Landmines: A Global Scourge
It is estimated that one out of every 236 people in
Cambodia is an amputee. This is a surprisingly low
figure, given that there are more landmines planted in
Cambodia than there are people (an estimated 10 million
mines and a population of 8.6 million).
Cambodia is just one of 64 countries around the world
littered with some 100 million anti-personnel landmines.
Hidden devices which lie in wait, these mines contain a
small amount of high explosives and are intended
primarily to maim. They cause 500 deaths or injuries per
week15,000 per year. The victims are overwhelmingly
civilians, rather than soldiers, and very often children.
Unlike other weapons, landmines continue killing and
maiming long after the war has ended.
Mines have been integral to military operations since
World War I. They are laid to channel opposing troops
into a specific area, to defend army flanks or a border
zone, or to prevent anti-tank mines from being disabled.
Many countries doctrine calls for careful mapping
and marking of minefields, and clearance upon completion
of the mission. But militaries have often failed to
remove their mines. Thus, World War I-era mines turn up
in Europe today, and millions of still-lethal mines left
from World War II are strewn across the North African
The U.N. estimates that 80,000 mines were cleared in
1993, but some 2.5 million new mines were sown, primarily
in civil wars. (Crude anti-personnel landmines can be
purchased for as little as $3; removing one mine costs
from $200-$1,000.) Over the past decade, both insurgents
and government forces have used mines as a cheap means of
controlling territory and the movement of civilians.
Landmines are often used to extort support from local
populations: if food or financial support is not
forthcoming, the location of mines is not revealed.
In addition to the enormous human toll, the social and
economic costs of mine fields are enormous. Farming,
commerce, development, travel and play are hindered where
landmines are present, as is the return of refugees.
Approximately 50 countries have produced and exported
anti-personnel mines. Some 350 different models are
currently available, and innovations in mine warfare
demonstrate a truly perverse application of technology.
Bounding fragmentation mines pop up before exploding, in
order to disperse shrapnel over widest possible area.
Mines with little or no metal content have been designed
to evade detection. Further impeding demining, some are
equipped with "anti-handling" devices,
exploding when an effort is made to disable the mine.
Most fiendishly, mines masquerading as toys have been
developed particularly to appeal to children.
The United States has pioneered in so-called
"safe mines," which contain a
self-destruct/self-deactivation mechanism. The mine blows
itself up after a set period, shortening the lifetime of
the mine, but not its lethality. Nor is a "safe
mine" able to discriminate between the footfall of a
soldier and a child.