ASSISTANCE PROGRAM FOR DEMINING IN CENTRAL AMERICA
Unit for the Promotion of Democracy
Organization of American States
The Assistance Program for Demining in Central America was created by the Organization of American States in 1991, in response to requests by Central American countries affected by antipersonnel landmines (Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua). Since May 1995, the general coordination and supervision of the Assistance Program for Demining in Central America (PADCA by its initials in Spanish) has been provided by the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD), with the technical support of the Inter American Defense Board (IADB). The PADCA is a humanitarian program, which strives to restore public confidence and security to the citizenry and reduce the threat posed by landmines and other unexploded artifacts of war.
The program is a multinational effort, with participation by donor and contributor countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, El Salvador, France, Germany, Great Britain, Guatemala, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United States, and Venezuela.
The Unit for the Promotion of Democracy provides overall diplomatic/political coordination of the Program, fundraising within the international community and the transparent management and accountability for use of international funds. This coordination, both at headquarters and in the affected states, seeks to ensure that all essential components of each national demining project are operating properly (evacuation and medical emergency system, equipment, transportation, food, stipends, insurance coverage for both supervisors and sappers, etc.). The UPD also coordinates the campaign on preventive education for the civilian population.
The IADB is responsible for organizing the international team of technical advisers, supervisors, and mine-clearing experts that carry out the on-site training, provision of technical advice, and supervision of the demining operations; also participates in the design, implementation, and logistic coordination of the national demining plans; certifies that mine-clearing operations are carried out with appropriate, reliable means and materials for detection, destruction, reliable search and verification methods, with appropriate safety procedures and standards.
This team of specialists from OAS member states: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, and the United States, has its headquarters in Danlí, El Paraíso, Honduras, from where they are relocated to each of the national projects.
The affected countries (Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua) also make a considerable contributions by providing their sappers, material and financial resources according to their capacity.
The OAS has supported the consideration of the issue of antipersonnel landmines, since 1991 through General Assembly resolutions: “Report on the Procedure or Establishing Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America”, “Support for Mine-Clearing in Central America” and “The Western Hemisphere as an Antipersonnel-Land-Mine-Free Zone.”
These resolutions acknowledge the commitment to promote and make an effective contribution to regional security, complementing and reinforcing efforts to strengthen and maintain international peace and security; to support the Central American countries in their efforts to clear their territories of antipersonnel landmines and their programs on preventive education for the civilian population, the physical and psychological rehabilitation of victims, and the socioeconomic reclamation of demined areas
On the other hand, in keeping with the efforts to transform the Western Hemisphere into an antipersonnel landmine-free-zone, the General Assembly requested a complete and integrated registry of the antipersonnel landmines, based on information provided annually by Member States on the following: approximate numbers of antipersonnel landmines in their stockpiles, the number of antipersonnel landmines that have been removed in the previous year, their plans for clearing the remaining antipersonnel landmines, and any other pertinent information.
In 1998, the Permanent Council established a registry of antipersonnel landmines to comply with this mandate, and to this date, Antigua and Barbuda, Canada, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, and the United States have provided the required information.
The OAS continues to urge member states that have not yet signed or ratified the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on Their Destruction to consider doing so as soon as possible to ensure its earliest possible entry into force.
The Organization also encourages member states, in conformity with the agreements in the Plan of Action of the Second Summit of the Americas, to take action and support “international humanitarian demining efforts, with the goal of ensuring that priority is given to mines that threaten civilians and of ensuring that land can be restored for productive purposes. The latter will take place through effective regional and international cooperation and coordination, as requested by the affected States, to survey mark, map and remove mines; effective mine awareness for the civilian population and assistance to victims; and development and deployment for new mine detection and clearance technologies, as appropriate.”
Coordination and Management Methodology: Operating Modules
Operational modules of six-month each, are employed in the program, representing a sound tool for planning, coordinating, and managing the resources required for these operations. These modules serve to associate the demining operations with geographic objectives, evaluations of success and progress. The cost of each module varies by country, depending on the unit's size, the area involved, and the ability of the country to contribute to the operations.
Each module is supported by an agreement between the beneficiary government and the UPD/OAS, that includes an operating budget outlining resources for personnel; equipment; food; stipends; insurance; emergencies, rehabilitation and public prevention campaigns; logistics; management; coordination; and supervision needed to carry out the module.
Program Update by Country
Nicaragua. In September 1991, the Government made a request to the OAS to help eliminate the landmines sown during the national conflict. These mines, mainly commercially produced, had been buried along the borders with Honduras, and Costa Rica; also in electrical power plants, transmission towers, highway bridges, and strategic materiel storage areas.
In response to this request the OAS/IADB designed a joint, internationally financed program in 1992. The program was launched in 1993, with training, provision of equipment, and supervision for the demining operations, the efforts to support this pilot supervisory program were forced to cease when international funding ran out in late 1993. Nicaraguan authorities pursued the efforts by themselves, the OAS/IADB Program resumed in 1996 with new international funding.
Currently, the national program has 15 platoons, with approximately 400 people working on four fronts across the country. Two of these fronts get their financing directly from the international community, whereas the other two receive financial and technical support from PADCA. Efforts include a pilot project for physical rehabilitation, assistance for mine victims and an intensive public information and prevention campaign.
Nicaraguan government authorities have reported that more than 43,000 landmines have been destroyed since 1993 and it is estimated that there are some 576-target areas in the country with about 73,000 mines still to be destroyed. The bulk of these landmines (about 50,000) are located in remote areas along the border with Honduras.
Joint Honduran-Nicaraguan Module. At the request of both governments, the OAS/IADB international supervisor team will coordinate a series of operating demining modules to be executed along the border area by the military forces of both countries, in simultaneous and coordinated efforts to enhance efficiency in the use of resources and reduce costs and time. To this end, a technical team composed of OAS/IADB experts and national representatives is examining the border area and reviewing each country's national plans to ascertain what is needed to reach the goal of making Central America a landmine-free zone, as soon as possible.
Honduras. With no know registries of minefields that generally lie along the border with Nicaragua, the mined areas include trails, storage areas, and security posts used during the past armed conflict in the region. The Demining program began in 1994 with training and equipment supply phases. Demining operations began in September 1995 and continue uninterruptedly, with a team of 120 sappers (soldiers) and 13 international supervisors.
During six operating modules in the last three years, more than 3,000 landmines have been destroyed in the region and 526 hectares of agricultural land have been rehabilitated for productive use, benefiting more than 350 landowners and 2,500 families. Likewise, a significant number of dangerous unexploded artifacts have been removed from the area involved. If demining continues at the same pace in Honduras, it is expected that the national program will conclude in 2000.
Costa Rica. Estimates indicate that there are about 2,000 mines in the region. A total of 37 sappers conduct the demining operations under the supervision of the OAS/IADB international team. Even though it is known that antipersonnel landmines in Costa Rica are concentrated in four general areas along the Nicaraguan border, there are no specific registries of their location. As a result, landmines are difficult to find and destroy; the process is slow, painstaking and dangerous.
The project's activities have concentrated lately on the expert assessment, localization, and marking of the suspicious zones, as well as on public awareness and prevention campaigns. The demining operations were temporarily suspended for lack of air evacuation capabilities. This drawback is in the process of being solved thanks to international cooperation and the government's efforts.
A total of 57 landmines have been destroyed. While this number may seem small, is important that the inhabitants of these regions have regained confidence to go back to work the land. The planned date for concluding demining in the country is 2000.
Guatemala. The PADCA, joining the efforts made by the international community to help the Government meet the commitments arising from the Agreement on Firm and Lasting Peace, which ended more than 36 years of armed conflict in the country. The program initiated in December 1997.
This program is the responsibility of the Demining Coordinating Commission of the Congress. Participating actively in the Commission, are the Volunteer Firemen's Corps and the Corps of Engineers of the Army, both of which are responsible for implementing activities under the National Plan for Demining and Destruction of Unexploed Ordnance.
The overall objective of this project is to provide for execution and administration of the National Plan to assist in the establishment, training, equipping, and maintenance of a national technical organization and capacity, charged with destroying the antipersonnel landmines and unexploded ordnance.
Unexploded ordnance (grenades, mortars, bombs, etc.) represents a significant problem in Guatemala. The national project currently estimates that the number of devices in the process of being destroyed ranges from 5,000 to 8,000. With no known registries for these affected areas, Guatemalan authorities have provided a list of 125 sites that are most likely considered to have concentrations of explosive devices and which serve as a reference for search and destroy operations. Operations began in November 1998 near the village of Ixcán, in the Department of Quiché.
Expansion of the Program as a result of Hurricane Mitch
All Central American countries were severely affected by Hurricane Mitch. In addition to the general devastation produced in the region, it caused a significant disruption of humanitarian landmine removal operations.
The effects have been most dramatic in Nicaragua and Honduras, where there is a sense of urgency in expanding demining in order to reduce the public safety hazard of landmines shifted from their original positions, which could result in further casualties and stand in the way of restoring damaged and destroyed infrastructure and hamper the restoration of public services.
The PADCA is working with the governments of Honduras and Nicaragua to develop the outline for a revised program to expand operations. While the details have not been finalized, the general thrust of the expansion is to double the capacity coordinated by the OAS in both countries.
These expanded operations would require increased contributions of approximately US $9 million over the next two years. This would be in addition to donations already provided by donors to support the PADCA infrastructure.