October 3rd, 2006 05:33 EST
Nicaragua Proposes Humanitarian De-mining Center
Despite having the smallest armed forces in the region, Nicaragua has scored strong successes against mines in this country. Now the nation’s leaders want to share that expertise with others.
In his speech yesterday opening the seventh Defense Ministers of the Americas conference, Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos announced that Nicaragua is working to start a humanitarian de-mining center.
Bolanos urged defense ministers of 33 Western Hemisphere nations in attendance here “to support this initiative so we can transfer the valuable experience acquired in training for soldiers, sappers and officers throughout the continent in this humanitarian task (and) transfer it to other regions of the hemisphere or even the world who may require our assistance.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld supports the idea, he later told journalists traveling with him from Washington. He called the proposed center “a good thing.”
“It is a problem that is important here, particularly in this part of the world, but (also) around the world,” he said.
In an interview with U.S. media traveling with Rumsfeld, Nicaraguan Maj. Gen. Omar Halleslevens, chief of the country’s army, said yesterday that his nation has earned its expertise the hard way -- by having to dispose of 160,000 landmines throughout the country left there after intense internal fighting in the 1980s.
Halleslevens explained that Nicaragua began serious de-mining efforts in 1989. At that time, officials had maps showing the locations of some 136,000 landmines in this country that is slightly smaller than the state of New York. However, specially trained teams looking for mines here have since discovered more than 23,000 that were never mapped or that got dislodged by flooding, so their location was unknown to officials.
With help from the international community, Nicaragua has removed most of these landmines, and a 600-member team is spread through five areas of Nicaragua looking for more every day. A special unit searches for and marks the location of unmapped landmines, Halleslevens said.
The country has suffered “a few” deaths among its de-mining experts and several injuries, but the ratio of people hurt or killed to mines dismantled is very small, the general said.
Nicaraguan military members have helped remove mines in Ecuador and have taught Colombian military members how to find and disable mines in their own country. “All this experience we’re trying to share with other countries that might benefit from that,” he said.
When a reporter asked Halleslevens if his country’s military would help Afghanistan with its landmine problem if they were asked, the general said simply: “We would go.”