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Panel 5

Combating land-mines in El Salvador

In January 1992, peace accords between the Salvadorian Armed Forces and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) ended 12 years of bitter civil war. But while the guns had been silenced, the land-mines remained. Adults working in the fields and children picking up interesting-looking objects continued to become victims of war.

UNICEF brought the two parties together again a few months later to join forces against this continuing threat. One of the first priorities of this Mine Awareness and Accident Prevention Project was to try to locate the mines. Both sides provided maps, and within two months 425 minefields had been fenced off for public protection. Even so, the locations of many of the mines were unknown—the army had dropped some by air, and independent FMLN units had laid others but kept no records.


Photo: A young boy teaches younger friends how to avoid lethal land-mines. ©


The second task was to warn the population. The army and the FMLN provided samples of their mines, and UNICEF produced thousands of posters that were distributed with illustrations of these devices and instructions on what people should do if they encountered a mine or any other unexploded device: "Don't touch. Mark the place. Turn around and leave the way you came. Tell the authorities."

The posters were reinforced by an education and public awareness campaign, through the press, television and radio. But each community also needed individual contact. A team of educators travelled around meeting teachers, health promoters and NGO staff. These volunteers were trained in mine awareness so they could serve as 'multipliers'—visiting rural communities, giving talks illustrated by flip charts and distributing leaflets to each family. Between October 1992 and December 1993, over 3,600 multipliers spoke to an estimated 300,000 people—representing 44 per cent of the population in high-risk areas.

These campaigns certainly brought the message home. One problem had been that farmers were removing the mine-warning signs because they desperately needed the land to grow their crops. Others took the wooden stakes on which the signs were mounted to build furniture or use as firewood. After an intensive education campaign, all the stakes were replaced. The only casualties were the cattle that the farmers sent ahead to serve as mine detectors.

The other main component of the project was deactivating as many mines as possible. The Salvadorian Government hired a Belgian firm, which during 1993 and early 1994 deactivated a total of 9,511 mines. The company also trained 240 armed forces engineers and 240 FMLN members in mine detection.

As a result, the number of deaths attributed to land-mines and other explosives has fallen dramatically. In 1992, there were 579 victims; in 1993 this fell to 259, of which only one was attributable to a land-mine. Between January 1994 and May 1995, there was not a single reported accident involving a land-mine. There are, however, still risks from unexploded rockets, grenades, bombs and other devices. A second phase of the programme is now warning people of these dangers.

The mine clearance campaign has had strong local support. The Government has been committed to this programme and has borne the entire cost of mine clearance—more than US$4.8 million. The campaign has also benefited from a growing spirit of cooperation between two armies that were often deeply suspicious of each other. This successful programme, which combined mine clearance with mine awareness activities and education, will hopefully serve as a model for other countries afflicted by mines and living with this ever-present danger.


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