Armenian demining experts prepare to clear a minefield near Aleppo, Syria

YEREVAN — Armenian servicemen have demined nearly 35,000 square meters of land in Syria since being deployed there in February, a senior official in Yerevan said on Monday.

Ruben Arakelian, director of the Armenian Defense Ministry’s Center for Humanitarian Demining and Expertise (CHDE), said they have found 29 landmines and unexploded ordnance during an ongoing operation coordinated with the Russian and Syrian militaries.

Arakelian said the Armenian contingent aims to clear five potential minefields in and around the war-ravaged city of Aleppo with a combined area of 1.3 million square meters. “They have to be demined first so that we avoid casualties among civilians,” he told a news conference.

In a humanitarian mission, Armenia has sent 83 demining experts, army medics and military police officers tasked with protecting them to Syria on February 8. Russia welcomed and assisted in the deployment. But the United States, which is highly critical of the Russian military presence in Syria, criticized it.

The Armenian military rotated the contingent on June 16, sending a new team of sappers, doctors and other military personnel to Syria for a four-month tour of duty.

Arakelian noted “logistical difficulties” of the operation. “Given that Syria is a country in a state of war, it’s very difficult to handle logistical issues from Yerevan,” explained the official. “If it turns out that we did not send something there or need something new, we have trouble quickly shipping [those items.]”

Arakelian said that Armenian military personnel and equipment are transported to Syria only by Russian planes. “Besides, the Russian side ensures our contingent’s safe movement to minefields and return to its base as well as its broader security in case of serious hostilities,” he added.

The Defense Ministry in Yerevan cited “the severe humanitarian situation” in Aleppo and “written requests from the Syrian side” when it first announced the deployment. It also pointed to the existence of an Armenian community in Syria.

The community, which used to have an estimated 80,000 members, is believed to have shrunk by more than half since the outbreak of the bloody conflict in Syria seven years ago. Thousands of Syrian Armenians have taken refuge in Armenia.

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