Government plans to clear its borders of more than 975,000 landmines, four years after it ended the use of anti-personnel landmines by the army. Parliament is debating the establishment of a mine clearance agency that will be tasked with removing 975,674 landmines planted in the country's border regions. Plans to restart the demining process comes four years after the army demolished the anti-personnel mines in its arsenal.
The country became a party to the Ottawa Treaty, a worldwide convention for the clearance and banning of anti-personnel mines in 2004 and was granted an extension to the timeframe it was required to destroy all landmines in its territories in 2013 as Turkey failed to meet the first deadline in March 2014. Turkey's efforts to clear the landmines were hindered when unrest erupted in Syria in 2011, with which it shares a 915-kilometer-long border, heavily covered with mines. Conflict between the government and the opposition on planned tenders for the landmine clearance work further complicated the efforts.
Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz says that the army has already destroyed 28,309 landmines in border areas. Addressing a parliamentary session on the matter, Yılmaz downplayed the extension of the timeframe for Turkey and said many other countries also sought an extension to the deadline due to technical challenges. Yılmaz also played down the criticism of the opposition on why Turkish companies were not included in mine clearance work tenders in the past. He said the government prioritized the Turkish companies but currently there were not any Turkish firms with the sufficient capacity and certification to clear the mines. Yılmaz denied the opposition's claims that the land that will be cleared of mines would be handed over to the companies demining them. He said that laws are in place to prevent their takeover and those lands will be the property of the Ministry of Finance.
The mine clearance agency will be tasked with overseeing the clearance process by private companies. The agency will draft an action plan in cooperation with security agencies and relevant ministries for the work. Under regulations on the establishment of the agency, demining work can be carried out on the other side of the border if the government ratifies it. Officials say landmines tend to drift away from their original locations due to earthquakes, floods and other natural causes. However, it is unclear how this will affect the removal of mines on the Syrian border, which is plagued by the ongoing conflict between rebels and the Syrian regime as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Syrian Kurdish groups.
Anti-mine activists have urged the government to speed up the process of clearance, especially at a time where the country's southeast remains largely calm after the government launched a reconciliation process to end the bloody campaign of the PKK in the region.
According to statistics, more than 6,000 people were either maimed or killed between 1984 and 2009 due to landmines in Turkey. The country's armed forces had started planting landmines on the borders in the 1950s as a precaution against smugglers. Unofficial figures provided by anti-mining activists show seven people were killed in landmine explosions in the past two years and another 29 were wounded.