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Australia: Millions to clear Afghanistan mines

/ Source: The Associated Press

Australia will donate $9.15 million toward land mine clearance in Afghanistan, the foreign minister said.

Stephen Smith also urged NATO countries to commit more troops to Afghanistan, saying Australia was doing "a lot of the heavy lifting."

Smith, speaking on International Mine Action Day last week, said mines caused a significant personal and economic toll on Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, a legacy of more than two decades of occupation and civil war. Demining teams have cleared large areas, mainly in towns, but civilians are still regularly killed or maimed by driving or stepping on them.

Australia, which sent 95 army engineers to Afghanistan and Pakistan between 1989 and 1993 to train locals in mine clearance, has committed about $450 million in aid to Afghanistan since 2001.

Smith also spoke of Australia's 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, urging other countries to increase their numbers.

"Australia is doing a lot of the heavy lifting," he said. "Our commitment is substantial. We have a very strong view — it is shared by the US and UK — that there needs to be a more broadly based commitment from NATO countries."

NATO members meeting in Romania on Thursday pledged to fill gaps in the 47,000-strong NATO military force in Afghanistan.