Wednesday, February 28, 2007

UAE official says South will be clear of unexploded munitions by end of 2007

BEIRUT: South Lebanon will be cleared of cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance by the end of 2007, the director general of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Program to Support and Reconstruct Lebanon announced on Tuesday. The number of cluster bombs left over from the summer 2006 war with Israel is "unordinary," Mohammad Khalfan Rumaithi said in a statement. "We have never witnessed such a great number of cluster bombs in any previous war."

The munitions were particularly difficult to detect in cultivated fields and valleys, he said.

"Searching for cluster bombs in such areas requires strenuous efforts and serious work," said Rumaithi.

"The UAE program represents an honest humanitarian and brotherly message … It is not the first in Lebanon," he said, in reference to a UAE de-mining project in 2001 which he said was "the most successful model of its kind worldwide."

"Emirati aid to the Lebanese state and people has never stopped since the war with Israel ignited," said Rumaithi.

Thirty specialized teams are working on clearing unexploded ordnance in the South, he said, adding that a group of UAE military engineers has joined the clearance teams.

The first batch of troops with the Engineering Corps of the UAE Armed Forces arrived in Lebanon in mid-January to work in collaboration with the United Nations and the Lebanese Army, the statement said.

The initiative to clear South Lebanon of mines and cluster bombs was launched by Emi-rati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

The mission includes campaigns to educate residents on the dangers of unexploded munitions. According to UN reports, the number of bombs and mines in South Lebanon is higher than in Iraq or Kosovo.

Agreements have also been signed with two British companies, Armor Group and Bactec, to carry out a large-scale mine-clearance operation.

It is estimated that an area of over 3 million square meters out of an area of some 583 million-square meters in the South is infested with cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance.

The UAE units have already completed de-mining missions in the Southern villages of Muleikh, Arnoun, Qalaat Shqeef, Dallafa and Arab Salim.

After clearance work was completed, the areas were "handed over" to the villages’ mayors in special ceremonies attended by representatives of the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Committee, the Lebanese Army’s National De-mining Bureau, the Ministry of Antiquities and area residents, who praised the UAE for its efforts.

The statement said certain areas south of the Litani River that had been de-mined during the 2001 initiative would be re-cleared to remove cluster bombs and other ordnance left behind after the latest Israeli bombardment