Thousands of Argentine landmines which remain in the Falkland Islands could be successfully cleared sometime in the future.
This is the confident prediction of Landmine consultant Paddy Blagden, who headed a team from Cranfield University, which has just completed a feasibility study into minefield clearance in the islands.
Approximately 25,000 mines were laid by Argentine Forces in 1982 when Argentina occupied the Falklands for 74 days. It is estimated that around 18-20,000 mines remain. Most are said to be of the small anti-personnel type, designed to remove a limb. These plastic mines, difficult to locate, are described as being 'minimum metal' with only the detonator spring being non-plastic. In 1999 the Argentine and British Governments discussed the possibility of removing the mines and the Argentine Government offered to finance almost all the costs of the current Feasibility Study. Two Argentine Government officials accompanied the Cranfield University team, and visited a vast majority of the 120 minefields which are fenced and clearly marked. However the residents of two farms on West Falklands and a farmer on East Falklands indicated their unwillingness to have the Argentine officials visit their land. Official minefield clearance in the Falklands ceased in 1983 after two British officers stepped on mines, which were outside the mapped area, and lost limbs. British soldiers recovered more than 70 minefield maps from Argentine prisoners-of-war in 1982 while many more were discovered in private homes which the Argentine soldiers occupied. Falklands children are educated to recognize the various types of mines which exist in the Islands. Mr Blagden said that his company has cleared mines from many parts of the world and he was confident that 100% clearance could be achieved in the Falklands, using a variety of means including sniffer dogs, trained rats, metal dectors, heavy machinery and flails. He said that the Argentine mines remaining in the Islands fall into three categories. Some river bank areas are 'fairly tricky but easily achievable', others in the peaty terrain are 'difficult' while the task of removing mines from one of Stanley's best-loved sand beaches Yorke Bay, was 'frightful'. Asked about the certainty of a 'cleared' mined area, he said that once his team had worked on a minefield he was confident enough to walk through after it had been deemed safe and free of mines. Britian is a signatory to the Ottawa Convention on De-Mining and therefore is committed to the removal of mines on its territories. However Falklands Deputy Governor Harriet Hall said that it was certain that the United Kingdom Government 'would want to discuss the way forward with the Falkland Islands Government' before any contracts were issued to begin the mine removal procedure. Ms Hall said that the responsibility of mine removal lays with the sovereign territory and not the layer of the mines. While many of the Falklands population have welcomed the Feasibility Study and the possibility of some of the most popular beaches once again becoming accessible, a feeling also prevails that the mines are better left where they are in the interest of safety and security. Patrick Watts, Stanley, Falkland Islands.