Peace Time: Eternal Landmines In Central Asia

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April 25, 2013: Landmines continue to be a nasty problem for many former communist nations. This is especially true of countries in out-of-the-way places that rarely generate many headlines for any reason. A typical case is Tajikistan. One of the northern neighbors of Afghanistan, Tajikistan long had mines on its borders because of communist policies towards free movement (as little as possible). After becoming independent of Russia in the early 1990s, Tajikistan went through several years of civil war in which both sides planted thousands of Cold War surplus landmines. Russia helped settle that internal conflict and supplied peacekeepers, who also manned the Afghan border to try and keep the Afghan heroin and hashish out. This involved more new minefields along the Afghan border. There were also some mines planted on the new international borders (with other former parts of the Soviet Union).

While Tajikistan got some foreign aid to help with clearing all those mines, only about 30 percent of the known minefields have been cleared so far. Fortunately the mines tend to be planted in thinly populated areas, so only about 350,000 people live near enough to the mined areas to be in any danger. Thus, since 1991, 20-30 people a year have been killed by the mines with another 30-40 wounded. Civilians are the most frequent victims of landmines.

Landmines were outlawed by an international treaty 14 years ago, but this mainly applies to nations that don't have landmines or don't have any reason to use them. Rebels and gangsters have not signed the international agreement and find the mines a cheap way to control civilian populations and slow down the movements of the security forces. It takes more time, money, and effort to remove these mines than to place them.

The most effective way to get the mine clearing done is by training local volunteers to be part of the part-time mine clearing teams. The government must provide training, pay (which should be good by local standards), and health and life insurance. When a new bunch of mines are found (usually by an animal coming across them), the team gets to work.

Despite efforts like this, it has not been a promising time for those seeking to enforce the ban on the use of landmines. In the last few years Israel, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Myanmar (Burma) planted new mines. In addition, there are three countries still manufacturing landmines (India, Myanmar, and Pakistan). Arms dealers will still provide large quantities of Russian and Chinese landmines, many of them Cold War surplus. China, Russia, and other communist nations were major producers of landmines during the Cold War. The mines were produced not just for use against potential enemies but to aid in keeping the borders closed and preventing citizens from leaving these unpleasant dictatorships.

There has been a growing list of outlaw organizations that are ignoring the 1999 Ottawa Convention to ban landmines. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are manufacturing landmines in primitive workshops and using them against Pakistani and Afghan, against foreign soldiers, as well as Afghan civilians who refuse to support the Islamic terrorist group.

Despite the 1999 treaty, landmines are still causing over 5,000 casualties a year worldwide. About twenty percent of the victims are killed and 90 percent of them are males. This is largely because men are more likely to be out in the bush or working farmlands that still contain mines. A third of the casualties are security personnel (police and soldiers). This is because in many countries rebels and criminals are still using landmines, either factory made ones from countries that did not sign the Ottawa Convention or locally made models.

Landmines are simple to make and workshops are easily set up to do it. There's no shortage of mines out there, despite the fact that in the first few years after the 1999 Ottawa Convention was signed over 25 million landmines, in the arsenals of over fifty nations, were destroyed. But these nations were not users and rarely sold them either. For those who want landmines, they find a way to obtain and use them. The Taliban are the latest group to demonstrate this. Leftist rebels in Colombia have been making their own mines for years now, as have Islamic and communist rebels in the Philippines. There are believed to be over 100 million mines still in the ground and at least as many in military warehouses for future use.

The 1999 Ottawa Convention was supposed to have reduced land mine casualties among civilians. It hasn't worked because the owners of the largest landmine stockpiles, Russia and China, refused to sign. Chinese land mines are still available on the international arms black market. China is believed to have the largest stockpile, mostly of anti-personnel mines. The old ones are often sold before they become worthless. But even these mines, which go for $5-10 each, are too expensive for many of the criminal organizations that buy them. Land mines, competitive with the factory built ones from China, can be built for less than three dollars each. You can find all the technical data you need on the Internet.

Anti-vehicle mines are increasingly popular and are particularly common in poor countries where there are still a lot of dirt roads traveled by buses and trucks, carrying dozens of passengers each. While these mines are usually intended for military vehicles, mines can't tell the difference. As a result, in this year or next, Colombia or Afghanistan will have the largest number of annual mine casualties in the world.

 


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