TUNCELI - The recent death of two Turkish soldiers by a mine blast has brought the land mine issue to the country’s agenda once more – and at a moment ripe with hope for lasting peace with Kurdish minority.
Turkey, a signatory of the Ottawa Treaty in 2003 was supposed to clear its territory of mines before March 1, 2014. But less than a year away, the deadline seems unrealistic: hundreds of thousands of mines must still be removed.
The last official recording in 2008 show Turkey had a total of 982,777 mines within its borders, of which 818,220 are anti-personnel and 164,497 are anti-vehicle, as well as another 15,150 anti-personnel mines used for training. The total means Turkey has more mines than any of the other the Ottawa signatories.
There is a land mine for every 73 people in Turkey according to the initiative A Landmine-Free Turkey. This ratio rises to a land mine for every 10 people in certain locations, such as the provinces of Mardin, Batman, Van, Diyarbakir, Tunceli, Bingol, Agri and Sirnak, where about 800 village roads are mined, including some 50% considered at “high-level threat” of detonating.
Ten more years?
The work of clearing the mines at the Turkey-Syrian border was supposed to begin in October 2011, but the civil war in Syria prevented it from beginning. Turkey is now expected to ask for an additional decade to carry out its pledge to the Ottowa Treaty. Data by anti-land mine NGOs show that the most of the Turkish land mines are at the Syrian border (about 613,000) followed by the Iranian border (about 195,000), Iraqi border (about 69,000) and the Armenian border (about 22,000).
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Leader Kemal KilicdaroÄŸlu has declared: “Let the mined areas be cleared and given to the villagers without land.” Selahattin Demirtas, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) made a call to both the Turkish military and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to declare the locations of the mines they have laid.
Demirtas claimed neither the military nor the rebels have mine maps. “Land mines were laid at areas close to the civilians and named conflict zones in recent years. We know hundreds of locations were mined with the logic of ambush, but there is no map for where the mines were laid," he said. "Theses mines are now a danger to everybody. Both sides have duties since we entered a period of non-conflict, PKK is preparing to begin the withdrawal and important steps are being taken for the solution of the Kurdish problem.”
Demirtas said the state should clear its own mines while the PKK should declare where theirs are as they begin their withdrawal.