Gingerly Steps toward Demining the Globe Nations Are Slowly Joining the International Committee for the Red Cross in Seeking a Worldwide Ban on Land Mines, at Least 85 Million of Which Are Scattered across Five Continents. New Methods Are Lowering the Cost of Removal

By John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Gingerly Steps toward Demining the Globe Nations Are Slowly Joining the International Committee for the Red Cross in Seeking a Worldwide Ban on Land Mines, at Least 85 Million of Which Are Scattered across Five Continents. New Methods Are Lowering the Cost of Removal


John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


DUSTY, a seven-year-old Border Collie, strides confidently past three filters impregnated with different explosives.

She shows special interest in a fourth sample, takes a closer sniff, circles it three times, and then sits down and wags her tail. The dog has been trained to detect TNT, which the last filter had been permeated with.

"She is an old lady, but she is brilliant," says Vernon Joynt, a South African arms designer who is now channeling his energy toward the detection and lifting of antipersonnel land mines.

Mr. Joynt, managing director of the South African company Mechem, uses dogs to help detect land mines. Mechem takes air samples from areas suspected of containing mines, using protected vehicles with suction pipes that run just off the ground. The dogs then sniff the filters from the pipes to test for explosives.

The method, which is now deployed in the lifting of mines in Mozambique, holds the promise of making mine clearance a safer, quicker, and less expensive task. In fact, demining is becoming a profitable alternative to manufacturing the explosives.

Mechem has just landed $3.5 million in contracts to remove some of the estimated 2 million mines that block Mozambique's major highways and slow the repatriation of about 3.5 million refugees ahead of that country's first democratic elections scheduled for Oct. 27.

The contract was awarded by the multinational corporation, Lonrho, which has economic interests in Mozambique. Lonrho has in turn been contracted with UNOMOZ, the UN operation overseeing Mozambique's elections.

South Africa, which declared a ban on the exports of mines two months ago, is now devoting its expertise to detecting and lifting the deadly weapons that kill and maim thousands of civilians around the world each year. Beyond 1980 convention

That effort represents a small step forward in the global campaign of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for a worldwide ban on all land mines and inhumane weapons - including blinding weapons such as lasers - in line with the 1980 Land Mines Protocol of the UN United Nations Weapons Convention.

The 1980 protocol - which provides for restrictions on the use of mines, invisible shrapnel, and incendiary devices such as napalm - has failed to halt the escalation in civilian mine casualties. Thus, the ICRC-led international campaign - launched at an international conference in Montreux, Switzerland a year ago - is running into trouble.

The major obstructions, civil-rights advocates say, are from countries with vested interests in mine production and that are reluctant to commit the massive funds necessary for mine clearance.

The ICRC describes the socioeconomic, medical, and environmental impact of mines as a global catastrophe. Yet the humanitarian problem continues with the collaboration of the world's major nations.

"We are trying to convince governments to extend the moratorium on mine exports to one on production," says Raphael Olaya, ICRC delegate in South Africa on international humanitarian law.

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Gingerly Steps toward Demining the Globe Nations Are Slowly Joining the International Committee for the Red Cross in Seeking a Worldwide Ban on Land Mines, at Least 85 Million of Which Are Scattered across Five Continents. New Methods Are Lowering the Cost of Removal
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