November 5, 1998

French to clear mines unearthed by Hurricane Mitch

                  PARIS, Nov 5 (Reuters) - French de-mining experts were on their way to
                  Managua on Thursday to help hurricane-stricken Nicaragua confront a new
                  scourge -- 75,000 anti-personnel landmines scattered across the country by

                  The Foreign Ministry said six de-mining experts were among 130 French
                  rescuers due to land in Managua later in the day to be despatched to
                  Nicaragua and Honduras.

                  Their goal is to assess the dangers posed by the mines, a legacy of Central
                  American wars in the 1980s.

                  As part of France's rescue efforts, some 200 army engineers were due to
                  sail within 48 hours from bases in the French Caribbean to begin de-mining
                  operations and help rebuild roads and bridges swept away by Hurricane
                  Mitch, which killed up to 9,000 people across Central America.

                  Handicap International, the group spearheading a global campaign against
                  anti-personnel landmines, said about half the 150,000 landmines planted in
                  Nicaragua had been swept away by swollen rivers.

                  "These mines will hit at random populations whose priority is to survive the
                  floods," it said. "The presence or the fear of those mines will also hamper
                  rescue operations."

                  Handicap International said previous operations to remove landmines in
                  Nicaragua in the 1990s had been cut short by a lack of resources.

                  The French Foreign Ministry said a chartered Antonov 124 freight plane
                  would take off from Paris to Managua during the day with around 100
                  tonnes of other emergency relief, including water purification equipment,
                  medical kits, blankets and tents.

                  The Defence Ministry was sending a C-160 transport plane to help medical
                  rescue operations in NIcaragua and Honduras.

                  Aircraft from the French Caribbean would also help.

                  Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.