Egypt buys high-tech device to clear landmines in Western Desert

Amer Sultan in London, Wednesday 17 Apr 2013

Built by UK manufacturer, the 'Armtrack 400' will be used to clear Egypt's Western Desert of thousands of unexploded WWII-era landmines


Egypt on Wednesday signed a new contract to buy an advanced mine-clearance machine from a UK-based company.

The $1.2 million contract will allow Egypt to acquire an Armtrack 400 machine to help it clear the Al-Alamein region, located in Egypt's Western Desert, of live World War Two-era anti-tank land mines.

According to the terms of the contract, Armtrack Limited, the machine's British manufacturers, will also train Egyptian military personnel to operate the machine.

General Mahrous El-Kelany, operational director of Egypt's General-Secretariat for Mine Clearance (or G-SMC, which is run by the planning ministry), confirmed that the purchase would be funded by a number of foreign grants.

Armtrack's Robin Swanson told Ahram Online that the Armtrack 400 is capable of clearing more than 24,000 square metres of land per hour, depending on terrain and operator experience.

Capable of being remotely-controlled from up to 800 metres, the Armtrack 400 allows the operator to maintain a safe distance while keeping full control of the machine, Swanson said.

The company will train four Egyptian military officers to operate the device, Swanson said, adding that the machine would be delivered to Egypt within one month.

On Wednesday, the Egyptian embassy in London hosted the contract-signing ceremony, which was attended by G-SMC head Fathi El-Shazley; Major-General Mahmoud Nassar of the Egyptian Armed Forces' engineering authority; and Egyptian Ambassador to the UK Ashraf El-Khouly.

The Armtrack 400 is the second machine that Egypt has purchased from Armtrack within the last three years.

According to El-Kelany, Egyptian military experts chose the machine for its qualifications and efficiency.

In 2000, a UN report concluded that Egypt's landmine problem was "serious" and called on the international community to help Egypt clear its Al-Alamein region of old mines.

According to the G-SMC, the military has managed since 2010 to clear more than 31,000 hectares of mines. Cleared land has since been handed over to the agriculture and housing ministries for development projects.

Due to the chronic landmine problem, Egypt has been unable to develop the Western Desert, which represents more than one fifth of Egypt's total land area.

The problem dates back to World War Two, when a massive tank battle took place between German and British forces in and around Al-Alamein.

Countries such as the UK, Japan, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and china have all provided Egypt with government grants to clear mines.

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