One million landmines pose risks for Kurdish comeback

One million landmines pose risks for Kurdish comeback

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
One million landmines pose risks for Kurdish comeback

A group of Turkish soldiers are seen detecting landmines or roadside bombs in a southeastern village in this file photo.

A landmine explosion that killed two Turkish soldiers on May 1, has drawn attention to the mine-clearing problem hanging over Turkey, which has around 1 million mines on its soil.

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has called on both the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to announce the areas affected by landmines and demine them.

The blast that caused the killings of two soldiers, Mustafa Altan and İbrahim Özkıdır, raised the issue of landmines near Turkey’s borders and in the rural areas which were planted against the PKK militants or by the PKK itself.

Turkey has around 1 million landmines on its soil, which have to be cleared by March 1, 2014, according to the Ottawa Treaty, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. Turkey became a state party to the Ottawa Treaty on March 1, 2004.

“These mines are dangerous for everyone. If we are in a cease-fire and the PKK decided to withdraw, then both sides have duties, “ daily Hürriyet quoted BDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş as saying on May 3. “The state has to clean its mines. If the PKK announces the locations of the mines it planted, if they remember them, it would be a significant step for the safety of lives,” he said.

Turkey has a total of 982,777 landmines, of which 818,220 are anti-personnel and 164,497 anti-tank mines and has committed itself to destroying all of them by March 2014.

Turkey demands extra time from UN

However, Turkey will ask the United Nations to delay this target for demining by a further eight more years, said Muteber Öğreten, from an NGO working on demining the Turkish soil. Öğreten, an activist from the Turkey Without Mines Initiative, called on the government to speed up the demining process, saying that many people’s lives would be at risk as the time passes.

Öğreten told Hürriyet Daily News on May 3 that after the withdrawal of the PKK militants from Turkish soil, many people will want to return to their villages which were evacuated due to the clashes between the Turkish army and the PKK. “Many of these villages have landmines. Many people’s lives would be at risk if they returned there without a proper clearing process,” said Öğreten.

The blast occurred after a ceremony held by Iğdır Gov. Ahmet Pek to mark the opening of Mount Ararat to tourism in the Bayraktepe section of a plateau on the famous mountain. “This area was cleared of mines. But some are missed sometimes,” Pek said.

The clearing process is usually under the responsibility of the General Staff, Öğreten noted. “we have to ask how this clearing process took place. The related ministry has to make a statement regarding this issue.”

Turkey had a stockpile of 2,866,818 antipersonnel mines to destroy in 2006. The country accomplished the destruction of its stockpiles of mines by 2011, although it was supposed to have done so by 2008, according to the same treaty. Turkey stated that 3 million mines had been destroyed in total. In Turkey, 1,269 people were killed and 5,091 others were injured by mines as of 2011, according to related reports.