The clearance work continues but mines still claim some lives

Strange though it may seem, while some residents of the Evros region in northern Greece cross the border at Kastania every day to shop, just a few meters away others lose their lives, in peacetime, in the minefields of the Frontier Security Zone (ZAP) which runs along the 4-meter border strip of no man’s land. On either side of the border, two identical dirt roads serve Greece and Turkey’s military patrols. We travel the dirt road on the Greek side with three military jeeps, past sentry posts and lookouts. We see Turks coming from the opposite direction in patrol vans. They salute the Greek chief and the infantrymen who accompany us. The atmosphere is strictly military. «The border with Turkey is delineated only on the mainland. At the Evros, it is supposed to be in the middle of the river. But there are no milestones, says Brigadier General Andreas Matzakos. «The border with Bulgaria is clearly defined. Every year, representatives of both countries inspect and reposition border markers that may have been blown over by the wind, for instance. Both countries’ parliaments have accepted these arrangements. But Greece and Turkey have not come to any corresponding arrangement for the Evros River.» We pull up beside a minefield. It has three rows of fencing, with many warning signs bearing the word «mines» in English and Turkish. This minefield has already been cleared of anti-personnel mines. «Go in!» our escorts urge us. I don’t dare. It’s different for illegal immigrants. Even if they manage to get past the sentries unnoticed, they avoid crossing the plowed fields (the land is tilled by farmers who have special permits to enter the ZAP). They prefer to struggle with the barbed wire and risk their lives crossing the minefields. «We have found sketches on them which showed the minefield as the Greek border. ‘Step on the wire and go in,’ it said. These people are trying to get into the minefield,» said Matzakis, clearly upset. «You can see the fencing. The have walked this far then they suddenly come across a minefield. It’s obvious that the traffickers tell them to go through here. What relationship the traffickers have with the military regime is unknown.» According to the Ottawa Convention, which it has ratified, Greece must remove all anti-personnel mines from its territory by 2014. Turkey, which has also ratified the treaty, does not maintain minefields, at least on the border with Greece. The Land Mine Clearance Battalion does the dangerous task of mine disposal, and is estimated to reach completion by 2012. At the same time, they set new anti-tank miens, as Greece intends to retain defensive works on the border with Turkey. Mine clearance on the order with Bulgaria is already complete. As Captain Pitsianis, head of a mine-sweeping team we meet, tells us, 48 mine disposal experts have been killed in the course of duty since the battalion was founded. This is one of a series of articles on Greece’s border settlements that appeared in the April 7-8 issue, the result of months of research by staff and associates, of K, Kathimerini’s Sunday magazine.

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