Devices Slowing Lebanese Development, UN Says; More landmines left over from the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon are preventing development, according to Steffan de Mistura, the UN secretary-general's representative in the area.
"The question of mines has very negative implications for a return to normal in southern Lebanon," de Mistura said. "They stop agriculture, they stop the will of the donors to get involved, they stop the confidence of many Lebanese to return to their own territories."
According to UN estimates, Israel planted more than 130,000 mines in the 850-square kilometer border area it occupied in southern Lebanon until last May. While the UN Interim Force in Lebanon has cleared more than 2,150 mines since then, de Mistura agreed with Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud that a large-scale operation is needed to clear the mines. "We are ready to help," de Mistura said.
Lebanon has asked other Arab countries for help in financing the operation, which is estimated to cost more than $50 million. So far, only Egypt and Jordan have offered to send experts to help clear mines (Agence France-Presse, 22 Jan). Italy has contributed $250,000 to Lebanon for mine clearance and Russia offered to help after sending a team of experts to assess the situation this month (Khalil Fleihan, Beirut Daily Star, 23 Jan).
De Mistura this week tried to persuade Lebanon to sign the Ottawa Convention banning the use of landmines. One diplomatic source quoted Hammud as saying "Lebanon is waiting for the right time to endorse it." Hammud reportedly will inform UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today that Lebanon cannot endorse the convention as long as Israel still occupies part of Lebanese territory and refuses to hand over maps detailing the location of landmines in southern Lebanon. The source also said Israel is still manufacturing landmines (Khalil Fleihan, Beirut Daily Star, 24 Jan).