By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of people killed or injured by landmines across the world reached a 10-year high last year, driven by a spike in improvised devices planted by militant groups like the Islamic State, researchers said on Tuesday.
Casualties caused by landmines, victim-activated explosive devices and unexploded weapons left behind after war totaled 6,461 in 2015, a 75 percent increase on the previous year, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
More than three quarters of victims were civilians, 38 percent of them children, the Nobel-prize-winning lobby group said in its annual report.
An overwhelming majority of casualties were recorded in just five conflict-ridden countries - Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Ukraine - according to the report.
Jeff Abramson, the editor of the study, said the increase in casualties was largely attributable to militant groups using homemade explosive devices at unprecedented levels.
It would appear that improvised mines are being used on "almost a factory scale as landmines were used historically in the past", he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Islamic State, for example, were known to have scattered improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Syria and Iraq to prevent rival forces from entering an area or civilians from fleeing it, Abramson said.
Greater data availability from new detailed surveys in Syria and Libya also played a role in the rise, Abramson said.
Only three countries - Myanmar, North Korea, and Syria - planted new mines in the 12 months to October 2016, while rebel groups used the deadly devices in 10 countries including Colombia, Nigeria and Pakistan, the study said.
It said that 171 sq kms of mined areas worldwide were reportedly cleared last year. Most of the cleared areas were in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Croatia.
Signed by 162 countries, the 1999 Ottawa Convention bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of landmines.
But anti-personnel landmines remain present in 60 nations.
North Korea, Syria and Myanmar are not parties to the treaty. The United States, Russia, China and India also have not agreed to the convention.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)