Sun said one difficulty in the de-mining process was the large variety of mines, which could be set off in many ways. Nobody really knew how many types of mines were left behind by conflicts, but mixed mine-fields were really a headache for engineering troops.
The main type was the pressure mine, which could be found using metal detectors. Other types included mines made of plastics or liquids, which the metal detectors could not handle.
Another difficulty, he said, was that some mines had been buried for as long as three decades. They have rusted and "easily go off with a simple touch," he said.
The complicated geography of the border area, with uninterrupted tropical forests and mountains, made mine-clearing highly dangerous, he added. "After a downpour, some mines might be swept to the roadside, and others might be buried more deeply underground."
Fu said it's very dangerous work. Often, when one bomb was extracted from the upper layer of soil, soldiers found more than one layer of mines.
He recalled he broke into a cold sweat when his team found scores of layers of mines during a mission. "It's frightening," he said. They later found these mines accumulated after being swept to the site by rain and obstructed by rocks.
Such life-or-death situations have occurred many times during China's efforts to clear landmines along its border with Vietnam.
Fu and Sun could not remember how often they had stomped on newly de-mined areas to make sure the areas were truly safe.
Many of the mined areas were on mountainous slopes, which could not be reached by road, so the dynamite required to de-mine them was delivered on soldiers' backs. Sometimes, an entire company of soldiers was needed to complete the transportation.
"You can imagine scores of kilograms of dynamites on one's back is a real test both physically and psychologically," Fu said.
De-mining soldiers working on the front line were all technicians who had received special engineering and psychological training.
Despite the dangers, many young men were willing to join the mine-sweeping company, Sun said. "In peacetime, few military posts reflect the true value of an army except de-mining, because mine-sweeping soldiers can have the battlefield feeling."
(Xinhua News Agency December 31, 2008)