BEIRUT, March 13 – Syria has planted landmines near its borders with Lebanon and Turkey, along routes used by refugees fleeing the strife-torn country, Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged on Tuesday.
“The Syrian regime is trying to prevent people from going in and from fleeing the country,” said Nadim Houry, deputy director of the group’s Middle East and North Africa division.
“And they are doing it in a way that is going to be lethal because these roads are used by people fleeing and also to evacuate the wounded.”
The New York-based watchdog published the accounts of witnesses and deminers who claimed that the Syrian army has been placing landmines for months, and reported resulting civilian casualties.
Houry said the latest casualty was on March 5, when a young Syrian man crossing back into Syria from Turkey stepped on a landmine and lost his right leg.
HRW also quoted a 15-year-old boy from Tal Kalakh who lost a leg in February as he was trying to help a wounded family friend fleeing the Baba Amr rebel stronghold in central Homs cross into northern Lebanon.
“We were sure that no landmines were planted in the area filled with thorn bushes,” he said.
“I was less than 50-60 metres (54 to 65 yards) away from crossing the border when the landmine exploded.”
Steve Goose, arms division director at HRW, said it was “unconscionable” for countries to continue using the deadly weapons.
“There is absolutely no justification for the use of these indiscriminate weapons by any country, anywhere, for any purpose,” he said.
Syria, which along with Lebanon is not signatory to the international Mine Ban Treaty, first began laying mines along its border with Lebanon in November, HRW said.
It is last believed to have used anti-personnel mines during the 1982 conflict with Israel and Lebanon. Its stockpile of landmines consists mainly of Soviet/Russian-manufactured mines, HRW said.
Human Rights Watch urged the Syrian regime to stop planting landmines which, it warned, would continue to maim people for years to come.
“The threat is not just in the now, it’s also a danger for the future”, Houry told AFP.
According to the United Nations, more than 8,000 people have been killed in Syria, the majority of them civilians, in a brutal crackdown on an anti-regime revolt that erupted a year ago.