TEN-YEAR-OLD Mohamed Awil Yusuf was bored while tending his family's livestock in northern Somalia. ``I saw something lying on the ground I thought I could play with'' and picked up an antipersonnel mine that blew off his right hand, he says.
Mohamed's accident in January 1991 was nothing unusual. Across Asia and Africa, the debris of war continues to claim too many civilian victims. In response to such incidents, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on Dec. 16 calling for a worldwide ban on the export of antipersonnel mines.
The same day, the US renewed its call to 44 nations to join Washington in banning not only the export, but also the sale and transfer of antipersonnel mines. Neither the UN nor US ban, however, would halt manufacture or export of other kinds of mines, such as those used against tanks. Many militaries still consider those types of mines essential weapons.
The US estimates there are 85 million to 110 million land mines scattered around some 62 countries. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, nearly 10,000 people are killed or maimed by those land mines each year. Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sudan, and Somalia have severe land mine problems, according to the Arms Project of the US-based Human Rights Watch.
Land mines are indiscriminate. In northern Somalia, about 75 percent of the victims of mine injuries are children under the age of 15, according to a Dec. 16 report by two private organizations -
African Rights and the Mines Advisory Group, a British nonprofit organization promoting demining. African Rights, based in London, focuses on human rights issues in Somalia.
The report, which focuses on northern Somalia, Africa's most heavily mined region, goes beyond the call to limit mines, to urge their removal. ``The main countries that manufactured the mines currently in Somali soil ... the former Soviet Union, the US, Pakistan, and Belgium ... should take the lead in pushing for systematic mines clearance ...,'' the report says.
Both groups, along with Handicap International, Physicians for Human Rights, and several other organizations, are calling for not only the ban on use, production, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines, but establishment of an international fund to promote and finance land mine awareness and clearance worldwide.
In Somalia, the former government and rebel groups have laid massive numbers of mines that have killed and maimed thousands of civilians and fighters.
IDRIS ABDI MUSSA, aged 16, lost his right foot in October 1991 when he stepped on a mine while taking a shortcut to school in Hargeisa, capital of the northern, self-proclaimed independent ``Somaliland.'' Mines have also blown up many herdsmen and farmers in the region as well as livestock, the report adds.
Clearing mines is a slow process. Because many mines have minimal metal content, they cannot be easily spotted by metal detectors. Much of the clearing is done manually by teams working with small probes.
About 1,600 antipersonnel mines and 700 antitank mines are detected and destroyed each month in Somaliland by more than 400 Somali volunteers, mostly working under the supervision of Rimfire International, a British commercial company, the report says.
But the report is critical of Rimfire's performance in some instances, and calls for closer independent monitoring of its work. Western relief workers familiar with the program acknowledge there have been problems, but add that the firm has adopted recommendations for changes.
Jan Westcott, a contract employee of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), has worked in Somalia for the past three years. She says the demining program in Somaliland is ``relatively successful,'' given the insecurity and hardships of working in the area. ``This program has been running for 2 1/2years and a lot of lives have been saved,'' she says. The program also provides employment for former Somali fighters.
A UN official says that $15 million has been budgeted for demining for 1994-1995, and the UN is scheduled to take over the demining program in Somaliland on Jan. 1.