ANKARA, Turkey, May 3 (UPI) -- Two Turkish soldiers died when one of them stepped on a land mine near Agri in eastern Turkey, officials said.
The deaths came as Turkey prepared to ask parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Treaty, for more time to remove the almost 1 million land mines deployed in the country, Today's Zaman reported.
Turkey signed the treaty in 2004, agreeing to get rid of stocks of mines by 2008 and to remove deployed mines by 2014.
Sources told Today's Zaman the Defense Ministry plans to tell a meeting of Ottawa Treaty parties next week that it can accomplish cleanup within four years.
The largest group of mines, more than 600,000, is along Turkey's border with Syria, the newspaper said. There are another 75,000 on the Iraqi border, almost 200,000 in a 70-mile minefield on the Iranian border and 21,000 on the border with Armenia. Another 200,000 are in the interior.
Mutaber Ogreten of the Initiative for a Mine-Free Turkey blasted the government for the continued delay.
"Every extension means new deaths. Losses due to mine explosions continue," he said. "Just yesterday, two soldiers died stepping on mines in a civilian area. We need to get rid of these mines as quickly as possible without any further delays. The urgency is even more evident, especially at this time when there is a peace process underway."