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Kinmen opens exhibition center to mark clearing of landmines

TAIPEI--Many of the military experts who spent years clearing tens of thousands of landmines from the islands of Kinmen may be leaving the outlying county behind, but their contribution to Kinmen's residents will be remembered in a new exhibition hall that opened this week.

Located within a military base on the main island of Kinmen, the center was unveiled March 31 to mark the removal of the landmines — sowed decades ago to thwart a potential Chinese invasion — by the Army Demining Division in Kinmen.

Now that the military's largest demining operation has come to a close, the division, established in 2007, has been disbanded as of April 1, though around two dozen professional deminers remain in Kinmen as part of the new Demining Platoon to deal with any future discoveries of unexploded ordnance.

But they have left behind some of their protective gear, equipment and devices used to detect and remove mines to share their important work with the public.

Outside the exhibition hall is a mock removal crew — dressed in trademark orange uniforms and with protective gear — showing visitors step-by-step how the delicate procedure of removing mines is carried out.

For better or worse, the mines are a part of history for Kinmen, considered the front line of defense for Taiwan throughout the second half of the 20th century due to its proximity to China's coastal Fujian province.

Kinmen Defense Command said the newly opened center allows visitors to get a peak into the challenges of removing mines and the meaning of their deployment.

Since the exhibition center is on a military base, however, only Taiwanese nationals are allowed entry. Anyone wanting to visit will first have to file an application with the Kinmen County Government a week in advance and will be subject to an identity check, a Defense Command official said.

The first group of visitors is expected later this month.

The opening of the center follows a similar park located on the islet of Lieyu, also known as Little Kinmen.

Managed by the Lieyu Township Office, the park includes a tunnel that features inactive mines and warning signs from various countries including Cambodia to inform visitors of the area's dangerous past. Unlike the new exhibition hall, however, there are no restrictions on who can visit.

The military planted extensive minefields along the coast of Kinmen and Matsu in the 1950s and 1960s, when tensions with China were at a highpoint.

About 95,800 landmines and unexploded ordnance have been removed from Kinmen over the past several years.

Known for decades as a heavily fortified anti-communist bastion, Kinmen has been turning war-torn battlefields into tourist attractions, including several military tunnels and museums in memory of significant battles against China.

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