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United Nations deminers in Cyprus reach 25,000 landmines cleared mark

United Nations deminers in Cyprus reach 25,000 landmines cleared mark

Nicosia, 21 October 2010 – Today UN deminers in Cyprus achieved a significant milestone surpassing 25,000 landmines cleared and destroyed on the island taking a major step towards a mine-free buffer zone and ultimately a mine-free Cyprus.

Since late 2004, teams of deminers associated with the UN Mine Action Centre in Cyprus (UNMACC) have been working on the island to rid the 180-km-long buffer zone of landmines originally laid during the outbreak of violence in 1974. The project is co-funded by the European Union and the Government of Cyprus through the UN Development Programme and executed by the UN Office for Project Service (UNOPS) with support from the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Thus far 14.3 million Euros have been spent on this project.

“Reaching this milestone is another important step forward in our activities serving the two communities and will hopefully serve as a prelude to a successful and satisfactory follow-on phase as we move towards our stated goal of a mine-free buffer zone and, eventually, we hope, a mine-free Cyprus,” stated Lisa Buttenheim, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Cyprus and Chief of Mission of UNFICYP.

In addition to reaching this notable landmark, since launching its operations six years ago the UNMACC has released 9.5 million square metres of land for normal use, including the return of land for farming activities, and has cleared 71 minefields in the buffer zone. Of the 25,000 landmines cleared and destroyed, over 17,000 were anti-personnel and 8,000 anti-tank mines left behind from the 1974 events. It is estimated that as many as 15,000 landmines remain on the island and two million square metres of land may still be contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance.

The bulk of the mine clearance work on the island is carried out by deminers from Mozambique and Zimbabwe working with G4S Ordnance Management, a contractor hired by the UN for this specific purpose. The deminers comprise four manual teams made up of 12 individuals and one six-person mechanical team which operates the recently acquired Mini Minewolf remote controlled tiller system.

“Landmine removal and disposal is a painstaking and hazardous business involving precision, patience and, above all, expertise”, stated Max Dyck, UNMACC Project Manager. “We have managed to get to where we are today with great cooperation from our stakeholders and we look forward to continue these good relationships with the aim of achieving a mine-free Cyprus,” he added.

The UNMACC was established to provide planning, coordination and monitoring capability thereby ensuring mine clearance activities are conducted in a safe and efficient manner with the ultimate goal of contributing to the peace-building process in Cyprus and benefiting all Cypriots by removing the danger of landmines, improving freedom of movement on the island, and returning mine-free land to the community.

Since beginning its ground work in November 2004 UN deminers in Cyprus have suffered a number of casualties, including the death last October of Felisberto Novele, a team leader from Mozambique who died from an explosion in a now cleared minefield near Geri some 10 kilometers southeast of Nicosia. Mr Novele’s death and other demining casualties, among them an accident resulting in a deminer losing his leg at an on-site accident in March 2008, serve as tragic reminders of the dangers involved in mine clearance work and the threats landmines still pose on the island.

Another noteworthy achievement was the clearance of all landmines in Nicosia declared in November 2006 which involved the removal of over 2,500 mines in 19 minefields in Cyprus’ capital and its surrounding areas.

In addition to the humanitarian aspects of demining, the political impact of clearance is significant as it will both eliminate a physical barrier that divides the two sides and build confidence for other joint initiatives. The discussions between all of the relevant stakeholders regarding the clearance initiative have shown significant progress.

“Our hope is that today’s announcement will instill an even stronger commitment on the part of both communities to rid the island completely of its deadly landmines heritage driven by the recognition that landmines have no place in any civilized society,” stated Ms Buttenheim.

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