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Deminers tell their story

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TYPES OF MINES | 15 May 1998

Some questions from a class of 10 and 11 year olds at the East Narrogin Primary School, Narrogin, Western Australia were sent to Michael Laban of Mine-Tech. Rapid replies to the questions were assisted by Major Leonie Barnes (retired) formerly of the Australian Army, and an EOD specialist in Mozambique.

What type of landmines are most common in your area?
MICHAEL: Some of the most common mines in Manica Province include PMNs, PMD 6s, Gyatas and Chinese Type 72s (Anti Personnel mines) and POMZ 2 and OZM 4 Anti Group mines.

POMZ 2 are heavy, cast iron stake mines, fired by a trip wire which pulls a pin in the top of the mine. They are from the Soviet Union. The OZM 4 is also from the USSR and is a bounding mine - the sort that have a charge underneath them to propel them in the air before they explode. They are triggered by trip wire or pressure.

PMNs are small, Soviet mines made of bakelite with a rubber pressure plate on top. It is set off by a pressure of 8 to 25 kg and has a charge of about 250gms of TNT. These are AP mines, whch is to say they are not above surface shrapnel mines that will injure several people, but cause casualties by the blast of the charge, which will usually take the lower leg off.

PMD 6s are commonly called the Chinese shoe box mine, although they were also made in the Soviet Union. They are simply a block of TNT inside a hinged wooden box. When you step on the box (which is buried) the lid pushes the pin out of the detonator using the bottom of the box as an anvil. Again, there is a 200gm charge.

The Chinese Type 72 blast, (to give it its full name) is actually Chinese! There are several Type 72s, including AT mines, and couple of Chinese Type 72s, so it gets confusing. We found these in Sector B of Dombe. They are small, 74gm charge, plastic mine with virtually no metal in them, making them one of the most difficult to find. Gyatas look a lot like PMNs, as they are a Hungarian copy of that mine. They are a bit larger and take about 5kg to set them off.

This is obviously a layman's guide. There are much better technical references if you want more details; please do not take the details as completely accurate, we are not putting this forward as technical experts!

Are some kinds harder (to make safe) than others?
MICHAEL: Yes, (short answer)! We actually do not make any mines safe. We will usually destroy them where they are, by putting explosives on them. Sometimes they are booby trapped, which makes it dangerous to uncover them, even to put the charge on top. Sometimes we will actually remove the mine, when it is completely safe or when they are close to houses, roads, etc, to a demolition pit and destroy them in one larger, controlled explosion. On one occasion, a large field of Anti Tank mines was found in Bosnia (over 100), and the mines were removed to a pit. It was impossible to blow this large a quantity safely, so they were burnt. TNT burns without exploding.

Have any of your friends been affected by a landmine?
MICHAEL: Me, personally? We have two deminers here who lost legs over the past seven years in Mozambique, but I did not know them before the accidents, so it is hard to say I was affected. They both still work for Mine-Tech. I have an American friend, who stepped on a mine as a soldier in the '70s, and he lost both his legs. He used his insurance money and convalesence time to put himself through University (he was a medic) and he is now a Medical Doctor in Texas somewhere. So I have not been tragically affected at all, unlike many of the people who live in mine and UXO threat areas. These people are usually poorer to begin with, have no insurance etc, and casualties will strike them very hard, whether injured or killed. Even the loss of livestock has a significant negative impact (as they say) on their lives.

How many people are working on demining in your area?
MICHAEL: Mine-Tech has about 30 people in Mozambique at the moment. The IHDD programme at this moment has none, but by next month we will have over 20 people clearing and surveying in Mozambique, and last month, before clearance in Dombe and Nhacolo finished, there were 18 people there.

I could not say how many people are working for all the various organizations in Mozambique, but I would guess it to be around 300, with more people in admin/management etc but not actually in the minefields.

How many landmines do you think you have destroyed?
MICHAEL: We have destroyed over 700 landmines in Mozambique and almost 2000 UXO. In Bosnia, Mine-Tech destroyed 2980 mines last year, but less than 10 UXO. Operations continue in both countries, so I cannot tell you at the moment how many we have destroyed, but we do keep records. I just do not have an up-to-date, running total.

How long does it take to defuse one mine?
MICHAEL: Again, we do not defuse mines, so it is not possible to say. Destroying mines is actually a short, pleasant (satisfying) thing to do. Finding them takes time, work and discipline.

Thank you for taking time from your important work to help us understand more. Room 7, East Narrogin Primary School, Western Australia
MICHAEL: By the way, both my parents and my sister and her family live in Forrestdale, Perth, just up the road from you.

Michael Laban
Mine-Tech / IHDD Team


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