- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) — A group committed to the removal of land mines in Afghanistan will present a $250,000 contribution to an Afghan diplomat Wednesday night at a celebration marking a traditional Muslim holiday.

Roots of Peace, based in San Rafael, Calif., announced the success of its Harvest of Hope campaign, which began on Sept. 11, 2002, to raise funds to clear Afghanistan's Shomali Valley, where grapevines have been grown for thousands of years. The campaign raised a quarter of a million dollars in partnership with the Adopt-a-Minefield program of the United Nations Association of the USA and the HALO Trust, which specializes in clearing land mines and unexploded ordnance in countries that lack the capacity to dispose of such hazards following a war.

The funds will be presented to Hekmat Karzai, first secretary of the Afghan Embassy, at the San Rafael rug and home furnishings store (IMG Home) of Tony and Sam Abrahim, 41, identical twins who fled war-torn Afghanistan as teenagers. The evening will feature Afghan music, food, and performance by the Ballet Afsaneh. A photo exhibit by Teun Voeten will demonstrate the lethal harvest of land mines. This year the Eid-ul-Adha — a Muslim holiday of peace, thanksgiving, and forgiveness — is celebrated on Feb. 12, at the end of the Hajj, the season of pilgrimage to the sacred sites of Saudi Arabia.

Heidi Kuhn, founder and president of Roots of Peace, told United Press International that the U.N. Charter was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, following the atrocities of World War II. The U.N. vision, following the prophet Isaiah, was turning swords into plowshares. "We felt very strongly that a modern rendition of that was converting mines to vines," she said in a phone interview, "and replacing the seeds of destruction with the seeds of hope."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, shortly before he was to have opened the U.N. Conference. On May 19, the U.N. delegates held a commemorative ceremony in tribute to his memory among the redwood trees of California's Muir Woods' Cathedral Grove, where a dedication plaque was placed in his honor.

Kuhn said her group approached the California wine industry — including Robert Mondavi, Beringer Wine Estates, and Eric Wente, among others. "It was really a leap of faith on the part of vintners respecting the plight of other farmers. … Regardless of the political issues, the land mines are in the ground endangering innocent farmers and families," she said.

"We work very proudly with the United States government. The State Department's Office of Mine Action Initiatives and Partnerships has matched every dollar we raised for mine-clearing in the Balkans."

Nadia Tarzi, one of the event organizers, is vice president of the Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology Inc. "The extent of the devastation is overwhelming, but our hearts remain filled with high hopes and love for humanity," she said. "We're fortunate that amazing individuals, such as Heidi Kuhn and Tony and Sam Abrahim, have never shifted their focus from the urgent needs of Afghanistan."

The Muslim faith prohibits the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Kuhn said table grapes and raisins were a primary Afghan export crop before land mines disrupted their cultivation.

"During the 'Eid-ul-Adha,' every member of the Islamic society will reap some fruits or collect some revenue to benefit others," said Karzai.

Adopt-A-Minefield supports the U.N. mine clearance operations in partnership with Ted Turner's Better World Fund. The campaign's mission is to return land to productive use by clearing land mines to allow for the rebuilding of homes and schools, safe return of refugees, and reintegration of land mine survivors into their communities. Since its launch in 1999, the campaign has raised more than $6.3 million for mine clearance in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Mozambique, and Vietnam.

The HALO Trust has been working in Afghanistan since 1988. It focuses on the poorest of the world's poor, who are forced to live in and among minefields because they have no other choice. HALO employs more than 5,000 de-miners, with more than 800 working in Afghanistan's Shomali Valley.

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Photo reference WAX2003021250 at upi.com

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