Bolivia: Chile Agrees to Remove Mines along Border, Opens Opportunities for Bilateral Talks
Bolivian authorities responded favorably to Chilean plans to commence demining operations along the border between the two countries in July. Top officials say the move is a tangible step toward greater integration and cooperation between the two nations, which remain divided regarding Bolivia's demand for access to the Pacific Ocean. It may be one of the first steps toward resolving the conflict that has prevented the two countries from developing high-level political and commercial relations.
Chilean military to remove more than 4,000 mines
The demining of the Bolivia-Chile border began on July 21 with the cleanup of two minefields and 3,300 anti-personnel mines, according to Chile's Defense Ministry. Armed forces demining units will also remove and destroy 1,100 anti-tank mines, which supposedly cannot be detonated by people walking over them and are not included in the 1997 Ottawa Convention against mines, which Chile signed in 2001.
Previously, the Chilean government had ordered the partial excavation of a minefield in Tambo Quemado, where much of the work is also happening today. The government destroyed 820 mines in that clearing project in December 1999. Officials say that all minefields along the border have been fenced in and labeled with signs in accordance with international standards.
The removal effort will also include giving assistance to victims of mine accidents and providing accident-prevention education for residents in the area. The Chilean government hopes that the current round of mine removal will be concluded in 2006, after eight months of work.
"Our challenge," said Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet in an interview, "is to finish between now and 2012 with the 118,377 anti-personnel mines that we have planted in 174 minefields in different parts of the borders in the north and south of our territory." Of those, 22,988 anti-personnel mines are planted in 42 different fields along Chile's border with Bolivia.
Ravinet said that, in the 30 years the minefields have been along Chile's borders, the government has recorded 49 mine accidents, leaving a total of 123 victims. Of those victims, 63 suffered injuries from anti-personnel mines, 57 from anti-tank mines, and 3 from unexploded munitions abandoned in the field. Twenty-three victims died and 100 were wounded and had to undergo amputations. Victims included both civilians and soldiers. Seventy-five Chilean soldiers had mine accidents, and, among civilians, 27 Chileans, 15 Peruvians, and 6 Bolivians were victims of mine incidents. Ravinet pointed out, however, that much information about victims was incomplete or needed better verification.
Losses to cattle, which are not well quantified, are said to have well exceeded human victims. Five years ago in Charana, Bolivia, a group of campesinos unearthed mines planted in 1975 after the failed peace attempt known as the "embrace of Charana" between dictators Hugo Banzer (1971-1978, 1997-2001) and Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). The campesinos, tired of the loss of cows, sheep, and llamas caused by the mines, delivered them to a local firefighters' station.
"A step toward greater integration"
Chilean Defense Minister Ravinet said the demining operation would "contribute decisively to generate better conditions for integration, as much at the physical level as politically and in relations between the two peoples." Ravinet said the demining would improve the quality of life for residents in border areas and would remove an obstacle to exchanges between the countries. The government intends to build a binational Integrated Customs Complex to facilitate transit along the common border. Officials hope that increased trade and transit will help fortify relations between the two countries.
In the first five months of 2005, Bolivia exported US$16 million in products to Chile and imported US$53 million, leaving Bolivia with a bilateral trade deficit of US$37 million. …