Chile, Free from Anti-personnel Mines by 2020
By Carolina Contreras / Diálogo April 12, 2017Chile’s Humanitarian Demining Plan is now in its final stretch. “By 2020, this will be a nation free from anti-personnel mines,” Colonel Rodrigo Ventura, secretary of the National Commission on Demining (CNAD, per its Spanish acronym) of the Chilean Joint Staff confirmed at the 15th Meeting of States Party to the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines. The meeting was held in Santiago, Chile, for the first time, in December 2016. Over the next three years, Chile must eliminate 35,000 anti-personnel mines that remain buried in 41 areas identified in the north and the southern tip of the country. “We are in full swing with the 2016-2020 National Demining Plan,” Col. Ventura added. As of February 2017, the Humanitarian Demining Plan showed a 78.87-percent progression, equivalent to 146,814 mines destroyed in the areas bordering Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, according to information from CNAD. The mines had been laid over 40 years ago. Chile signed on to the Ottawa Convention in 1997. Five years later, in 2002, it initiated the National Demining Plan with volunteer military personnel from the Chilean Army and Navy who comprise five Humanitarian Demining Units (UDH, per their Spanish acronym) deployed across the country. In 2017, CNAD plans to destroy 10,885 anti-personnel mines covering 13 zones and a surface area of nearly 2.8 million square meters. Personnel and training The explosives removal and elimination duties that the military units are carrying out involve a difficult and dangerous process. Added to that, they are confronted with a wide range of geographies that they have to work in, whether at 5,000 meters above sea level in the north, or at temperatures below 5° C and winds above 50 km per hour in the south. Accessing these mine-laden places is another challenge, one that is overcome through proper logistics planning, both in human resources and materials. Thus, for instance, in the case of the southern islands, extensive coordination is needed with air, land, and sea resources in order to be able to operate without difficulty and in accordance with international norms. Given these conditions, the military units in charge of the work go through exhaustive training both in Chile and abroad. Their training and accreditation is the responsibility of the Demining and Explosives Destruction Center at the Chilean Army Engineering School. The center has Chilean and foreign instructors from U.S. Southern Command and the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining in Switzerland. Technology support Demining operations are conducted in accordance with the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) imposed by the Ottawa Convention and supported by current Chilean Army and Navy regulations and manuals. IMAS covers everything from personal protective gear for each unit to the procedures and means of support for carrying out explosives elimination. “We are seeking ongoing improvement in the conditions of safety, habitability, and operational viability in demined areas,” Air Force Lieutenant General Arturo Merino, chief of the Joint Staff, told Diálogo. In its operations, CNAD uses a geographic information system with software that allows it to maintain a database with information on geopositioning locations in mined areas and the inch-by-inch progress in their operations. Additionally, they have a data-collection system that uses GPS equipment and drones to do visual inspections, taking photographs and videos of the surface areas where they suspect mines may be present. All of this “enables us to increase our safety margins even more,” Col. Ventura said. In 2009, machinery was brought into the process, specifically in mine-laden areas that have shown discrepancies with the mine registries or that have collapsed due to weather conditions. Through the Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program under the U.S. Department of Defense, the United States has provided a bulldozer and an excavator with sifting bucket. Those units are operating in the northern town of Quebrada Escritos, accompanied by a drone which provides additional information about the surface, especially in areas that the operators are not able to see. Convention in Chile In December 2016, Chile hosted the annual meeting of the States Party to the Ottawa Convention for the first time. Held annually, the event brought together 162 member nations to review the progress being made on the commitments attached to that convention, under which 132 nations are still working on the process of mine removal. Among them are five Latin American nations: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. During the meeting, forums and workshops were held on demining-related issues that leverage each nation’s effort, such as working techniques, knowledge exchange, proposals on anti-personnel mine operations, aid to victims, and education and prevention. “We are convinced that we will fulfill our promise in the period indicated,” said Lt. Gen. Merino. “We enjoy full support for this important task,” he concluded.