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International workshop urges rapid demining in Lebanon

International workshop urges rapid demining in Lebanon

A two-day workshop on ridding Lebanon of thousands of deadly landmines littering the territory opened today in Beirut amid calls for urgent action to begin mine clearance in the country's south.

Addressing the meeting on behalf of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, the Minister of Defence, Khalil Hrawi, said Lebanon must deal with more than 1,500 minefields which jeopardized civilian life and hampered investment in development projects. In addition, he expressed regret that Israel had refused to provide the UN with relevant maps of the minefields.

Also taking part in the workshop, the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed Omran, formally announced his country's intention to contribute $50 million to finance demining operations in Lebanon -- a donation that was widely hailed by the participants.

The Secretary-General's Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, Steffan de Mistura, said the United Arab Emirates was a major donor which had demonstrated "great vision and generosity." He added that the UN would support the Lebanese Government's own demining plans.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, praised the efforts of all those working on mine clearance, noting that their work would contribute to building a lasting peace.

Participants adopted a declaration which noted that the menace posed by mines was most prevalent in the south, and stressed the need for demining efforts to begin there. The declaration also expressed strong support for the Lebanese Government's proposal to set up a "mine action coordination cell" for southern Lebanon bringing together all partners involved in the process. In addition, participants agreed to begin demining immediately "while efforts proceed through the United Nations and the international community to pursue the Israeli maps that have been withheld," according to a statement released today by the UN Information Centre in Beirut.

Tomorrow, delegates will conduct a field visit to Nabatiyeh in south Lebanon to witness mine clearance operations conducted by the Lebanese army, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the UN Interim Force for Lebanon (UNIFIL).