The first mines on the Syrian border were planted after smugglers killed two customs agents in 1956. Turkey laid more mines in the 1980s and 1990s, at the height of its war with the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which was backed by Syria. Turkey is again worried about possible infiltration by Kurdish rebels who are cheered by an autonomy grab by their ethnic brethren in Syria.
The Turkish defense ministry told the AP it started evaluating bids from demining companies in July and would sign contracts once the assessment is complete.
"Developments in Syria to this day have not affected our plans or work," the ministry said. NATO said it is assisting with "technical preparations" for the mine clearance.
Cenk Sidar, managing director of Sidar Global Advisors, a Washington-based consultancy, said he believed that Turkey would sign contracts but wait until the Syrian civil war is resolved.
"According to plans, the government will build electronic border surveillance systems simultaneously with the demining. Even this seems too risky at this point," Sidar wrote in an email. "It may take a few years, and some qualified/selected firms may change their pricing or conditions due to the increasing instability."
Between 2010 and 2011, a Turkish firm, Nokta, and a partner from Azerbaijan cleared more than 1,200 mines around an archaeological site, Karkemish, on the Syrian border. They found anti-tank mines and M14 mines known as "toe poppers." It was hard to work with metal detectors because the soil also contained remnants of coins and other ancient fragments; some mines had to be dug out by hand rather than detonated to avoid damaging cultural treasures.
There is no reliable data for casualties from mines laid by the Turkish military, whose fight with the PKK has claimed tens of thousands of lives. The rebels, who regularly target security forces with mines and roadside bombs, took up arms in 1984 in the name of Kurdish rights; Turkey and the West label them terrorists.
Residents around Akinci recalled a villager who lost a limb to a mine several years ago while cutting trees for military sentries. Halil Kaya, 64, said he had heard of several dozen people over the decades who were killed or injured by mines. A deep furrow runs down Kaya's right forearm from a Turkish military bullet in his days as a smuggler.
Mehmet Dagdeviren, 49, said the Turkish military had softened and now might only fire warning shots at smugglers. He interrupted the chat to take a phone call, then rushed to a car and drove away.
A delivery from Syria needed collection.
Umut Colak in Akinci, Turkey, Bulut Emiroglu in Istanbul and Ben Hubbard in Beirut contributed.
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