GeriGündem Turkish Parliament withdraws bill on landmine removal on Syrian border
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Turkish Parliament withdraws bill on landmine removal on Syrian border

ISTANBUL - Turkish Parliament withdrew Thursday a controversial draft bill to lease land on the Syrian border to a company for four decades in return for clearing it of mines after the resolution sparked fierce opposition. (UPDATED)

A parliamentary debate has been raging for two weeks over the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, proposal for the clearing of mines along the 510-kilometer (316-mile) frontier.

 

The bill has been withdrawn for further debate, parliamentary group deputy chair of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, Mehmet Sandir, was quoted by Anatolian Agency as saying.

 

A parliamentary commission will begin renewed debates on the draft bill on June 2, broadcaster CNNTurk said.

 

After ratifying the Ottawa Treaty ban on anti-personnel landmines in 2003, Turkey has until 2014 to clear its border territories of mines.

 

The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, and MHP are mainly opposed to a clause which would allow the chosen mine-clearing company to rent the territory, turning into agricultural land, for up to 44 years.

 

Two unnamed Israeli companies are said to be strong contenders to win the contract, while the Turkish military says NATO’s Maintenance and Supply Agency, or NAMSA, should be considered as a primary choice.

 

The country’s Council of State, the supreme arbitration body, quashed a government decree issued a few years ago to award the contract to an Israeli mine-clearing company without inviting others to tender.

 

The opposition accuses the government of planning to "sell" an area of Turkey, covering 176 square kilometers according to Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, to foreign companies.

 

Other critics fear how Syria, which Turkey has been enjoying warmer ties with in recent years, will respond to an Israeli company working along its border and then managing the land for four decades.

 

Experts say the territory, untouched for decades, constitutes a precious terrain for agriculture, particularly for organic farming.

 

The Turkish-Syrian border is riddled with some 615,000 landmines, planted since the 1950s to prevent first smugglers and then PKK terrorists from crossing.

 

According to the Turkish army, clearing the mines would cost tens of millions of dollars (euros), with many of them having shifted position over the years due to ground movement and flooding.

 

 

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