U.K. mulls new de-mining operations in Falklands

March 9, 2011 at 4:07 PM
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STANLEY, Falkland Islands, March 9 (UPI) -- British and Falkland Islands governments are considering a multimillion-dollar plan to resume clearance of land mines from the 1982 conflict with Argentina.

The biggest hurdle, however, is allocation of funds for the operation amid heavy cutbacks in British defense spending. Austerity measures by London have forced reductions in the British naval patrol and reconnaissance operations in South and Central America and the Caribbean.

An earlier phase of the mine-clearing operations ended in 2010, with partial results. The latest operations will aim to clear land mines in areas that are part of the Falklands' tourist attractions or frequently used farmland.

More than 15,600 mines remain in 83 identified minefields in the islands, John Jacob Astor, the U.K. parliamentary secretary of state for defense told Parliament in a February session.

The mines were laid by Argentine forces during the 74-day conflict in 1982 that began with a partial Argentine occupation of the South Atlantic Islands and ended with an Argentine retreat and deaths of about 1,000 fighters and civilians.

More than 12,300 mines are known to be antipersonnel weapons and at least 3,300 are mines targeted at disabling and destroying vehicles.

Astor said British forces cleared more than 1,000 Argentine anti-personnel, 80 anti-vehicle mines and 1,000 booby traps soon after the surrender and withdrawal of Argentine forces from the islands.

He said, "All U.K.-emplaced mines in five anti-personnel minefields around the then (U.K. air base) Stanley were lifted immediately after the cessation of hostilities."

One Elsie C3 anti-personnel mine is unaccounted for, he said.

A mine-clearing operation launched in 2009 and completed last year cleared a further four minefields of 1,246 mines, more than half of them anti-personnel explosive devices.

The British government called the operation a pilot project for a larger undertaking.

Officials said funds from the British government would allow the de-mining operation to begin this year after evaluation visits by experts and officials from London in February.

Some of the capital's scenic spots were declared off-limits and the next phase of the de-mining operation would focus on minimum metal mines that are usually hard to detect.

Although no decision was made about the choice of a de-mining expert firm, the previous operation was conducted by the Battle Area Clearance, Training, Equipment and Consultancy Group of companies. BACTEC completed the first phase of the de-mining operation in June 2010.

The area known as Stanley Common, to the south of Stanley, is most likely to be chosen for the mine-clearance operations.

Before Argentine troops laid mines there, the grounds were used for leisure activities including hiking and horseback riding. Other contaminated areas include grounds near a stone corral built by Jacob Napoleon Goss in 1860 southwest of Stanley.

Analysts said the task facing the government entails major spending, as the work so far has cleared about 5 percent of the mines.

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