Mohamed Sowaid is nine
and has multiple shrapnel wounds. His brother Ali – equally
mutilated – is only five. Issam Missilmani is a 33-year-old
fisherman who had his right foot and left hand blown off.
Alaa Hussein is 17 and Mohamed Hijazi is 22; both were blown up,
Mohamed losing his left foot. And they are just the mine casualties
of southern Lebanon in one day this month.
In all, 11 civilians have been killed and at least 56 seriously
wounded in the fields around their homes since the “Israeli”
army retreated out of Lebanon in May, leaving behind 70,000 mines.
The figure is official. The four volumes of documents and minefield
maps, which the withdrawing “Israeli” army handed to the United
Nations after they ended their 22-year occupation of 10 per cent of
Lebanon seven months ago are a history of warfare, of No 4
“Israeli” antipersonnel mines and No 10 plastic mines, of
booby-traps and minefields atop minefields.
In all, the UN believes there are 130,000 mines and booby-traps and
unexploded bombs scattered across the harsh, brown hills of southern
Lebanon, some of them dating back to the French mandate and the
Vichy French-Allied battles of the Second World War.
Fresh from 10 months in Kosovo, Don Macdonald, 46, from Forres in
Grampian – after 22 years as an RAF bomb disposal officer – sits
in his office at Naqqoura on the Lebanese-”Israeli” border with
computer banks that show him the location of the tiniest bits of
ordnance in the wadis and thickets of this dangerous countryside.
The “Israelis” handed over a list of 288 booby-traps. At Kfar
Roumane was "a [booby] trapped vest [flak jacket] and side
charge", near Yohmor was "a trapped LAW [Light AntiArmour
Weapon]". Both were left during the occupation for Hizbollah
guerrillas to pick up.
Intriguingly, their location proves that the “Israelis” sent
patrols right through the UN peace-keeping lines to leave these
booby-traps close to the Litani river.
"So far, the UN's Ukrainian battalion has destroyed 2,135 mines
to clear land used by UN troops. The Lebanese government has to
de-mine most of southern Lebanon; and, so far, the authorities have
scarcely started to fence off the minefields. One of the little boys
so badly wounded had seen a television programme about mines and
tragically decided to try his own hand at clearance.
There are Russian PMD-6 mines – left by the “Israelis” or the
Palestinians – and French mines from 1947, left along the coast in
the very last days of the mandate. In some places, “Israeli”
minefields are planted on top of Second World War minefields, layers
of Lebanon's terrifying history waiting to explode and re-explode
under future generations. A three-man UN mine action coordination
cell operates with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, its New Zealand
boss, Greg Lindstrom, paying tribute to the detail of the maps the
“Israelis” handed over, which included suspected minefields left
by earlier occupiers.
"There's a peace dividend to all this," he says.
"Clearing minefields means that people can come back to their
lands. I saw this in Mozambique. It's a great feeling to see these
people return to farm their land." But the task that faces
Lebanon, let alone the UN, is awesome. Of the “Israeli” mines,
50,644 lie along the UN's "blue line" – roughly
corresponding to the international frontier – while another 48
clusters of minefields, containing 7,529 devices, are placed
Around every “Israeli” artillery position and outpost of
“Israel’s” now defunct South Lebanon Army militia lie acres of
ordnance waiting to explode. Children regularly play in the old
redoubts; at least 45 of these have minefields round them. More than
288 “Israeli” booby-traps – including bombs disguised as rocks
– lie undefused among the rocks and vegetation.
Are they inherently evil things, these lethal little creatures amid
the dark, beautiful hills? "All weapons are," Mr Lindstrom
says. Mr Macdonald is more philosophical. "In the hands of
someone in the military, used in a military sense, mapped and taken
away, that's one thing. It's the mines that are unmapped and left to
kill others. It's not the mine that's the problem. It's the people
who use them."