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 Monday, 30 December, 2002, 11:48 GMT
Clearing landmines in Lebanon
Tony Thompson at work, photo from Tony Thompson
Tony at a minefield close to the Israeli border
Over the holidays we are getting updates from people who featured in our Real Time series. Today, Tony Thompson - who earlier told of clearing mines in Kosovo - says he will spend much of the festive season at work in the Middle East.

When I left Kosovo last Christmas, I took three weeks off to visit my girlfriend who was working in Colombia as a UN human rights officer.

From there I went to Sakhalin Island, in north-east Japan, to set up a clearance operation for an oil company.

REAL TIME REVISITED
Tony Thompson with mines
Tony has cleared mines for the past 11 years
He's worked in Somalia, Angola, Bosnia, Beirut and Kosovo
It had seen years of fighting during World War II and was used by the Russians as a training area.

As the oil company wanted to construct a 600km pipeline the length of the island, it needed extensive clearance. The winter on this island was severe - in some areas the temperature dropped to -45C - but Kosovo had prepared me for it.

Then in mid-May I was reassigned to southern Lebanon, where there are hundreds of minefields on the border with Israel. The United Arab Emirates has provided funding for two organisations to clear these areas.

My team's task is to visit each mine clearing group at least once a week to ensure safety and standards. At the height of the clearance in the summer, there were up to 50 teams operating in all four of the zones being cleared. This has meant very busy six-day weeks, commencing at 0500 and ending at 1600 each day.

Festive cheer

We only get a few days off over the festive season as this is a commercial contract, and time is money. But we do our best and I'm sure we'll enjoy it. The town where I'm staying, Tyre, is partly Christian so there is some festive cheer.

AP mine in Middle East, photo by Tony Thompson
An anti-personnel mine ready for disposal
Two of my staff have their wives out here for Christmas and they cooked lunch for us all with most of the trimmings. My girlfriend arrived on Christmas Day so that was my present. As for New Year, I will probably spend it in Beirut with her - but the job must go on and I only have two days off.

It's good to once again be involved in a successful project. Since June, more than 22,000 landmines have been removed and destroyed. I can't remember any operation where so many mines had been cleared in such a short period of time.


This festive season we are getting updates from those who told their stories in our Real Time series. On Tuesday, we speak to a young woman who took part in an eight-month vigil over those who died in the 11 September attacks.



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15 Nov 01 | UK
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