UN mine action programme clears 27,000 landmines in Cyprus
"Now having reached a critical stage, we are at the point where the current UN de-mining operations in Cyprus will come to an end," said Lisa Buttenheim, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Cyprus.
"Lacking access to the remaining minefields in the buffer zone and in the absence of an agreement with the two sides to extend the de-mining operations to areas outside the buffer zone, UN de-miners will shut down their field operations next month," Ms. Buttenheim said at an event in Nicosia to mark six years of successful mine action in the Mediterranean island.
A total of 74 minefields or 9.7 square kilometres of land have been cleared throughout the buffer zone. The cleared area can now be farmed or put to other productive use.
Since late 2004, teams of de-miners working with the UN Mine Action Centre in Cyprus (UNMACC) have been working to rid the 180 kilometre-long buffer zone of landmines laid during the outbreak of inter-communal violence in 1964.
The bulk of the work was carried out by de-miners from Mozambique and Zimbabwe, along with G4S Ordnance Management, a private company.
Since the start of its work, UN de-miners in Cyprus have suffered several casualties, including the death over a year ago of Felisberto Novele, a Mozambican team leader who was killed in an explosion in a now-cleared minefield some 10 kilometres from Nicosia.
According to UNMACC estimates, some 15,000 landmines may still remain in Cyprus and two million square metres of land could still be contaminated by mines and unexploded ordnance.
"Today may mark the end of a significant chapter in the UN's de-mining operation in Cyprus, but our genuine hope is that today's event will instil an even stronger commitment on the part of both communities to rid the island completely of its lethal heritage and open a new door in reaching that goal," said Ms. Buttenheim, who is also the head of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus, which is known as UNFICYP.