because it had the maps.”
He explained the differences between the mines planted by militias and anti-personnel mines left over by the Israelis. “The most dangerous mines are those of the anti-personnel type. They explode when stepped on by pedestrians.”
Serhal warned against unexploded cluster bombs that produce explosive shrapnel if tampered with. “People who find land mines or wires lying above the surface must inform the nearest army position to have the area examined,” he said.
USAID’s Toufiq Rizkallah said his organization has allocated $20 million to be distributed between 1998 and 2001 to finance Lebanon’s de-mining plans, awareness campaigns, statistics and medical aid for mine victims.
Taybeh’s mukhtar, Abdel-Karim Reslan, called on the seminar’s sponsors to hold “more seminars like this in newly liberated areas to guide people about this important issue.”
He complained about a large minefield in Shoumarieh, near Marjayoun, where Israel established a military base during its occupation.
Habbouba Aoun of Balamand University’s Protection Against Land Mines Unit said the department “is carrying out an awareness campaign all over Lebanon with the help of the Lebanese army.” She pointed to the organization’s awareness programs and clips on televisions and radios.
While no figures are available about the mines planted by militias, Israel admitted that it left more than 130,000 mines in Lebanon, but it supplied maps showing the whereabouts of only 3,000 mines, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon indicated.
Since the Israeli pullout, five civilians have been killed in the South and around a 25 others injured in land-mine explosions.
A first group of Ukrainian troops, specialized in de-mining, arrived in Beirut in June to reinforce the existing UNIFIL force. So far, they have removed only a small percentage of the mines.