15 February, 2007
International efforts to eradicate the scourge of anti-personnel landmines was the focus of a panel discussion in Athens on Wednesday evening, with a handful of speakers detailing the situation on the ground around the world today, 10 years after the seminal Mine Ban Treaty -- better known as the "Ottawa Convention" -- was enacted.
According to Craig Maclachlan, the deputy permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament and deputy to the president of the Mine Ban Convention, some 153 countries have signed the treaty so far, whereas 43 have not.
On the bright side, Maclachlan said 38 million stockpiled anti-personnel landmines have been destroyed since 1997, whereas production has been severely curtailed as well and nearly US$380 million has been earmarked over the years for landmine clearance along with support and aid to victims.
Conversely, he said the Asia-Pacific region lags behind in adherence to the treaty, whereas a total of 10 "non-state actors" have engaged in mine laying over the past few years.
On his part, Per Nergaard, director of the mine ban action unit of the Norwegian People's Aid, a noted NGO, said his group is active in 12 countries, including SE Europe’s Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Regarding the latter, Nergaard said between 750,000 to one million landmines were planted in the one-time Yugoslav republic during the civil war in the 1990s. Additionally, estimates today range from 400 to 2,400 square kilometres as "mine contaminated" in the country.
Moreover, he called attention to a conference next week in Oslo centered on the non-proliferation of cluster munitions, a looming threat similar to anti-personnel landmines.
Finally, Ioannis Probonas, the head of the Hellenic Army's landmine unit, said 31 Greek mine disposal officers and servicemen have died in the 53 years that the Greek military began operations to clear WWII and Civil War-era minefields.
He stressed that the remaining mapped minefields on Greek territory, in the Evros border area opposite the Turkish frontier, are clearly marked with danger symbols, warnings in three languages and enclosed by no less than two chain-linked and barbed-wire topped fences.
Nevertheless, Probonas said 104 illegal immigrants have been killed in Greek minefields since 1995, and another 187 have been severely injured.
"We have to ask ourselves if these incidents aren’t intentional acts by some people who want to test the effectiveness of the Greek minefields," he noted, adding that Greece has formally promised to clear all minefields by March 1, 2014.
The panel discussion was organised at a downtown Athens hotel by the embassies of Australia, Canada and Norway and also co-hosted by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).
A private contractor will undertake mine clearance on the mountains of Grammos and Vitsi, northwestern Greece, within the framework of an initiative announced on Wednesday by the Western Macedonia Region authority. Thousands of landmines, grenades, munitions and makeshift explosive devices remain buried in the region since WWII and the Greek civil war.
The company will undertake to clear mines over 30 hectares, replacing the Greek Army which was exclusively responsible for such operations until now.
U.S. and British satellites will be used to locate minefields that are not on the map while local shepherds, hunters, and loggers will be asked to point out areas that they know are dangerous from experience.
The 4.47-million-euro project will be launched immediately and will be completed in November 2008.
Source: Athens News Agency