By Gwladys Fouche
OSLO, Nov 27 (Reuters) - The global casualty toll of landmines doubled in 2018 from a 2013 low due to conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Mali and mostly due to the increased use of improvised landmines set by militant groups such as Islamic State.
Representatives from affected nations, non-governmental organisations and donor countries are gathered in Oslo this week to discuss how to achieve the stated aim of making the world free of landmines in 2025.
Landmines killed or injured some 6,897 people in 2018, according to the Landmine Monitor report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Some 71% of the casualties were civilians, and of these, over half were children, it said.
In 2018, most casualties were due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) laid by non-state groups, the report added.
The lowest globally recorded number was set at 3,457 casualties in 2013.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said that in order to reduce the casualty toll it was necessary to engage with non-state actors, acknowledging that it was "very difficult" to do.
"We have to take on that challenge," Soereide said in an interview. The Nordic country is one of the top donor countries for demining work, with $40 million pledged to 20 countries in 2018 and 2019 respectively. No new money will be pledged at this week's conference.
Iraq is the world's most contaminated country with landmines, partly due to the mines laid by Islamic State to defend the territory it once controlled over Iraq and Syria.
Iraq was already heavily contaminated as a result of the 2003 invasion by the U.S.-led coalition, the 1991 Gulf War and the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
But this has only increased since Islamic State's presence and now at least 1,818 sq km (702 sq miles) are contaminated - an area bigger than London - according to a report prepared for the conference by the Mine Action Review research group.
"It was done on an industrial scale. Islamic State had production lines, they set serial numbers on the devices," said Portia Stratton, Iraq Country Director for MAG, a British non-governmental organisation working in northern Iraq, including the districts of Sinjar, Tel Afar and Tel Kaif and around Mosul.
"We find mine belts surrounding cities and villages and multiple rows of interlinked mine belts running across agricultural fields," she told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.
Homes in both cities and villages are also laid with landmines and IEDs and MAG wants to conduct demining inside Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city with 2 million inhabitants, depending on funding, she added. (Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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