A United Nations-backed landmine clearing operation in Cyprus is in danger of folding next month before its work in de-mining the buffer zone on the island is complete, risking the lives of the local population.
To date, the UN Mine Action Centre programme, formed in November 2004, has released more than 6 million square metres of land and removed over 9,000 mines – 5,666 anti-personnel and 3,497 anti-tank – from the divided Mediterranean island.
But this month alone three accidents in the buffer zone, which is 180 kilometres long and covers around three per cent of the surface area of Cyprus, served as a reminder that the agency’s work is not done.
“Landmines continue to maim and kill in Cyprus almost 35 years after they were first laid,” said the Programme Manager of the UN Mine Action Centre (MAC), Michael Raine.
“Much progress has been made, but the three accidents in December serve as a tragic reminder that de-mining work is not done,” he added.
In the first of the accidents a man stepped on a landmine, partially blowing off his right foot and injuring his wife, his four-year-old son and another child. In addition, an experienced bomb disposal expert seriously injured his right hand while attempting to excavate an anti-personnel mine, and a man lost his right foot in the third explosion.
“I believe this humanitarian work is of fundamental importance for the future of Cyprus,” Mr. Raine said, calling for financial support for de-mining activities. “It would be very unfortunate to let it lapse because of a lack of money when we are so close to the goal of a mine-free buffer zone.”
The current de-mining project was made possible with €9 million (almost $13 million) in funding from the European Union, which is slated to end in January 2009. Some €2 million (almost $3 million) is needed to continue with operations to the end of 2009 and €5 million (around $7 million) to rid the buffer zone of landmines by 2010.
Earlier in December, the Security Council extended the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP) – in operation since 1964 after the eruption of intercommunal violence between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities – by six months as fully-fledged negotiations aimed at reunifying the Mediterranean island continued.