June 17, 2011:
Algeria has nearly finished removing a half century curse. This blight is several million mines planted by France during the war with Algerian rebels in the late 50s and early 1960s. Algeria is still clearing over 10,000 landmines a month from its borders. This high rate of clearance has been going on since 2007, when France finally turned over maps of minefields. Because of this, in the last two years, over 600,000 mines have been removed.
Since the French Army turned over those 1960s era maps of their minefields, Algerian Army engineers have removed over 1.1 million mines. France laid nearly 11 million mines between 1954-62. Since 1962, the Algerian military has found and removed about three-quarters of these mines. But when the French left in 1962, they did not leave behind the maps of where their mines were planted. Four years ago, the French finally agreed to provide these maps. This enabled Algerian engineers to greatly increase the number of mines they removed per month.
France provided Algeria with maps of where three million French mines were planted in remote border areas. These were part of a mine field system found along 1,200 kilometers of the Tunisian and Moroccan borders, and meant to make it more difficult for Algerian rebels moving in and out of the country. Most of those mine fields are in unpopulated areas, and have never been cleared. But each year, shepherds, and others moving along the border areas, are killed or injured by the mines, as are their animals. The mines in more traveled areas have been removed over the decades. But now, with the maps, the mines in remote areas can be cleared.
The mine maps were always an irritant in relations between the two countries, as France never offered to provide them before. But in the last five years, the French army has been seeking opportunities to improve its relationship with Algeria. Since the 1950s, the French army has been particularly hated by Algerians, because of the rough tactics used during the late 1950s and early 1960s, before France finally left and Algeria became independent. But over the decades, the hatred has died down.
Over the last few years, the Algerians have removed over 90 percent of the mines shown in the French maps. Many mines have moved, as the sand or earth they were buried in, moved due to wind and water action. Some of these will never be found, and many of those are now so deep in the ground that animals, or people, walking by will not set them off. But these mines will remain lethal for decades more. Such was the case with World War I munitions that didn't go off when used nearly a century ago. Shells, grenades and aircraft bombs still explode when a farmer, or construction crew, digs them up. Fortunately, most of the remaining French mines are in remote areas of Algeria. There, they are probably a danger only to future archeologists, seeking traces of ancient civilizations.