A fresh attempt at clearing mines (Turkey)

After several tenders on the subject were opened and then cancelled in the recent past, we're again hearing fresh reports that the Finance Ministry is drafting another bill that seeks to ensure that mine fields along the border between Turkey and Syria will be cleared and made available for agricultural use.


The bill will empower the ministry to procure contractors for mine clearing work, unfettered by the public procurement law. Under the bill the ministry may open tenders for land as a whole or partially, according to a March 1 Today's Zaman story.

The ministry will also be authorized to sell the property in the mine-cleared areas. However, a certain portion of the land will be allocated for military use and for the Border Physical Security System (SFGS) that will be established. Five years will be the maximum time given to the contractor for mine removal, while the timeframe for use of the cleared areas for agriculture will be up to 44 years.

The order by which the mined areas will be cleared will be determined according to an agreement among the General Staff, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry.

The reports of a new bill designed to clear mines come at a time of increased calls for Turkish decision makers to introduce non-military measures to reduce popular support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists as the Turkish ground troops returned home on Friday, after a week-long military incursion inside northern Iraq to destroy PKK targets.

Last week Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also stated that the eastern and southeastern regions will be cleared of mines as part of measures to address the problems of the area.

Cleaning the region of mines placed in the mid-1950s stands as one of the most important means of addressing both the economic and social grievances of the war-stricken, Kurdish-dominated region.

Making those lands available for agricultural use will pave the way for more employment opportunities, while the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), will turn into a more meaningful social and economic development scheme.

According to estimates, 30,600 hectares of land will become available for agricultural use, providing employment opportunities for around 6,000 families once the mines along the Syrian border are cleared.

Turkey opened several tenders for the cleaning of mines in the past years but they all resulted in cancellation or with judicial conflict due over their terms and conditions.

Now that a new bill is prepared for clearing the mines from the region, we may hope that this time the process will start soon.

Out of a total of 921,080 anti-personnel land mines (APMs) placed along the Turkish borders, 615,149 (450,652 APMs and 164,497 anti tank mines, or ATMs) mines were placed along the 820-kilometer-long Syrian border, initially between the years 1956 and 1959 to prevent illegal passage through the Syrian-Turkish border.

There are also an unknown number of APMs along the Iraqi and the Syrian borders placed by the PKK.

Turkey, which in 2003 became a party to the Ottawa Convention on the destruction of APMs, has undertaken to destroy 2,973,481 APMs in its stocks by this year and 921,080 APMs placed along its borders by 2014. However 16,000 APMs will be kept in its stock.

Turkey has announced it has cleared APMs and ATMs along its border with both Greece and Bulgaria.
Around 14,840 APMs along the Turkish borders have so far been destroyed --clearing 48,120 square meters of land of mines.

Four hundred military personnel died and 1,216 were injured as a result of the explosion of APMs between the years 1984 and 2004. Neither the figures for civilians killed or injured as a result of mine explosions in the Southeast nor the total number of ATMs placed elsewhere within the country are available.

In the meantime, some local people have been seeking the return of some of their ancestral lands expropriated at the time to place mines, as Milliyet columnist Güngör Uras recalled in his article published on Sunday.

Clearing the mines placed in the region will be costly and difficult, but the Turkish bureaucracy should this time act more quickly for the sake of ending the mine-related, centuries-old trauma felt in the region.

Von: www.todayszaman.com, 04.03.2008

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