Thai army destroys thousands of land mines in jungle

Soldiers clad in protective vests placed stacks of unexploded ordnance in a pit and gingerly laid explosive charges on top. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 August 2019

Thai army destroys thousands of land mines in jungle

  • Local residents who had been maimed by leftover mines were given gifts by the army after watching the operation
  • The border between Thailand and Cambodia is still littered with land mines from decades of civil war

SA KAEO, Thailand: Pulling back to a safe distance atop a hill, Thai troops blew up thousands of anti-personnel land mines on Tuesday with controlled explosions that sent black plumes of smoke high above jungle treetops. Thailand is one of more than 160 countries to have signed the Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits the use and stockpiling of the destructive weapon and aims to clear all mines by 2025.

As part of a dayslong operation to destroy the rest of Thailand’s stockpile, soldiers clad in protective vests placed stacks of unexploded ordnance in a pit and gingerly laid explosive charges on top. “From now on, Thailand will no longer retain any more anti-personnel land mines,” said General Chaichana Nakkerd with the Thai armed forces joint chiefs of staff.

Standing on an observation hill as technicians detonated the charges, he said 3,133 land mines would be destroyed in Sa Kaeo province to “affirm our stance in not using” them. But the border between Thailand and Cambodia is still littered with land mines from decades of civil war in Cambodia, where the remnants of the defeated Khmer Rouge retreated in the 1980s.

Chaichana said Thailand, which signed the treaty in 1998, still has a long way to go to clear a 360-kilometer area along the border by its deadline of 2023. “The problem we still have is... the border with neighboring countries are in rural areas and on hills,” he said, making them challenging to remove.

Local residents who had been maimed by leftover mines were given gifts by the army after watching the operation. The Ottawa treaty has helped eliminate 51 million land mines over the past two decades since it was enacted in 1997. But the United States, China, Egypt, India, Israel, Pakistan and Russia have not signed it.

A recent Landmine Monitor report shows that the number of people killed or injured from land mines nearly doubled in 2015 to 6,461 from 3,695 the year before — making it the highest recorded total in a decade.


Afghanistan warns of ‘disaster’ as coronavirus infections surge

Updated 06 June 2020

Afghanistan warns of ‘disaster’ as coronavirus infections surge

  • Afghan health authorities reported 761 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours

KABUL: Afghanistan is running out of hospital beds as suspected cases of coronavirus surge, officials said on Saturday, warning “there is a disaster coming” in the impoverished country.
Afghan health authorities reported 761 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed infections to 19,551.
“Our (hospital) beds are almost full, we won’t have any more capacity very soon,” Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani told reporters.
Officials said the number of cases were more than expected, including in the capital Kabul, the epicenter of the disease.
“There is a disaster coming,” said Kabul governor Mohammad Yakub Haidary at a joint press conference with the health minister.
He said in Kabul alone there could be a million people infected with the deadly virus.
So far there have been 327 confirmed deaths in the country.
“We have reports of increasing suspected deaths, people burying dead bodies at night,” Haidary said.
“We fill 10-15 ambulances of dead people every day.”
The virus’s spread has surged amid a nationwide lockdown that residents have largely ignored, with many daily wage earners taking their chances with the disease rather than lose a day’s work.
But the minister said that from Sunday the authorities will strictly impose measures like wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing for the next three months in order to curb the spread of the virus.
Experts say that Afghanistan is able to test only about 20 percent of its daily suspected coronavirus cases.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a statement Tuesday that “between 80 to 90 percent of potential cases are not being tested,” citing figures provided to them by the health ministry which said between 10,000 and 20,000 samples were being received per day.
The charity warned that Afghanistan was on the brink of a health crisis after confirmed cases spiked by 684 percent in May.
Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of tests coming back positive — about 40 percent — the IRC said, indicating high levels of undetected infections.
The spike in cases came after Afghanistan grappled with rising violence in recent months that diverted vital attention and resources away from the fight against the disease.
The country’s few hospitals focus mainly on basic care and trauma wounds and lack the expertise and equipment needed to deal with infectious diseases.