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Syrian War Clouds Turkish Plan To Clear Land Mines

Since last year, nearly 200,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey, mostly through border posts or areas known to be free of mines. A Syrian man and two children were reported killed in August, however, by an explosive in an area of Mardin province that had been mined by the Turkish military. Syrian forces last year were also suspected of laying some mines to stem an embarrassing refugee flight into Turkey.

A Turkish smuggler in the border village of Akinci, south of the city of Gaziantep, said he has charged Syrian refugees up to 25 Turkish lira ($14) each to lead them through Turkish minefields. He has also acted as a lookout, monitoring shifts of Turkish military sentries and telling another smuggler who escorts Syrian clients, usually before dawn.

"I don't know where they are going. I don't care," said the gaunt man, who would not give his name and claimed he was desperate for cash. "I know it's risky for me, but I have to do it."

According to lore, villagers used to enter the Akinci mosque, which lies beside a minefield, for prayers and then sneak out the back into Syria for business.

On foot, mule or motorcycle, smugglers traditionally brought in items from Syria, including tea, gasoline, cigarettes, electronics and livestock, to sell for a profit in Turkey. The Syrian war has disrupted but not extinguished the trade among communities that were abruptly divided when the border was drawn in the last century.

Some smugglers try their luck at border posts, which became easier to cross when visa requirements were removed in 2009 after the warming of ties between Turkey and Syrian President Bashar Assad, now an enemy because of his attacks on the Syrian opposition. A few weeks ago, a Syrian man was detained while trying to enter Turkey with gold bars in his waistband.

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