Syria laying landmines along civilian escape routes, rights group claims

Syria is laying landmines along routes to Turkey, used by people fleeing the country's violence, an international human rights group has alleged.

In a report released Tuesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch cites witnesses as saying the landmines have already caused civilian casualties.

A Syrian official and witnesses said in November that Syria had planted landmines along parts of its border with Lebanon.

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An official told the Associated Press at the time that the mines aim to prevent arms smuggling.

Thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey and Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime began a year ago.

McClatchy Newspapers reported that after a family of five died in a new minefield last month, Syrian civilians, guided by a volunteer with military mine-clearing training, unearthed hundreds of mines and reopened the way to safety.

Citing a volunteer who directed the mine-clearing operation, it wrote that the mines were Russian made PMN-2 pressure mines, laid about a foot apart in two bands, about four yards from the fence that marks the border with Turkey.

"I know 10 sorts of mines — anti-personnel mines and anti-tank mines, but not this one," the 28-year-old who called himself Rajol al Hadidi ("Iron Man") reportedly said. "We didn't know what explosive material was contained in it, but we thought it would create a crater of 3 or 4 meters."

Mine experts consulted by McClatchy said there is no way to defuse the PMN-2 other than to detonate it with a small explosive charge.

Meanwhile, Ankara has expressed concern at the increasing number of Syrian refugees crossed into Turkey in recent days, frightened by a government assault on the northern Syrian city of Idlib.

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According to VOA, Sinan Ulgen, head of the international relations think tank EDAM, said that the Turkish government was wary.

"In 1991, when Saddam had started to massacre his Kurdish population, Turkey ended being host to 550,000 Kurds in a few days," Ulgen said. 

"That still remains on the consciousness of Turkish policymakers and there have been a number of lessons drawn from that." 

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