+   *    +     +     
About Us 
The Issues 
Our Research Products 
Order Publications 
Press Room 
Resources for Monitor Researchers 
Table of Contents
Country Reports
NICARAGUA, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


Mine Ban Policy

Nicaragua’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Edmundo Castillo Salazar signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 4 December 1997. Nicaragua deposited its instrument of ratification on 30 November 1998, the fifty-fourth nation to do so. On the one year anniversary of the treaty signing, 4 December 1998, President Arnoldo Aleman stated, “We Nicaraguans have been witnesses of the devastating effects of antipersonnel landmines planted during the previous decade and that have caused severe and irreparable damage to many persons, in the majority civilians and sometimes children, that did not know the field of battle but that have been mutilated by this mortal artifact. The same has happened in other countries. That is why its use, stockpiling and production has been prohibited by the Ottawa Treaty, that Nicaragua has signed and ratified."[1]

Nicaragua was one of the early backers of a mine ban, first announcing its support for an immediate, comprehensive ban on antipersonnel landmines at a United Nations conference on mine clearance in July 1995 in Geneva, Switzerland. In September 1996, it joined with other Central American nations in declaring the region a mine free zone in a joint statement signed by each nation’s foreign minister, with each pledging to no production, trade or use of antipersonnel mines. Nicaragua attended all of the treaty preparatory meetings, endorsed the pro-ban treaty June 1997 Brussels Declaration, and was a full participant in the Oslo negotiations in September 1977. Nicaragua also voted in favor of the pro-ban U.N. General Assembly resolutions in 1996, 1997, and 1998, and supported the pro-ban resolutions of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Domestic implementation legislation for the Mine Ban Treaty is currently under consideration, through a commission of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Relations. It will be reviewed by the recently created National Demining Commission, referred to the Presidency for approval, and subsequently to the legislature.

Nicaragua is not a party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, and is not a member of the Conference on Disarmament.


Nicaragua’s Ejercito Popular Sandinista (Sandinista People’s Army - EPS) has been identified as a past producer of the TAP-4 directional fragmentation antipersonnel mine.[2] In an interview, Lt. Col. Cesar Delgadillo, Army Chief of Operations, confirmed that around 1985, the Sandinista Army produced a very primitive version of the TAP-4, but he said the mine was never exported and production ceased before the end of the war.[3] A November 1993 U.S. Army document stated that “Nicaragua only produced minimal numbers of TAP-4 mines, strictly for internal use. They are no longer produced and no exports are envisioned.”[4]


The Sandinista Army acquired its mines from the Soviet bloc and the Army will not specify the type or quantity of mines exported to Nicaragua. The contras acquired Claymore antipersonnel mines and perhaps others from the United States. It has also been reported that the contras used a Brazilian-made antipersonnel mine nicknamed “quitadedos” or “removes toes.”[5] Other sources of contra mines are unknown.

According to a number of reports, the following antipersonnel mines have been found in Nicaragua:

- Soviet Union: OZM-4, PMD-6 and -6M, PDM-1M, MON-50, MON-100, PMN, PMN-2, POMZ, POMZ-2;

- East Germany: POMZ-2, PMFM-1;

- Czechoslovakia: PP MI SR II;

- Egypt: PMFC-1, PMFH-1, PMM-1.[6]

Nicaragua has not exported antipersonnel mines.


According to the Minister of Defense Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, Nicaragua has a stockpile of approximately 100,000 antipersonnel mines.[7] The Army began destruction of stockpiles in April 1993 with the explosion of 2,858 mines by a specialized Army platoon.[8] As of November 1998, the Army had destroyed 18,672 antipersonnel mines including PP MI SR II, PMD-6, and PMN mines.[9]

When the ICBL and 1997 Nobel Co-Laureate Jody Williams visited Nicaragua in January 1999, the government announced its decision to destroy its remaining stockpile of about 100,000 mines by the end of March 1999. On 19 February 1999, Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister Eduardo Montealegre stated that the first destruction of the stockpile would take place in mid-April 1999 during the visit by Canada’s Prime Minister Jean Chrètien, Secretary General of the OAS Cesar Gaviria, and Foreign Ministers of the region.[10] This will be the first publicly-monitored destruction of stockpiled antipersonnel mines in Nicaragua. The Foreign Minister indicated that no precise timetable had been set for the destruction of the remaining stock.[11]

In January 1999, Nicaragua’s Defense Minister had said that destruction would take place in March 1999. "I'll be frank with you," he said, "we want to be the first to comply, to set an example, because we need donations to clean the country of mines. And the time to get donations is when there's a lot of attention on the process, a lot of sympathy."[12] The Minister confirmed in an interview that "an important quantity of mines" will be destroyed in the April destruction ceremony and admitted that as yet there is no time-line in place for the destruction of the remaining stockpile.[13]

Some in the Nicaraguan Army have indicated that it may require the maximum four years allowed to complete destruction of the stockpile. A study for the donor community is being undertaken to examine the social and ecological impact of the destruction process, to calculate the costs of destruction and to set forth a timetable for destruction.[14]

Nicaragua’s stockpiled APMs are located in army warehouses. They are destroyed by being exploded on site. To date no public figures have been released of the cost of destruction. Nicaragua receives technical support from the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) through the OAS for the destruction of stockpiled mines.

It is not known if or how many mines are being retained for training purposes, as allowed under Article 3 of the treaty. It is not known if Claymore-type mines (MON-50, MON-100) are included in Nicaragua’s stockpile destruction plan.


There are no allegations of recent use of antipersonnel mines in Nicaragua. According to Nicaraguan Army sources, the Operational Division of the Army registered the laying of about 120,000 antipersonnel mines during the 1980s conflict.[15] Massive emplacement occurred in 1984 when the conflict intensified. According to non-Army sources, in addition to the Operational Division of the Army, there were at least three other operational levels that were authorized to use mines; sometimes the Reserve Battalions or Fixed Brigades were also equipped with mines, as were some militia units.[16] Mines were used mainly for protection of strategic installations, economically important locations, and lines of communication.

The contras also employed mines extensively, mainly to disrupt economic life and destabilize the government. According to a December 1996 report by Americas Watch, mining by the contras “caused the great majority of civilian casualties.... The contras made no effort to warn the civilian population of the placement of mines.”[17]

Landmine Problem

A systematic survey of the mine problem in Nicaragua has never been undertaken, though an initial United Nations assessment mission was recently completed.[18] Estimates of the number of mines planted in the ground during the war range from 91,000 to 135,000.[19] The most common recent estimates of the number of mines currently in the ground range from 70,000 to 75,000,[20] though some official estimates are as high as 85,000-90,000.[21] According to one source, at least 600,000 Nicaraguans, or one out of every seven, are affected by the presence or suspected presence of mined areas.[22]

Mines are mostly located in the border areas in the north and south of the country, with perhaps two-thirds along the Honduran border. Mine-affected land is found around electricity towers and power stations, settlements and cooperatives, bridges, communications towers, and warehouses. Heavily mined is the Dipilto cordillera from Las Manos to the joining of the river Poteca with the river Coco. Additional minefields are near Wamblan, Bocay and Waslala. According to the UN, the most affected Departments are Esteli, Jinotega, Madriz, Matagalpa, and Nueva Sergovia, which contain one-quarter of the Nicaraguan population and form the breadbasket of the nation.[23]

Mine Action Funding

Mine clearance in Nicaragua is carried out as part of the regional Organization of American States / Inter-American Defense Board Demining Program in Central America. Total costs in 1993 and 1996-1998 have been about US$6 million. Operations were suspended in 1994 and 1995 due to lack of funding. The OAS has calculated that about $9 million will be required to complete the demining process in Nicaragua, a figure which takes into account the impact of Hurricane Mitch on the demining program.[24] An Army spokesperson, Lt. Col. Spyro Bassi has estimated $10 million is needed to complete the demining task.[25]

The annual budget has been approximately $1.5 million per year. International donors have included Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, UK and US.[26] Denmark has contributed $1.8 million on a bilateral basis, Sweden has contributed $1.6 million though the OAS program, and Norway has contributed $800,000 through the OAS.[27]

Some 250 military (and ex-military) personnel have participated in the OAS/IADB demining program, from countries of the region as well as from the United States.[28] Nations that have provided military specialists to assist in the clearance effort include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. In November 1998 there were twenty-three trainers and advisors engaged in field operations, from Brazil (nine), Colombia (seven), US (four) and Venezuela (three).

Mine Clearance

The Nicaraguan Army, with support from the Inter-American Defense Board and the Organization of American States, is currently undertaking mine clearance and training operations in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas begin demining on their own in 1990, and claim that almost 11,000 antipersonnel mines were removed from 131 locations in the first year.[29] In August 1991, Nicaragua requested assistance in mine clearance from the OAS. After a study was conducted by the IADB of the problem, the OAS and IADB began demining in cooperation with the Nicaraguan Army. They put together a team of 15 military specialists from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Uruguay. The team targeted the Sebaco area. But the program was suspended in December that same year due to the lack of funding. By then an estimated 2,538 mines had been eradicated.

The Nicaraguan Army continued on its own, with some bilateral support, until May 1996 when new funding was allocated to reinitiate the IADB/OAS program. Mine clearance operations recommenced in April 1997, this time under the responsibility of the OAS’s Unit for the Promotion of Democracy. The OAS also set up its regional base for the clearance effort in Central America in Danli, Honduras called MARMINCA (Mision Asistencia Para la Remocion de Minas en Centro America).

Clearance has proceeded in several phases or “modules.” The first module involved a sweep of the perimeter of a hydroelectric plant near Jintega to check and certify the results of demining carried out previously by the Nicaraguan army. In the second module, 1,656 mines were removed from thirty-eight electricity towers in the Juigalpa area. The third module which began in October 1997 involves clearance of 17 highway bridges.

At the end of October 1998, the Nicaraguan program included 14 mine clearance platoons with about 380 personnel, working on three fronts.[30] Each special clearance unit is composed of half military experts, and half specially-contracted civilians. They work under the technical supervision of Nicaraguan military officers and those from other countries. There have been approximately ninety casualties among the deminers, including twelve fatalities. But recently there has been a steady reduction in the accident rate.[31]

As of 23 September 1998, under the OAS program, 4,805 mines had been destroyed,[32] and more than 141,000 square meters of land had been cleared.[33] These numbers represent clearance under OAS auspices only; total area cleared is estimated at 819,000 square meters, and some 26,000 mines destroyed, according to the Army.[34] A UN report indicates that a total of 43,000 mines have been destroyed, and from 1996-1998, about 13 hecares of minefields have been cleared.[35]

Cleared areas are located primarily along the northern and southern border areas, in particular the departments of Esteem, Jinotega and Matagalpa. There are no figures on the number of people who have benefited from mine clearance efforts. To date cattle ranchers have benefited along with farmers seeking to cultivate fields previously denied access by the presence or suspected presence of mines.

The demining program is now taking place in four different areas and there are plans to begin clearance in a fifth area and to add an additional 200 men in order to clear all mines by the year 2004.[36] The initial goal for completion of mine clearance region-wide had been the year 2000. While it still appears the other mine-affected countries (Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala) can meet that goal, it became apparent in 1998 that Nicaragua would not. Even prior to Hurrican Mitch, Nicaragua had shifted the date to 2002.[37] After Hurricane Mitch, OAS Secretary General, Cesar Gaviria, "insisted on the reformulation of the demining program in order to define a more realistic completion date and to incorporate the support of the international community in a greater dimension in tasks of prevention, and victim attention so that Nicaragua can get out of this problem."[38] President Aleman commented that “it would be unrealistic to say that we will eliminate 70,000 mines in 1999 or 2000."[39]

In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, priorities needed to be reestablished on account of the displacement of thousands of mines. A Ministry of Defense mission traveled to Washington to meet with OAS and US government officials to procure more specialized equipment and lay the basis for a new four year plan. Following a request from President Aleman to the United Nations UnderSecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, an assessment mission was deployed to Nicaragua. Part of the mission’s mandate was to examine damage caused by Hurricane Mitch and to suggest recommendations for mine action in the short and longer term.[40]

On 4 December 1998, President Aleman announced the creation of the National Demining Commission. He said that "implementing the commitment acquired under the Ottawa Convention requires the creation of the National Commission on Demining so that it will be the principal instrument of the National Program of Demining. This will be inter-institutional with the sole purpose of ensuring that the National Program of Demining be implemented without further delay.” He also stated, “The government that I preside considers the coordinated and efficient execution of the Demining Program as a national priority actively involving all sectors of Nicaraguan society."[41] Executive Decree No. 84-9,8 signed on 27 November 1998 and published in La Gaceta, Diario Oficial No. 236 on 5 December 1998, established the National Demining Commission.

Some elements of Nicaraguan civil society have noted that while there is some community participation in mine action in Nicaragua, the OAS/IADB program is largely military and dominated by expatriates. There is little involvement by government agencies or ministries other than the Army. While citizen security and economic development are the officially established demining priorities, in practice it appears that the Army determines the criteria and priorities for demining. The commitment of the Army to rapid humanitarian clearance has been questioned. Clearance of agricultural land in particular has proceeded slowly.[42]

Communities are not always satisfied with the clearance of their land and in some areas campesinos are still refusing to go back to claim their land. Ranchers and farmers have joined with community residents in complaining about the continued incidence of mine-related accidents, restrictions on communication and travel due to the presence or suspected presence of mines and both have called for demining efforts to be redoubled.[43]

Mine Awareness

A large-scale mine accident prevention campaign was initiated in 1996 by the Red Cross in conjunction with the Army. About 150 workshops were set up, educating 1,500 youth. In 1998, with support from UNICEF, the campaign was extended to the Departments of Jinotega, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, Madriz and Rivas.[44]

Nicaragua’s representative at the United Nations has said that the “Child to Child” program has taught some 23,000 children about the dangers of mines.[45]

International military supervisors that work with the Army periodically visit local schools to "inform, conscientize and to warn children as to the dangers of mines, distributing materials, posters, comics.”[46] Items including calendars, shopping bags and school supplies with mine warnings and instructions have been produced and disseminated.[47] Superman and Wonder Woman comic books produced by D.C. Comics, UNICEF and the U.S. Department of Defense have also been distributed.

Heavy reliance on the military and external multilateral support has resulted in less than adequate community involvement. In 1999, the OAS/IADB mine awareness component of the demining program will increase its efforts to work with national and community-based non-governmental organizations.

Two Nicaraguan NGOs, the Centro de Estudios Internacionales (CEI) and Centro de Estudios Estratégicos (CEEN), are involved in mine awareness education in Nicaragua, working with local communities in north-central part of the country. CEI also has peace promoters involved in mine action in central Nicaragua and has trained 23 persons in mine awareness education. There is a need for more involvement and support from community-based organizations in mine awareness education.

Landmine Casualties

There are no exact figures on the number of people killed or injured by landmines as there is no national registry of mine-related injuries and deaths and not all cases are reported. The OAS is making an effort to set up a Central American database on landmines and mine victims. The United Nations has estimated that roughly 1,500 people in Nicaragua have been injured by mines, not including fatalities. According to the UN, an average of 10 to 20 mine incidents per year are currently reported, and it is believed that many more occur and are not reported.[48]

More than 500 landmine casualties have been reported by just two hospitals in Managua (Davila Bolanos and Aldo Chavarria) and the national Red Cross. According to the Nicaraguan Red Cross, there have been a total of 553 accidents, with 423 civilian and 76 military injured; 46 civilian and 7 military dead.[49]

Mine accidents seemed to occur when individuals were going about their daily work, usually agricultural activities such as herding cattle or harvesting crops. Military casualties to landmines are now usually the result of demining accidents. There is no available data on the types of injuries suffered. There are several cases where victims have died before reaching hospital due to distance, bad roads and inadequate transport.

Survivor Assistance

Through a technical collaboration program between Nicaragua and the OAS, 120 injured mine victims with no means to pay for medical care have received assistance. The program is paid for with a Swedish contribution of US$200,000, and is allocated for about 200 cases. In addition, since 1997 the OAS has had a program of “Care for Civilian Amputees in Mine Related Accidents,” which includes prevention and rehabilitation as well as public awareness and education.[50]

Access to medical, surgical or rehabilitation services is difficult if the victim has no money, unless they are a member of the Army. There are prosthetics services and some rehabilitation and vocational training available in Nicaragua such as the Centro Nacional de Producción de Ayudas Técnicas y Elementos Ortoprotésicos (CENAPRORTO) run by the Ministry of Health. Its capacity to deliver services is sometimes limited by demand. There are also some small-scale prosthetics manufacturing and repair services, often run by the disabled themselves. While there is some social security available, most victims receive support from their families.

The first mine victim in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch was a sixteen-year-old boy, Bernardo Ocampo Gonzalez, from the community of Puerto Viejo in Waslala municipality. Early on the 16 November 1998, Gonzalez decided to go swimming in a nearby river pond. When he went to dive he detonated one of thousands of antipersonnel mines displaced from their original location during Hurricane Mitch and now lodged in river bends and water holes by storm currents. While the area was unmarked, the Army warned the local population not to wade into or cross the rivers. Gonzalez suffered serious wounds in his chest and lower jaw and it took two days for him to be transported to the nearest hospital, a journey greatly slowed by poor road. He died in hospital two days later.[51]


[1]Speech, “Firma del Decreto Creador de la Comision Nacional de Desminado,” 4 December 1998.

[2] United States Department of Defense, “Mine Facts” CD Rom.

[3]Lt. Col Delgadillo, Army Chief of Operations, communication with LM Researcher, Managua, 4 March 1998.

[4] U.S. Army Foreign Science and Technology Center, Department of Army, Letter to Human Rights Watch Arms Project, 1 November 1993, p. 4.

[5] Americas Watch, Land Mines in El Salvador and Nicaragua: The Civilian Victims, December 1985, pp. 55-56.

[6] See, OAS, Desminando, No. 1, December 1998, pp. 6-7; United States Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Problem with Uncleared Landmines, July 1993, p. 132; U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and U.S. Army Foreign Science and Technology Center, Landmine Warfare - Trends and Projections, December 1992, DST-11608-019-92, p. 2-18.

[7] Statement made to ICBL delegation, Managua, 6 January 1999.

[8] LM Researcher interview with Major Sergio Ugarte, head of demining for Nicaraguan Army, Managua, 15 January 1999.

[9]LM Researcher interview with Major Sergio Ugarte, head of demining for Nicaraguan Army, Managua, 15 January 1999. Also mentioned were PTMI-K and SM mines, of unknown origin to LM.

[10]"Destruiran 170 mil minas del Ejercito," La Prensa, 20 February 1999.


[12]"Nicaragua renews effort against mines," The Miami Herald, 11 January 1999.

[13] LM interview with Defense Minister, Managua, 18 January 1999.

[14]LM Interview with Defense Minister, Managua, 18 January 1999.

[15] LM Researcher interview with Major Sergio Ugarte, head of demining for Nicaraguan Army, Managua, 15 January 1999.

[16] Interview with Valdrack Jaentschke, Executive Director of the Centro de Estudios Estratégicos (CEEN), Managua, 14 December 1998.

[17] Reprinted in Human Rights Watch, Landmines: A Deadly Legacy (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993), pp. 216-217.

[18]United Nations, Nicaragua Landmine Situtation Assessment Mission Report, 15 December 1998.

[19] The lower estimate is Nicaraguan Army (La Prensa, 24 February 1999), the higher estimate is US State Department, Hidden Killers, July 1993, p. 132, and United Nations, Nicaragua Landmine Situtation Assessment Mission Report, 15 December 1998, p. 3.

[20]OEA, Programa de Asistencia de Desminado en Centroamerica PADCA, Proyecto en Nicaragua, January 1999; "La OEA y el Desminado en Nicaragua," Desminado, (PADCA-Nicaragua), No. 1, December 1998, pp. 2-3.

[21] Programa OEA/JID de Desminado, “Despejando el Camino hacia el Futuro.” See also, http://www.oas.org/EN/updhome.htm.

[22] Figure provided by Centro de Estudios Internacionales (CEI) .

[23] UN, Nicaragua Landmine Situation Assessment Mission Report, 15 December 1998, p. 6.

[24]"Destruiran 170 mil minas del Ejercito," La Prensa, 20 February 1999; Interview Major Sergio Ugarte, 15 January 1999.

[25] “EN urge 5 milliones de dolares,” La Prensa, 24 February 1999.

[26] OAS/IADB Fact Sheet, “Facts About Demining in Nicaragua,” 1998.

[27] Mine Action Bilateral Donor Support, Fact Sheet, 16 November 1998, provided by government of Norway.

[28]Programa OEA/JID de Desminado, "Despejando el Camino hacia el Futuro." See also http://www.oas.org/EN/updhome.htm

[29] See, U.S. DIA/FSTC, pp. 218-219.

[30] UN Assessment Mission, p. 9.

[31] Interview with Major Sergio Ugarte, Managua, 3 December 1998.

[32]OEA, Programa de Asistencia de Desminado en Centroamerica PADCA, Proyecto en Nicaragua, January 1999; "La OEA y el Desminado en Nicaragua," Desminado, (PADCA-Nicaragua), No. 1, December 1998, pp. 2-3.

[33] OAS/IADB, “Information Paper: OAS/IADB Demining Program Update,” 14 September 1998 cites 141,479 square meters cleared as of 21 August 1998.

[34] See, "EN urge 5 millones de dolares," La Prensa, 24 February 1999, citing an Army spokesperson.

[35] UN, Assessment Mission, p. 9.

[36]"EN urge 5 millones de dolares," La Prensa, 24 February 1999.

[37] UN, Assessment Mission, p. 9.

[38]"Zapadores en busqueda de 70 mil minas," La Prensa,, 17 November 1998.

[39] Ibid.

[40]United Nations, Nicaragua Landmine Situation Assessment Mission Report, 15 December 1998.

[41]Speech of 4 December 1998, "Frima del Decreto Creador de la Comisión Nacional de Desminado."

[42] These views have been expressed by representatives of the Centro de Estudios Internacionales (CEI) and Centro de Estudios Estratégicos (CEEN), and others.

[43] Interview with Uriel Carazo, Joint Wounded War Veterans Commission, Somoto, 14 December 1998; interviews with Heriberto Bermudez, farm administrator, La Misión, and Fidel Rodriguez, Cattle Ranchers Commission, Matiguas, 11 December 1998.

[44] UN, Assessment Mission, p. 10.

[45] UN Press Release, GA/9505, 17 November 1998.

[46]"La Prevencion y Concientizacion", Desminado, (PADCA-Nicaragua), No. 1, December 1998, p.4.

[47] Maj. Tom McCollum, “Special Forces lead U.S. demining efforts in Central America.” Army Link News, December 1997.

[48] UN, Assessment Mission, p. 3.

[49]Quoted by La Tribuna, 1 March 1999.

[50]OEA, Un nuevo modelo de cooperacion, p.12.

[51]"Mina explota y mata en Waslala,” La Prensa, 23 November 1998.