Wednesday, October 24, 2001

U.N.: Unexploded bombs trap villagers

By KAREN GULLO-- The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Unexploded bombs from a U.S. air raid have trapped villagers in a west Afghan village, leaving them afraid to venture from their homes, U.N. officials said Wednesday.

U.N. mine-removal officials urgently appealed to the U.S. military for information about munitions dropped at Shaker Qala and elsewhere.

"The villagers have a lot to be afraid of because these bomblets, if they did not explode, are very dangerous," said Dan Kelly, manager of a U.N. mine removal program for Afghanistan.

"And they can explode if the villagers so much as touch them," Kelly told reporters.

Shaker Qala is located outside the western Afghan city of Herat and only hundreds of yards from a military camp.

U.N. officials believe the bombardment of the area Monday included cluster bombs -- munitions that normally carry up to 200 three-pound bomblets, Kelly said.

A group of villagers appeared at the U.N. mine removal offices in Herat the next morning, saying the soda can-sized devices littered their village, U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said.

"They were afraid," Bunker said.

Local mine-removal workers are trying to clear paths for villagers so they can leave their homes and go about daily activities, Kelly said. For now, workers are simply piling sandbags around them, he said.

"The Afghan civilians are not aware of what kind of weapon it is. Our people that do survey work and the people that do clearance do not know how to destroy it safely," Kelly said.

Cluster bomblets spray shrapnel at the velocity of a bullet, and can set fire to any combustible material, Kelly said.

About 70 percent of the people of Herat have taken refuge in surrounding villages like Shaker Qala to escape U.S. attacks on Taliban targets.