KUWAIT: The unprecedented heavy rains which recently lashed Kuwait also unearthed dozens of landmines planted by Iraqi troops during their 1990-91 occupation, disrupting the state's popular desert camping season, officials said yesterday. Authorities have closed 18 desert sites and have so far removed at least 48 mines after receiving complaints from the campers, they said. The civil defense committee has urged campers to delay their plans until after the defense ministry has searched the areas, said Fahd Al-Shutaily, deputy director of Kuwait's Jahra and Farwaniya governorates.

"Floods have uncovered and carried away scores of mines, bombs and ammunition left by the Iraqi army in desert areas. We are waiting for the defense ministry to hand over the areas after clearing them," Shutaily told AFP. The ministry of defense is currently searching at least 18 sites which are normally used for camping.

Iraqi troops, under former president Saddam Hussein, invaded and occupied Kuwait on Aug 2, 1990 before they were evicted seven months later by a US-led international coalition. But before that, Kuwaiti authorities say Iraqis planted some two million mines mostly in the desert. Through multibillion-dollar contracts, Kuwait removed some 1.65 million mines, leaving behind 350,000 others.

Since early November the desert state of Kuwait has received about 300 mm of rain - almost three times its annual average rainfall - which has caused widespread damage to residential zones. The flooding of desert areas has come at the start of the camping season, when hundreds of thousands of Kuwaitis set up modern camps for around four months.

After waiting to enjoy the beautiful and usually uninhabited desert areas, some campers are refusing to heed the warnings. "A majority of my relatives and neighbors are camping," Yousef Abdullah told AFP. "No one is backing down because of fear from mines... We impatiently wait for the camping season," he added. Shutaily however said that over the past two days, authorities have removed 36 camps and warned 60 others. - Agencies