As the world marks the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on 04 April 2021, UNIFIL peacekeepers continue to carry on with the painstaking but necessary work of clearing large swathes of south Lebanese lands of deadly mines.
One of them is Captain Yang Dong from China. Recently, he was found hovering a hand-held metal detector a few centimetres above the ground, emanating a high-pitched electronic sound as he gingerly scanned the ground for mines near the village of Labbouneh.
“The closer we get to a minefield in the remote areas of south Lebanon, the more red-painted stones we see,” he says. “The red stones remind us… between safe and unsafe areas. It is reminding us not to step around… It is dangerous and there could be some mines there.”
Another deminer from China, Senior Sergeant Lu Nianyou, explains the procedure of detecting a mine: “A steady beeping means all is fine, terrain is safe. But when beeping increases in frequency and becomes louder than the usual, it is a clear signal not to move any further.”
In a nearby field close to the Blue Line, another group of UNIFIL deminers, from Cambodia, is busy undertaking the same task.
Team leader Chief Warrant Officer Ith Seyla says he feels “very proud” to be clearing the land of mines so that the landowners can till the land for farming.
“If we clear all the mines, they can do farming in this area,” he says.
His colleague, Warrant Officer Bun Channa of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), is equally proud. “I feel very happy in this job as a deminer because it’s humanitarian work,” she adds. “It’s good to be serving my own country as well as Lebanon.”
In 2020 alone, UNIFIL’s Chinese and Cambodian deminers cleared 14,541 square metres of land and discovered and destroyed 1,348 anti-personnel mines.
Since 2006, UNIFIL deminers have cleared nearly 5 million square metres of mine-filled land in south Lebanon. They have also destroyed more than 43,500 mines, bombs and unexploded ordnances.
During the first four years, UNIFIL deminers (which also included Italian, Belgian, Dutch, Spanish, Ukrainian and Finnish peacekeepers) conducted humanitarian demining in order to protect civilians and facilitate safe access to dwellings and agricultural land. As part of its mandate, UNIFIL facilitates the marking of the Blue Line. To ensure the safety of patrols carried out by UNIFIL peacekeepers, demining activities focused on specific operational tasks – clearing access pathways to the Blue Line.
However, their scope of work increased again in January 2020 with the signing of a new agreement between UNIFIL and the Lebanon Mine Action Centre (LMAC) of the Lebanese Armed Forces.
Calling for continued efforts by Member States to foster the establishment and development of national mine-action capacities, the UN General Assembly declared on 8 December 2005 that 4 April of each year shall be observed as the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.
The global theme of this year’s observance is “Perseverance, Partnership, Progress” – perseverance needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, new partnerships needed to mitigate the threat of improvised explosive devices, with progress towards a world free from the threat of landmines and unexploded ordnances.