Ecuador and Peru Deactivate Mines along Shared Border

Ecuador and Peru Deactivate Mines along Shared Border

By Alex Ormaza García/Diálogo
November 29, 2017

Ecuador and Peru seek to declare the Tiwintza border area free of anti-personnel mines by 2018. The Brasilia Agreement signed on October 26th, 1998, sealed peace between both nations.

“We estimate that we will be able to declare Tiwintza free of mines in 2018 after three campaigns. In 2017, we hope to complete four campaigns,” Ecuadorian Army Lieutenant Coronel Ignacio Fiallo, commander of the Binational Demining Unit and the Cotopaxi Batallion, told Diálogo. To achieve this objective, the countries carried out the third campaign of 2017 between September and October.

The Binational Demining Unit performs three types of demining procedures: manual, canine, and robotic. The first is carried out with metal detectors; the second with dogs trained to detect explosives; and the third with six-ton machines, whose hammers detonate mines.

Humanitarian demining

To demine the rest of the border, the countries created the Binational Humanitarian Demining Unit (UBDH, per its Spanish acronym), which allows each country's army to eradicate explosives in its respective territory and provide mutual assistance with maps and records. Those in charge of deactivating mines are members of the binational unit, which trained 1,054 demining personnel since 2000.

“Between 1998 and 1999, we determined the areas each country would demine and began the demining program,” Ecuadorian Deputy Defense Minister Felipe Vega de la Cuadra told Diálogo. “Between 2000 and 2017, we cleared 506,000 square meters of mines in five border provinces. We also destroyed 12,000 anti-personnel mines, 74 anti-tank mines, and the remains of 27 explosive munitions in Tiwintza.”

Vega highlighted procedures and operations manuals, as well as emergency air transport evacuation notices and protocols among the work the organization carries out. The latter allows a Peruvian helicopter to evacuate wounded personnel from the Ecuadorian part of Tiwintza with the permission of the binational demining unit.

“We still have 125,000 square meters to clear, 30,500 of which are in the area of Tiwintza, and 94,500 in the humanitarian demining area,” Vega said. “We have a perfect demining partnership with Peru.”

The Ottawa Convention

The two Andean countries are among the 162 signatory nations of the Ottawa Convention adopted in 1997 to drive the universal prohibition of anti-personnel mine use—with the goal of declaring the world free of anti-personnel mines by 2025. Both Ecuador and Peru requested an extension from Ottawa to demine their borders.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that shook Ecuador in April 2016—which killed 673 peopled and injured thousands—prevented the country from meeting its October 2017 target date. Its new deadline is 2021. Peru requested an extension to December 2024 to meet its objective.

“The earthquake forced us to delay our demining work and focus instead on aiding the civilian population; we had to rebuild infrastructure, provide potable water, and maintain security,” Lt. Col. Fiallo said. “Part of the delay [is due] to the emergence of new maps of mined areas, as well as weather and difficult access to jungle areas. In Peru, the anti-personnel mines were planted along the Ecuadorian border in the departments of Amazonas, Cajamarca, Piura, and Tumbes.

“We believe that by 2021, we will have completely demined the provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago, where the majority of mines are found,” Lt. Col. Fiallo said. “We’ve also scrapped 260,000 anti-personnel mines from our munitions stocks, in observance of the Ottawa mandate.” The other Peruvian provinces where demining is conducted are Loja, El Oro, and Pastaza.

Binational Humanitarian Demining Unit

To honor the Brasilia Agreement and ratify its peaceful purpose, Peru and Ecuador created UBDH during the First Presidential Meeting and Fifth Peru-Ecuador Binational Cabinet Summit in Chiclayo, Peru, on February 29th, 2012. Upon its creation, the humanitarian unit was put at the disposal of the United Nations (UN) for deployment to areas around the world in need of its services and experience.

“It’s the best example for the world,” Vega said in reference to UBDH. “The idea is that once our task is completed, this unit composed of a Peruvian and an Ecuadorian company—each with 12 demining squadrons—will be at the service of the UN to carry out humanitarian demining throughout the world,” he concluded.