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Land mines remain danger to Ethiopians
Updated: 2004-11-29 14:08

Aberhet Amha was an aspiring runner, winning medals for her school and dreaming of adding her name to the long list of great Ethiopian Olympic athletes. But just before her 12th birthday, Aberhet stepped on a land mine.

The slight, soft-spoken girl now can barely make the trip to her school in northern Ethiopia.

UNICEF goodwill ambassador US actor Danny Glover talks to brave teenager Aberhet Amha about how she lost her leg when she stepped on a landmine, in Addis Tesfaye, near the border with Eritrea, Ethiopia, Friday, Nov 26, 2004. Glover is supporting UNICEF to attract the attention of the public ahead of the International Conference on landmines due to take place in Kenya this week. [AP]

"I am angry that I can never run again," she told anti-land mine campaigners, including U.S. actor Danny Glover, visiting this heavily mined corner of Ethiopia before a summit on efforts to rid the world of the weapons.

"I don't want this to happen to anyone else," Aberhet said, wearing her artificial leg.

The arid plains and weather-carved canyons of Ethiopia's northern highlands are littered with land mines from the country's bitter border conflict with neighboring Eritrea, which ended four years ago.

Glover laid the blame squarely on world leaders for their failure to outlaw land mines.

"Our leaders talk about peace in the world yet the first thing they should start with is this deadly threat to our children," said Glover, who is a goodwill ambassador for the UNICEF.

"This little girl once had dreams that pompous men decided to take away," Glover said. "It is the most painful thing when somebody is injured by these weapons, but it is an additional injustice when it is a child."

Glover made the trip to Ethiopia ahead of an international summit on land mines opening in Nairobi, Kenya on Sunday. Officials and activists will review the successes and failures of the Ottawa Convention, which bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines and calls for mined areas to be cleared within 10 years.

Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban mines and attended the conference in Kenya, said the Ottawa Convention had seen "tremendous successes" but risked failure.

"We would not be here ... if governments did not hear us. If governments did not show incredible leadership," said Williams, who won the 1997 peace prize along with the International Campaign to Ban Land mines that she helped to found.

"We will not see continued progress if we don't meet the needs of land mine survivors."

Each day 60 people are killed or maimed around the world by land mines, according to UNICEF. Ten of thousands of them are children, treading on mines often years after wars have ended.

"Land mines kill, maim and orphan children," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "Countries have a moral responsibility to ratify the Mine Ban Treaty and rid the world of these devastating weapons."

But so far, the world's largest producers and users of land mines have refused to sign the treaty. The United States, China, Russia, India and Egypt all produce land mines and are among 42 nations that have rejected the treaty.

The United States has stockpiled 10 million anti-personnel mines, according to the International Campaign to Ban Land mines.

"As a citizen of the U.S., I feel embarrassed and angry that they didn't ratify the treaty," Glover said. "It is deplorable that my government is not interested in protecting girls like Aberhet."

Africa is the most heavily mined continent, with more than 40 million weapons still in the ground. Angola, Afghanistan and Iraq are among the most heavily mined countries. While each mine can cost as little as $3, they can cost $1,000 to find and destroy.

Activists attending the summit in Nairobi, though, can claim some successes. So far some 143 nations have signed the accord, which took effect in March 1999. Since then more than 37 million stockpiled mines have been destroyed.

The Ethiopian parliament ratified the Mine Ban Treaty on Nov. 11, but it will take years before the country is free of the menace.

Aberhet's school, located near trenches that were the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the two-and-a-half year war with Eritrea, is also just yards from a minefield that is currently being cleared.

Casualties, though, are still mounting. Just four months ago, five-year-old Hailoym Tecklay had part of his right hand blown off.

"I saw this shiny thing on the ground and picked it up because I thought it was a pen and I didn't have one for school," he said.

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