The Syrian government reportedly has been planting land mines along its borders, spurring outcry from human rights groups that say there is no justification for using the deadly, indiscriminate weapons.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that mines had been strewn along Syria's borders with Turkey and Lebanon, exit routes from the bloodied country. A former Syrian army mine specialist said he had removed an estimated 300 mines from Hasanieih near a route refugees use to reach Turkey.
Mines along the Lebanese border cost a 15-year-old Syrian boy his leg and killed a wounded person from the embattled city of Homs whom he was trying to bring to safety, a report by the group said.
"We are outraged to see Syria using anti-personnel mines against its own people, adding to the already dire humanitarian crisis Syrian civilians are facing," said Kasia Derlicka, director of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. She called it a "despicable activity."
Eighty percent of countries across the globe have signed an international pact swearing off the use of land mines. Syria is one of 37 countries that have not ratified the ban, along with major powers such as China and the United States. Lebanon hasn’t joined either, though it has voiced support for the pact.
Turkey, which has signed on to the ban, says it is investigating the alleged mines on its border with Syria, Human Rights Watch said. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken out before against Syria, accusing the army of "butchering its own people."
Syria has been widely condemned by the United Nations and rights groups for rampant abuses including killings and torture. Using land mines has drawn another burst of international outrage because the weapons can kill and maim long after a conflict has ended.
Last year, a Syrian official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that the government was laying mines to stop smugglers bringing arms into Syria. The country, which has faced a lengthy uprising against President Bashar Assad, has said it must defend itself against terrorists.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A Soviet-era land mine Sunday that was reportedly removed from the ground near Syria's border with Turkey. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Human Rights Watch