Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Slog to Rid Chile of Minefields

One by one, Chile is finding and removing thousands of landmines dating back to the standoffs with its neighbors in the 1970s. But less than one-third of all mines are gone. More than 180,000 antipersonnel and antitank mines were planted in various border areas. So far, some 50,000 have been removed, leaving years of work still ahead. Chile's government this month took an unusual step, hiring a relief organization, Norwegian People's Aid, to cleanse an area that straddles the Peru-Chile border. This is the first mine-clearing job in the country for People's Aid, which has been involved in Chile since 1985. The new program arose after storms caused dozens of mines to wash onto beaches and roads. Also, a Peruvian taxicab drove through a marked minefield, killing the driver, in May. Chilean Army and Navy engineer units have been clearing mines since 2002, as part of Chile's obligations under the Treaty of Ottawa. Some Chileans don't mind the minefields at all, believing they deter drug trafficking and illegal immigration. To their disappointment, the mine-clearing job may be slow but the government is committed to finishing it. From a military standpoint, the minefields no longer have much use because they've been identified and marked. But in the 1970s, the mines helped Chile narrow a big gap with Peru's potent military.

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