International Day for Mine Awareness

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“Minutes earlier a thunderous crack had ruptured the peace of the morning…We knew what had happened because the explosion hadn’t been announced. A de-miner had accidentally triggered a mine... We trod carefully…through the old Soviet minefield and located an injured Afghan de-miner missing several fingers … We stemmed the bleeding and evacuated him… he was one of the lucky ones....three weeks earlier, two other de-miners had been killed by a trip-wired anti-tank mine – the tragic human cost of clearing landmines in Afghanistan”

In 1992, during Operation Salam (Operation Peace) in Afghanistan, Marcus Fielding an Australian Army Officer serving with UNMCTT recalled the dangers of landmines.

Today on 4 April we observe the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

Landmines, grenades, mortar rounds, missiles and bombs - these deadly weapons leave lasting legacies. Instilling fear into the lives of people around the world and continuing to injure and kill long after the war has ended—an estimated 70 people are killed or maimed by landmines every day in more than 60 countries.

Often, landmines affect the most vulnerable: women, men and children fleeing ongoing conflict or returning home after the war, or farmers in rural areas who have no choice but to enter mine contaminated areas in order to regain their livelihoods and support their families.  

Many Australians have seen the impact of landmines either as soldiers in war or in peacekeeping or humanitarian efforts after wars. The recent death of an Australian in Cambodia is a testament to the longevity of these lethal arms.

2 military personnel assessing the Japanese mine that was half buried in the sand

A Japanese mine washed up on a northern Australian beach (AWM 015093).

The work of the Australian military and former Australian military officers to rid the world of these insidiously lethal weapons has a long and effective history.

Vietnam veterans, Neil Antony Bower-Miles (Bomber), Robroy Kirk Macgregor, Gerald Andrew Lyall OAM now run a Cambodian NGO, the Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team Cambodia Inc (VVMCT). They have supervised a team of local de-miners throughout Cambodia since 2008, and in the first five years of operations had cleared over 1.9 million square metres of contaminated land.

Australians have contributed to mine clearing efforts across the globe, including membership of the United Nations Mine Clearance Training Team (UNMCTT) between 1989 and 1993 and continuing in other programs to this day.

A young uniformed army man using a mine detector

Sapper Peter Campbell operating a mine detector during a search of Danuunay Village in Somalia (image courtesy of the Department of Defence).

With the correct experience and equipment de-mining can be very effective, but sadly, there are incidents in which tragedies occur despite the expertise of the individuals involved.

In May 2016 Mark Belford a former Australian soldier with over 25 years’ experience and a strong humanitarian instinct was killed instantly near Kirkuk Iraq. Mark was team leader with the Swiss foundation for Mine Action. The bomb that killed him was believed to have been a seven kilogram improvised explosive device planted by Islamic State.

The bravery and common good of Australian’s involved in de-mining work is to be remembered, whether performed during wartime, where Australia has lost personnel undertaking these deadly tasks, or during peacetime efforts to rid these weapons from diverse locations from the Western Sahara to Iraq.