Tucked away on the ninth floor of the UN Secretariat building, Patrick Blagden, the Un's official De-mining Expert and retired brigadier in the United Kingdom's Royal Engineers, placed two land-mines on a corner of his desk. His visitor, sitting only inches away, pressed back uneasily in the chair as he demonstrated how the palmsized mines open like tins of shoe polish. Missing from inside were the explosives that sever much of a person's leg when the primed mine is stepped on. With the tug of a tripwire, other models explode on the ground or jump up a metre or more to spew out lethal blast and shrapnel over sizable killing and maiming zones.
Made almost entirely of plastic to thwart detection by metal sensors, mines come in colours that obscure them in the terrain where they will be placed. one of Mr. Blagden's mines is dark green, the other buff. They may be scattered from aircraft or by artillery or carefully set in place, often in conjunction with anti-tank mines. "A mine problem is a vast national problem and not only a UN problem", Mr. Blagden said. "Building local capability in de-mining is essential."
Waiting to explode
Finding and removing each antipersonnel mine, which sells for about $3, costs from $300 to $1,000. In more than 60 countries - a third of the world's nations - 8 5 to over 10 million mines of various designs, including those buried during the Second World War, wait ready to explode. They do not discriminate between soldier and civilian or adult and child. Each week, 150 or more people - a fifth to over a half of them children - are killed by mines. Many others are maimed. A former delegate of the international Committee of the Red Cross calls it "blind terrorism".
Mr. Blagden is refreshingly frank when he speaks about the huge demining problems facing the UN and its Member States - problems remote from the lives of most people. The ghastliness of these limb-shredding weapons lurking by the tens of millions has yet "to get home", he said. …