Seven migrants blown up in Greek minefield

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The Independent Online

Seven illegal immigrants who tried to cross a minefield into northern Greece are the latest victims of the hazardous people-smuggling route from Turkey into the European Union. Their mutilated bodies were found by Greek soldiers in the Evros region, close to the north-eastern border, in one of the most heavily mined strips of land on earth.

A Greek army spokesperson said they heard an early-morning blast but arrived too late to save lives. "Soldiers responsible for clearing minefields arrived and found seven dismembered bodies." The victims are thought to be from Pakistan.

Less than a week ago, traditional rivals Greece and Turkey signed a United Nations pact outlawing the use of anti-personnel mines. No date has been set for dismantling the fields, a legacy of decades of tension between the countries that brought them close to war several times. Dozens of civilians lose their lives every year trying to cross the mined areas. The Athens branch of the international aid agency Doctors of the World called for the "immediate removal of land mines in the Evros region".

Thousands of illegal immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe are regularly trafficked by smugglers across the heavily militarised frontier, with increasingly bloody consequences. At least 26 people, mainly from Pakistan, lost their lives this month after trying to ford the strong currents of the border river of Evros, known as Meric in Turkey. Greek authorities recovered 26 bodies along the banks of the river but admitted many more may have been washed away.

Greek authorities said the minefields are clearly marked with large warning signs. "The minefield had a sign and a double fence," the spokesperson said. But immigrants frequently choose the most dangerous routes to try to slip by border guards unnoticed. Drownings along the Greek-Turkish coast are also mounting because smuggling gangs use small craft during appalling weather conditions in an effort to beat coastguards.

Greece, at the south-eastern corner of the EU, has been a strong advocate of proposals to create a common border guard to alleviate pressure and spread the costs of policing among all member states.

When the Greek Foreign Minister, George Papandreou, signed the UN anti-mine pact he said it took on a "special importance". Now 139 countries have joined the treaty. A further 47 countries, including the United States, China and Russia, have not signed.