Given the importance of an integrated and comprehensive response to the crisis caused by antipersonnel mines, as well as the need to provide real and lasting support to those who face ongoing risk, a new program area called “Mine Action” (AICMA) was created in the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy in 1998. This area is the focal point for the General Secretariat on this issue and covers the following topics, among others: (a) mine risk awareness education for the civilian population; (b) support for minefield surveying, mapping, marking, and clearance; (c) victim assistance, including physical and psychological rehabilitation and the socioeconomic reintegration of cleared zones; (d) support for a total ban on antipersonnel mines; and (e) establishment of databases on activities directed against antipersonnel mines.
In fulfillment of the aforementioned mandate, a description of the activities conducted by AICMA in this area is provided below. Between March 1999 and May 2000, periodic reports were provided to the Committee on Hemispheric Security of the OAS Permanent Council on the work done and on the use of the funds allocated.
Assistance Program for Demining in Central America (PADCA)
The Assistance Program for Demining in Central America was created by the Organization of American States in 1991, at the request of the Central American countries affected by antipersonnel mines, with the technical support of the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB). The distinctive feature of PADCA, which is integrated into the new AICMA program, is that it is largely a humanitarian project, since it seeks to restore safe conditions and the confidence of citizens, to reduce the threat and danger posed by explosive devices and antipersonnel mines, and to restore the use of the lands dedicated to agriculture and livestock in the affected zones. Furthermore, it is a multilateral program since a number Member States and Permanent Observer participate as donor and funding governments, along with other governments and various organizations such as the OAS and the IADB.
Between March 1999 and May 2000, the Assistance Program for Demining in Central America (PADCA), has continued to strengthen the canine component of the program. To this date, the number of dogs assigned to the program has been doubled: twelve in Nicaragua, four in Honduras, and four in Costa Rica. The use of dogs represents significant progress from the standpoint of time and technical support resources.
The passage of Hurricane Mitch over Central America dramatically changed and exacerbated the already-existing mine problem in the area (particularly in Honduras and Nicaragua), moving an undetermined number of mines and explosive devices from their original location, altering the information on mined areas, causing significant damage to the infrastructure, and increasing the number of suspicious areas.
In this regard, AICMA, in coordination with the national authorities of both Honduras and Nicaragua, implemented an emergency plan in both countries. As part of this plan, all demining units and equipment were made available to these governments.
Joint work was conducted with the Government of Nicaragua in the clearance and certification of major roadways, primarily the bridges of Paso Real, Jícaro, Montecristo, Naranjita, Tapacales, Inalí, Río Pire, Pueblo Nuevo, and El Tular, along the Juigalpa-El Rama main highway. A total of 26 bridges were cleared and certified, and all the demining units in Nicaragua participated in these operations (400 men).
In Honduras, clearance and certification operations were conducted in the areas surrounding the De Guasaule international bridge in Choluteca Department.
Furthermore, using funds received from the Canadian Government, the equipment lost in Honduras and Nicaragua as a result of the devastation by Hurricane Mitch was replaced.
The progress made in each PADCA-recipient country can be summarized as follows:
The generous contributions of the Governments of the United States and Costa Rica and the international community in general covered the cost of rental of a medical evacuation helicopter in Costa Rica. Demining in that country has been plagued by delays due to the absence of a proper helicopter that is used exclusively for operations.
At the moment, module VII operations are being carried out in the areas of Cutriz, Pocosol, and Las Tiricias, in Alajuela Province, on the northern border with Nicaragua. Demining and the removal of explosive devices have been carried out with the ongoing assistance of two international supervisors, forty-one sapper soldiers, and the support of canine techniques.
The Mine Risk Awareness Education Campaign for the Civilian Population has continued in the areas of Crucitas, Jocote, Las Tiricias, San Isidro, Pocosol, Medio Queso, and La Guaría, in Alajuela province. A number of educational talks were given at the schools visited by the personnel belonging to the program, at which an explanation was provided to students of the most common types of mines, as well the measures that need to be taken by the population if this type of device is found. Educational and informational material was also distributed.
Taking advantage of technical skills and the specialized personnel assigned to the program for evacuation and medical safety operations, a medical camp was set up in the los Chiles area, with the assistance of the Costa Rican Social Security Office. At this camp, care was provided not only to sapper soldiers, but also to the population living close to mined areas.
In keeping with the National Plan for Demining and the destruction of Unexploded Ordnance, operations aimed at identifying and destroying explosive devices in the area of Ixcán, Quiché Department were wrapped up, and because of this, demined lands were handed over for the first time by the local authorities to the community in January 2000.
At the moment, tracking and detection work in the area of the Ixil triangle is being carried out, which includes four municipalities in Quiché Department and covers 30 of the 129 suspicious zones included in the National Demining Plan.
Operations continue with the assistance, in particular, of the Association of Volunteer Firefighters, the Army Corps of Engineers, former combatants, and international supervisors of the IADB.
It is important to underscore the fact that antipersonnel mines have been cleared in the eastern area of Honduras, with these activities being concluded under module VII and covering the San Andrés de Bocay sector, in the municipality of Olancho Department. At the moment, the activities are being conducted in the southern zone of the country in the municipality of San Marcos de Colón in Choluteca Department, where 10 suspicious zones have been identified.
At the same time, assistance has been provided with the following activities:
Clearance operations in a suspicious area in Naco, a municipality of Cortés Department in the northern region of Honduras. Work has continued on the “Mine Risk Awareness Education for the Civilian Population” campaign among the populations close to the zones of operation.
Using funds provided by the Government of the United States of America and the United Kingdom, a new operations front composed of 100 sapper soldiers will be established. It will be located in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) of the Republic of Nicaragua. At the moment, the sapper soldiers who will belong to the new platoons are being trained. It should be emphasized that they will supplement the other two fronts that are supported by the international community, through the OAS, in the areas of Ocotal and Juigalpa.
At the moment, module IV operations, in Operations Front No. 3, located in Juigalpa, and module VIII operations, in Operations Front No. 4, in the Ocotal area, are being carried out.
Furthermore, at the request of ENEL (the Nicaraguan Electricity Company), the certification and handing over of demined high-tension towers in the territories of Chontales and Matagalpa have begun, in order to begin maintenance of transmission lines.
During the course of the 1999, the Mine Clearance Assistance Mission in Central America (MARMINCA) was transferred from Honduras to Nicaragua.
Also, the “Program for Care to Victims of Mines and UXO ,” which has existed in Nicaragua since 1997, was continued and will be strengthened in the year 2000, with the assistance of the Government of Sweden, in order to ensure monitoring of the rehabilitation services provided under the program.
Peru and Ecuador
With a joint note of March 18, 1999, the Governments of Ecuador and Peru, through their Permanent Missions to the Organization of American States, asked the Organization to establish a specific fund to support demining related to the demarcation of the border between Ecuador and Peru, using the funds provided by Canada for that purpose.
In this regard, the Organization started activities in this area with the establishment of a specific fund for the “Program for Demining Assistance in Ecuador/Peru,” (PADEP), using a contribution from the Canadian Government of CAN$300,000 (USD$198,800.45) in April 1999. This contribution, which was divided equally, has been used exclusively for the purchase of equipment and materials for activities to support humanitarian demining associated with the demarcation of the border between Ecuador and Peru.
The U.S. Department of State invited the OAS to participate in a multi-disciplinary mission to Ecuador and Peru. This mission was conducted August 16-20, 1999, in order to evaluate the antipersonnel land mine situation in the border region of the two countries.
As a result of this mission, and based on the requests of both countries for the assistance of the OAS in humanitarian demining activities, the Organization submitted working documents for consideration by both governments containing a proposal to provide coordinated international assistance with the efforts of both countries in integrated action against antipersonnel mines in their respective territories.
A number of additional activities conducted within the framework of AICMA are indicated below:
The management of funds, along with the donor community, was continued in order to obtain resources for the purchase of the appropriate equipment needed, and, as appropriate, the very careful checking and repair of existing equipment in order to guarantee the safety of the persons involved in demining activities and the immediate evacuation of victims in the event of an accident.
As stipulated in the Ottawa Convention and in the National Plan for the Destruction of Stockpiled Mines in Nicaragua, 30,000 antipersonnel mines have been destroyed in the country on four different occasions.
In that regard, and in order to begin the destruction of stocks of mines in Honduras, AICMA organized an advisory and assistance mission to that country for the destruction of stockpiled antipersonnel mines, sponsored by the Canadian Government.
With regard to the Rehabilitation Program for Victims of Antipersonnel Mines, a Framework Agreement was signed between the International Rehabilitation Center and the OAS n of America for the implementation of a Plan of Action to develop and prepare new technologies, educational material, and physical and labor-related employment programs for persons affected by antipersonnel mines and explosive devices in Central America.
Furthermore, during the course of the year, there was close coordination with the Pan American Health Organization with the aim of working cooperatively on activities related to assistance, rehabilitation, and integration of victims of mines, and on awareness education of the population on the danger of these devices. Also, contact was established with the Trust for the Americas in order to conduct joint work with the private, public, and academic sectors, and the different civil society institutions in the Hemisphere, with a view to promoting initiatives beneficial to mine victims.
In order to start a seed fund aimed at providing urgent medical assistance overseas to mine victims who cannot be treated in their countries, AICMA made arrangements, together with the Women of the Americas Foundation of Washington, to obtain funds from the cultural activity organized by this foundation annually, which, by means of a unanimous decision, contributed 80% of funds collected.
During the course of the year, AICMA has held various meetings with UNMAS (United Nations Mine Action Service) regarding the establishment of a database on integrated action against antipersonnel mines. This system has been developed by the Swiss Government for the benefit of the international community. AICMA hopes to implement it around the middle of this year.