OAS/IADB supervisors and Surinamese officers survey the minefield before the start of operations.
After achieving independence in 1975, the Republic of Suriname experienced periods of intense political and economic instability. In 1986, a guerrilla war broke out in the eastern region of the country. For the next six years, the armed forces of Suriname were involved in a conflict with five insurgency groups, during which time an estimated 1,000 anti-personnel mines were employed.1 Following the signing of a peace treaty in 1992, the Organization of American States participated in demining operations supported by the governments of Holland, Guyana and Brazil. All mines were destroyed, with the exception of one minefield sown by the army. On 7 Feb. 2005, the OAS's Department of Multidimensional Security of the Office for Humanitarian Mine Action coordinated a unique multilateral mission to clear the remaining minefield and train a Surinamese army unit in humanitarian demining operations.
Landmine located under tree roots.
Located in Stolkertsijver, in the district of Commewijne, 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of the capital city of Paramaribo, the remaining minefield, an area of approximately 50 meters by 75 meters (55 yards by 82 yards), was estimated to contain approximately 13 PRB M409-type landmines.2 With civilian homes located at a distance of less than 5 meters (16 feet), the minefield posed a serious threat to area inhabitants.
The OAS Suriname mission was composed of 14 Honduran soldiers, humanitarian demining experts, a Brazilian international supervisor assigned to the Mission for Mine Clearance in Central America of the Inter-American Defense Board, and a Surinamese demining unit composed of eight Surinamese soldiers. The mission was structured multilaterally: The government of Canada provided the necessary financial support, the governments of the United States and Suriname provided in-kind support, and the governments of Honduras and Brazil provided personnel. In turn, the Office for Humanitarian Mine Action for the OAS provided overall coordination and humanitarian demining equipment. The project also received invaluable support from the Surinamese Red Cross, which donated an ambulance for the operations, and the Academic Hospital of Suriname, which provided the required medical facilities.
Honduran deminers begin operations.
Demining and training operations began 7 Feb. 2005, with the trained Surinamese soldiers being integrated into the live minefield with the Honduran soldiers on 26 February. On 18 March, the Honduran soldiers were honored in a special on-site ceremony in which the minister of defense of Suriname, His Excellency Ronald Assen, personally thanked the Honduran soldiers for their assistance. Assen also congratulated the Surinamese deminers for their efforts. On 19 March, the Honduran soldiers returned to Honduras after successfully turning over operations to the trained Surinamese contingency. The soldiers were received by their families as well as national authorities, including Minister of Defense Federico Brevé Travieso, Joint Chief of Staff Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, and Commander of the Army René Oliva Euceda. The MOD decorated the soldiers with the "Expeditionary Medal" for their outstanding international service.
MARMINCA supervisor trains Suriname Army Unit on Humanitarian Demining.
With the demining equipment donated by the OAS, the Surinamese demining contingency continued operations under the close supervision of the Brazilian International Supervisor, who remained to ensure strict compliance with International Mine Action Standards of the United Nations.3 On 4 April, demining operations concluded with the OAS officially turning the cleared land over to the Inter-Departmental Commission of Anti-personnel Mines of the Republic of Suriname.
The Suriname mission was a great example of transnational cooperation between the nations in the Western Hemisphere. Honduran soldiers were able to share their expertise and knowledge with the Republic of Suriname in a gesture of true camaraderie in combating a problem that, until last year, also affected Honduras and continues to affect many countries throughout the Americas. Having cleared the last identified minefield, Suriname is now in a position to declare itself "mine free"4 and in complete compliance with the Ottawa Convention.5
*All photos courtesy of Juan Carlos Ruan.
Juan Carlos Ruan, born in Canada to Colombian parents, earned a Bachelor of Arts from St. Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a Master of Arts in international relations from Kent University, Canterbury, England. He has been involved in the landmine issue since 1998, working for the Mine Action Information Center and the Inter-American Defense Board. Ruan is currently employed by the Office of Humanitarian Demining of the Organization of American States.
- A. Edgardo C. Reis, "Demining in Suriname," Journal of Mine Action, Issue 5.2, Aug. 2001, p. 19 or online at http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/5.2/focus/edgardoreis.htm. Accessed Dec. 6, 2005.
- The PRB M409 is a plastic-bodied, low metal content, circular anti-personnel mine.
- See the text for the International Mine Action Standards at http://www.mineactionstandards.org/imas.htm, accessed Dec. 2, 2005.
- Editor's Note: Some countries and mine action organizations are urging the use of the term "mine free," while others are espousing the term "mine safe" or "impact free." "Mine free" connotes a condition where all landmines have been cleared, whereas the terms "mine safe" and "impact free" refer to the condition in which landmines no longer pose a credible threat to a community or country.
- Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. Ottawa, Canada. Sept. 18, 1997. http://www.un.org/Depts/mine/UNDocs/ban_trty.htm. Accessed Dec. 2, 2005.