An offer, extended by the Argentine Government to finance the clearance of mines laid by Argentine Engineers during the 10 weeks of Argentine occupation of the Falklands during 1982, has been accepted in principal by Falklands Councillors. A safe and secure means of lifting the mines is to be the subject of a ?Feasibility Study' and the terms of reference of the study are still under discussion, hence the lack of any material progress since the Argentine Government offer of 3 years ago.
There are still an estimated 22,000 mines contained in 120 minefields around the Falklands, with the highest density being in the capital Stanley. Most are what the British Military described as being of ?minimum metal' or plastic construction, which makes them virtually undetectable other than by the traditional means which requires a soldier to slowly pierce the ground with a bayonet to try and distinguish the difference between a mine and other hard objects. When a mine is located it is made safe by removing the detonator.
However, whatever the outcome of the proposed ?Feasibility Study', Argentines will NOT, according to Councillor Janet Cheek, be permitted to take part in any planned minefield clearance exercise in the Falklands. ?The Ottawa Convention on de-mining does not permit nationals of the Country which laid the mines, to be involved in the physical lifting of those mines' said Councillor Cheek.
Islanders have generally welcomed the Argentine Government offer to finance the clearance of the 22,000 mines, which according to one official could cost 3-4 million U.S. dollars. While several of Stanley's most attractive walking areas and sand beaches are ?out-of-bounds' because of minefields, there is a strong body of opinion in the Islands which supports leaving the mines where they are. Said one concerned Mother recently, ?who would allow a child to walk through a supposed ?cleared' area unless a more than 100% assurance could be given that the area was totally clear and safe'?
While there is no active mine clearance operation supported by the British Ministry of Defence, Royal Engineers stationed on the Falklands do undertake regular checks on all the minefield areas. When any mine is considered to be a danger to the public, mostly through movement caused by frost or heavy rain, it is destroyed ?insitu' by Royal Engineers. The British soldiers use a piece of equipment which is remotely controlled and which can enter the minefield and burn a mine so rendering it harmless. However this too brings problems and just recently the burning procedure resulted in dry grass and turf nearby igniting, so causing a ?camp' fire which covered the west end of the capital in dense smoke, and caused some concern