Demining: No Room for Error
By Dialogo April 01, 2012
Peruvian and Ecuadorean Armed Forces have returned to the battlefield after a
territorial dispute that lasted several years. This time they do not meet as enemies but
with the same insignia on their uniforms and a common goal. They exchange information, train
together and use the latest protective gear to demine their shared border.
“It is something unprecedented,” said Wilyam Lúcar Aliaga, general coordinator of
the Peruvian Anti-Personnel Mine Action Center (CONTRAMINAS, for its Spanish acronym). For
this public official, demining has proven to be an excellent tool for developing a mutual
trust between the two armies, something that he considered hard to achieve. “When we stop to
think, a country with which we have had a serious problem now allows a Peruvian aircraft to
enter [its territory] if an accident happens,” he said.
CONTRAMINAS, which is housed under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the body
responsible for coordinating humanitarian demining in Peru and the actual demining. These
operations, carried out by the Peruvian Military and the National Police, are not only
expensive, but require extensive training and resources such as the use of technology and
canines. As a State Party of the Ottawa Convention, Peru seeks to fulfill its commitment to
eradicate anti-personnel land mines (APL) from its territory by March 1, 2017.
Peruvian Air Force Colonel Mario Espinoza, who is also the alternate technical
secretary for CONTRAMINAS, explained that the removal and destruction of APL takes place at
the northern border with Ecuador, as well as outside prisons and high-voltage electrical
towers around the country. In years past, the Peruvian Government saw the need to place APL
around the walls of maximum security prisons to prevent the escape of terrorists imprisoned
inside and to protect electrical infrastructure from attack by terrorist organizations.
In 2011, CONTRAMINAS destroyed 1,495 APL placed by both nations in the Condor
mountain range. Peruvian Government authorities project the number of APL removed in 2012
will be higher, thanks to better resources. As of January 2012, the organization reported
335 victims of land mines, among them 142 civilians, 118 military and 75 police officers.
Demining methods in Peru have begun a new phase of modernization. Demining experts
use dogs and machines instead of only manual demining, making the process 11 times faster,
according to Lúcar Aliaga. Col. Espinoza said that the use of dogs in detection makes the
work efficient. “Detectors detect metal; and in the case of canines, they detect the
explosive,” he said. Front-end loaders, the machines used, have been adapted specifically
for land mine removal operations. The area where the driver sits has been reinforced for
protection. After the machine digs into the ground, a soil sifter unearths the land mine,
then the demining personnel move in to destroy it.
Dave Bruce, program manager at RONCO Consulting Corp., an international
organization that specializes in humanitarian and commercial mine action and ordnance
disposal, has shared his expertise with the Peruvian Government. In January 2012, he left
the country because Peruvian authorities were carrying on the mission with their own experts
and internal funding. Bruce said that the contract with RONCO, the purchase and training of
eight mine detention dogs, the medical and demining training, and the helicopter that is
always present in case of an urgent medical evacuation were made possible under a U.S. State
Department-funded program that began in 2009. Metal detectors, several vehicles, medical and
personal protective equipment – such as special vests and helmets with clear visors – were
Trainees must first take a five-week class to learn the history of land mines, how
they were produced and where they were placed. In addition, “they need to be physically fit
because the work is quite hard; at times it can be very hot because the jungle is very hot
and humid,” Bruce said.
Lúcar Aliaga said that the assistance from the U.S. Government enabled the
renovation of a demining training center located in the Bagua province of Peru’s Amazonian
region, and the 2010 inauguration of a national demining training center in the city of
Pimentel, north of Lima.
He looks forward to the day when the new demining center can serve the entire
region, protecting the farmers and herders, mostly children, from the land mines planted
near where they work.
Colombia Produces its Own Mine Detector
Industria Militar Colombiana and the University of the Andes are developing the
first land mine detector that will determine the location of mines manufactured with metal
and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by terrorist groups.
The first dual mine detector, which integrates a ground penetrating radar (GPR) was
in phase 2 of four phases of development by February 2012. This type of radar displays
images of the ground and provides the opportunity to identify a buried object. In Colombia,
approximately 9,594 people have been affected by anti-personnel land mines in the past 21
years, among them civilian and military personnel. Civilians make up approximately 3,614 of
the victims (35 percent), among them about 1,000 children. The remaining 5,980 victims
include police and military forces.
Daniel Ávila Camacho, director of Colombia’s Presidential Program of Comprehensive
Action against Anti-personnel Mines, told Diálogo that the main method used in his country
for land mine removal is the metal detector due to the topography of the territory. The
possibilities of the new GPR metal detector therefore may help Colombia conquer land mines
and IEDs once and for all.