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A Tokyo-based venture has played a key role in creating a new device to detect land mines that will soon be used on the Thai-Cambodia border.

Geo Search Co. has spearheaded production of a portable radar, Mine Eye, which will enable mine clearance workers to know the shape of underground objects and how deep they are buried.

The main body of Mine Eye is carried on the back of the worker, who sees the data in a liquid-crystal display.

Mine clearance workers have traditionally used metal detectors that not only detect materials other than mines, such as empty cans and nails, but also frequently miss plastic mines.

“Mine Eye will improve the efficiency and safety of mine clearing,” said Hiroshi Tomita, chief of Geo Search.

The company is already well known for a technology that allows sinkholes to be detected under pavements.

“We went to the Kinki region after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 to prevent further destruction of the roads, and we also went to Okinawa in order to conduct a safety check prior to the 2000 (Group of Eight) summit there,” he said.

It was 1992 when Tomita turned his efforts to mine clearing after a U.N. official asked him to apply the sinkhole detection technology to mines.

Tomita called for technical cooperation from Japan’s top electronics makers to make Mine Eye. IBM Japan Ltd. contributed to data-processing, Sharp Corp. to the liquid-crystal display and Omron Corp. to the sensor system.

“While we will continue to try to improve the quality of Mine Eye, we will soon start training programs for its operators in Thailand and Cambodia,” Tomita said.

He said, however, that mine clearing is just part of the reconstruction process in villages in former war zones.

“I have been aware after visiting such villages that we need transportation, medical and telecommunications staff and equipment in order to clear mines and to help villagers reconstruct their residential areas afterward.”

Tomita’s vision resulted in the establishment in 1998 of the Japan Alliance for Humanitarian Demining Support, a nonprofit organization consisting of some 200 firms and several private organizations that donate between 900,000 yen and 1,500,000 yen annually.

“The member companies have their own specialties and I think we can support comprehensive reconstruction of war-torn villages by combining them,” he said.

According to JAHDS, there are still almost 100 million land mines concealed around the world and it will take several hundred years to remove them all at the current pace.

JAHDS launched its first mission last year in Rohal, northern Cambodia, removing 74 mines and 125 bombs.

In a bid to realize the comprehensive reconstruction of other villages, Tomita, secretary general of JAHDS, said the group plans to help cultivate the land after mines have been cleared and extend support in education and medical care.

The JAHDS member companies are not motivated by financial benefits, rather they are proud that their technologies are used to help people in other nations, he said.

“I hope we can develop our activities further in cooperation with nongovernmental organizations at home as well as abroad,” Tomita said.

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