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close this bookICRC Overview 1999 - Landmines Must Be Stopped (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1999, 40 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentLegal background
View the documentVictim assistance
View the documentMine awareness
View the documentMine clearance
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Mine clearance

Mines continue to inflict injuries and suffering everyday. One of the solutions to reducing the risk of accidents is demining. Mine clearance is required both by amended version of Protocol II to the CCW (anti-tank and anti-personnel mines) and by the Ottawa treaty (anti-personnel mines only).

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is not directly involved in undertaking or funding mine-clearance operations, but strongly supports the need for humanitarian demining efforts that take account of the real needs of affected communities. The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is the new focal point within the United Nations system for mine clearance. A number of dedicated specialist non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Halo Trust and the Mines Advisory Group from the UK and Norwegian People’s Aid from Norway are active in clearing mines in many countries. In addition to supporting indigenous mine-clearance capacities, a number of governments are also financing research activities to develop improved mine-detection and mine-clearance techniques.


A humanitarian mine-clearance operation aims to remove all mines from an area in which civilians are already living or are planning to resettle, while minimizing the risks for demining personnel. Clearance operations usually include the following phases: minefield location and marking, detection of individual mines, disposal and/or demolition.


· In 1998, the United Nations had mine-clearance programmes in eight countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Iraq, Laos and Mozambique. These programmes were run under the auspices of a mine action centre which carries out clearance operations, training programmes, awareness activities and assistance to victims. Close cooperation with the governments concerned and with NGOs involved in mine-related work is crucial in order to ensure sustainable national mine-clearance capacity and effective coordination of activities.

· The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) is a British NGO which has a global policy of establishing an indigenous capacity to respond to the long-term problem of mines. It trains selected local people from affected communities, including mine amputees, to survey, mark and clear minefields, and to set up community awareness programmes. MAG seeks first to clear the land that is most important to the community, which may not necessarily be in the areas where the greatest number of mines are to be found. Its work began in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992, and has expanded rapidly with the establishment of programmes in Angola, Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam.

· Based on its experiences gained in mine-related activities, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) has developed a complete programme to address the many challenges that a country with a serious mine problem faces. It is designed so that the local authorities are able to continue the projects, both economically and technically, within five years. The programme includes the following elements: mapping minefields; training and organizing local deminers; demining, manually and using dogs; mine awareness programmes; developing new methods of demining; and international and national lobbying for a total ban on antipersonnel landmines. Active since 1992, NPA is currently involved in operations in Algeria, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Iraq, Laos and Mozambique.

Locating minefields

Locating minefields involves delimiting and marking an area suspected of having mines, without necessarily finding them. The fact that in many conflicts mines are seldom laid in accordance with military doctrine means that mined areas are rarely demarcated and no records are available. Mine clearers often resort to local intelligence, asking the villagers where mine incidents have occurred and whether any livestock has been killed by mines, to identify areas likely to be mined. Once unmarked minefields are found, they must be demarcated. This task is often complicated in areas where marking signs may be valued as building materials or firewood. The fact that no mines are found in 90% of a suspected area does not necessarily mean that none will be discovered in the last 10%; the smallest “minefield” is of course a single, isolated mine.

Mine-clearance techniques

In many situations, the most effective and reliable detection technique remains the painstaking use of a hand-held prodder by a crouching deminer. However, more and more a “tool box” approach is used, which consists in combining different detection methods: mechanical means, to unearth or explode the devices; metal detectors (these do not react to mines containing very little or no metal), to locate the devices; trained dogs, to smell out explosives; and finally, manual search methods using prodders, such as bayonets or screwdriver-like instruments to probe the ground for the mine casing.


Once a mine has been detected, it needs to be disarmed and disposed of or destroyed on the spot. A mine can be neutralized by reinserting the safety pin, or by removing the detonator. Once neutralized, the mine can be disposed of safely. Because of anti-handling devices, booby-traps or unstable detonators, mines are often destroyed on the spot with an explosive, without ever being touched. Many experienced deminers have been killed or injured while trying to clear booby-trapped mines.

Better detection technologies would considerably increase the safety and efficacy of demining operations. Present technologies being developed include ground-penetrating radars, artificial noses and thermal imaging techniques.