Chile-Peru border alert over flood-dislodged land mines

SANTIAGO, Chile, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Security forces on the Chilean-Peruvian border remain on high alert after heavy floods dislodged and exposed anti-personnel and anti-tank mines from the Pinochet era.

Chilean forces spent the better part of the week blocking public access to paths, beaches, roads and the sea as swirling mud from heavy rains revealed mines in areas frequented daily by thousands of people, including areas along the Pacific Ocean beaches and fishermen.

Former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet ordered thousands of mines laid along the border with Peru in the 1970s after border tensions and recurring disputes over his style of government.

Although the conflicts subsided little was done to de-mine the area, officials said.

At least 1,400 travelers were stranded along the highway between Arica and the Peruvian city of Tacna after border authorities spotted the mines, Tourists from Argentina, Colombia and Spain were also stranded, The Santiago Times reported.

At least 200 Peruvians caught unawares by the security closures also went through the ordeal, Chilean media reported.

After three days of security checks and disposal of exposed mines, Chilean authorities reopened the border and allowed the traffic to resume.

"The Foreign Ministry has designated buses to transport over 1,000 Chileans in Tacna. That is our concern right now," Arica Mayor Ximena Valcarce told Radio Cooperativa.

Chilean consular officials in Tacna said they allowed stranded travelers access to the diplomatic mission building and grounds.

"Elderly people and children slept in the consulate offices while there were tents pitched in the gardens and terraces," Patricio Latapiat of the Chilean Consulate in Tacna told the Times.

Doctors, nurses and paramedics monitored those in need of attention and a committee prepared and distributed food.

Public Works Minister Laurence Golborne told La Tercera newspaper workers responded well to the incident.

"The MOP team worked all night repairing sewers, asphalt and repaving surfaces," Golborne said.

At the height of tension over exposed mines, authorities monitored the flood waters for signs of floating explosives and bomb disposal experts stood vigil to respond to the threat, officials said.

Although media reports suggested most mines were those laid on Pinochet's orders, there was no immediate confirmation of the explosives' identity. Both countries went through bitter recrimination and border disputes during the 1970s.

Chile and Peru appeared to be close to open conflict after Chile began moves to create a corridor for land-locked Bolivia to the Pacific coast through former Peruvian territory.

There was speculation that some of the mines that surfaced in the floods might be older than the 1970s, remnants of previous border disputes, and some might have been laid by Peruvian armed forces in retaliation for Chilean action.