Turkish firms to clear mines along Syrian border

A tender for mine clearance along the Turkish-Syrian border will be open only to domestic companies, upon recommendation of the Turkish General Staff.

Turkish firms to clear mines along Syrian border
A bill concerning mine clearance along the Turkish-Syrian border was discussed at the parliamentary Planning and Budget Commission on June 11, and a memorandum from the General Staff suggested that leasing the land to a foreign company for 44 years for mine cleanup under the contract terms would be inappropriate for security reasons. The commission therefore amended the bill to only allow domestic firms to be contracted for the project.

The General Staff and opposition parties the Republican People's Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) initially opposed the bill but support its current form.

According to the revised bill, a domestic company will be able to lease the minefields for up to 44 years, clearing the mines in a maximum of five years. It many not use the land for agriculture during the de-mining period but may permit agricultural use of the fields once the process is complete, for a total maximum period of 44 years.

More than 30,000 hectares of land will become available for agricultural use under the contract, providing employment opportunities for around 6,000 families once the mines along the Syrian border are cleared.

Following the opening and cancellation of several tenders for the project since 2005, the Finance Ministry drafted a new bill seeking to ensure that the minefields would be cleared and made available for agricultural use. The bill had come to the Planning and Budget Commission last month, but discussions had been postponed to wait for the General Staff's opinion, although the Ministry of Defense supported the bill.

At June 11 meeting, Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül suggested the debate over the bill be conducted in a closed meeting, so members of the press and bureaucrats had to leave the room. The General Staff sent its recommendations to the parliamentary commission through Gönül. At another meeting expected in the near future at Parliament's National Security Commission, the General Staff will send a representative to give a detailed briefing on the issue.

Of the 921,080 anti-personnel land mines (APMs) planted along the Turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian border, 615,149 (450,652 APMs and 164,497 anti-tank mines, or ATMs) mines were placed along the Syrian side of the 820-kilometer-long border, initially between the years 1956 and 1959 to prevent illegal border-crossing.

An unknown number of APMs have also been placed along Turkey's borders with Syria and Iraq by the PKK.

Finance Minister Kemal Unakıtan reminded the commission on June 11 that in 2003 Turkey became a party to the Ottawa Convention on the destruction of APMs and has pledged to destroy 2,973,481 APMs in its stocks by this year and 921,080 APMs placed along its borders by 2012. He said this task cannot be accomplished through the Defense Ministry and that opening a tender was the best option. He also said the CHP and MHP had been concerned about foreign companies' involvement, especially Israeli firms, in the cleanup project.

The order in which the mined areas are cleared will be determined by an agreement between the General Staff, Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry. The contractors will not be able to establish claims over underground resources, such as oil and minerals.

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Last Mod: 24 Haziran 2008, 14:16
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