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ANKARA — After several years of delays, Turkey's Parliament has passed a bill for clearing more than 1 million landmines, mostly in Turkey's southern and eastern border areas. Industry sources say several contracts, big and small, are on the way.

The law orders the founding of a National Mine Center and tasks it with "making policy, strategy and work plans to remove threats from landmines and other unexploded ammunitions." The center also will set up and operate an information management system.

"Eventually, this effort will bring in several contracts for specialized companies, Turkish and foreign," said one industry executive who deals with munitions. "Contracts will involve both clearance work and equipment."

Analysts and industry sources agree that the entire program will entail contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The law, passed in Parliament's general assembly on Jan. 22, grants customs and import tax exceptions to "all kinds of equipment, vehicles and machinery that will imported for the purpose of demining."

Although one procurement official familiar with the demining program said foreign and local companies would race for demining contracts, deputies in a last-minute move during parliamentary debate annexed an article that favors local companies over foreign ones.

The article states that "local companies should be given priority in acquisition of goods and services in landmine clearance activity."

The annex was a proposal from an opposition deputy, Mehmet Seker.

"We wanted to force foreign companies into partnerships with local companies," Seker said during the debate.

Another opposition deputy, Mehmet Gunal, echoed the same view.

"It would be humiliating for Turkey to award demining contracts [solely] to foreign companies," he said. "Turkish companies too should participate in biddings."

"We expect to see productive partnerships and strong competition among several bidders," the procurement official said.

In 2009, the Turkish government moved to lease vast swaths of territory along the Turkish-Syrian border in exchange for clearing it of the landmines. After two weeks of hot debate, Parliament withdrew the draft bill that would lease the land "to a private company for 44 years in return for destroying the mines that had been planted there during the past decades."

During the debate, the Turkish military said NATO's Maintenance and Supply Agency, or NAMSA, should be considered as a primary choice for carrying out the demining task.

Under the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, Turkey was obliged to remove by March 2014 landmines planted on about 176 square kilometers of territory bordering Syria. Turkey ratified the treaty in 2003.

In 2013, the Turkish military received four South African-made Husky vehicle-mounted mine detectors. Husky is a mine-removal system developed by Dorbyl Rolling Stock Division of East Rand, Gauteng, South Africa. The vehicles at that time cost Turkey more than US $100 million.

The Husky system was developed in the 1970s for the South African Defence Force to clear mines from military convoy routes in Namibia and Angola. It consists of two Husky vehicles. The first one acts as a mine detection vehicle and the second as a towing/mine detection vehicle.

Email: bbekdil@defensenews.com

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