By Evie Andreou
Most of the buffer zone is now mine-free with over 27,000 landmines having been cleared between 2004 and 2011, UNFICYP Force Commander Major General Kristin Lund said on Wednesday.
Lund escorted the media to a mine field near Mammari village in the buffer zone, where a group of Cambodian de-miners have been working since late May to clear the area of further mines, which were detected after winter floods had carried them from a military zone in the north into the buffer zone.
“The area is now clear of mines and safe,” Lund said.
She added that the team found and destroyed five Russian anti-personnel mine components and two American made complete anti-tank mines. The 20-strong team from Cambodia provided technical expertise and equipment as part of UNFICYP’s inter-mission cooperation with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The deployment of the Cambodian team to Cyprus followed assessments by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in February 2015 and the UN Mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in April 2015.
For three months the team has been working in adverse conditions as they had to scour the area and dig out pieces of metal very cautiously in full gear and under the scorching sun.
UNFICYP Mine Project Coordinator, Major Mike Holgate, said the team is working from morning until afternoon in the heat, clearing the affected area step by step, cutting undergrowth into small sections so they can use their metal detectors. The de-miners are rotated every 30 minutes to maintain concentration.
“Clearing this area has been risky and difficult work, conducted in hot, challenging conditions by a professional and dedicated team from a country far away but all too familiar with the devastation that landmines bring to communities,” Lund said.
“Our Cambodian colleagues have done an excellent job under difficult conditions,” she said.
She added that to avoid another mine wash occurring in the future at Mammari, UNFICYP has liaised closely with the Turkish Cypriots and secured their commitment to clear the area north of the ceasefire line in the coming months.
With UNMAS support, Lund said, UNFICYP has conducted mine safety outreach to the Mammari community, and continues to cooperate closely with the village authorities. Throughout this period, UNFICYP has conducted patrols to ensure safety and security around the hazardous area.
“The safety of the local community has been the first priority for UNFICYP and the de-mining team,” she said.
She also said that the clearing of the area from mines will have a significant positive impact for the local community as they will able to cultivate their land without fear.
The recent decision of President Nicos Anastasiades to provide information on 28 National Guard minefields located in the north is a very important step towards achieving a mine-free Cyprus, Lund said, and helps build confidence between the sides.
She added that a survey indicated that 25 of those areas “have proven to pose no mine risk at all” and that the UNFICYP are committed to providing all possible assistance to facilitate the clearance of what remains of those minefields.
She said that there is real momentum on demining in Cyprus due to the good cooperation from both sides.
“The leaders’ recent announcement about the opening of new crossing points has led to an examination of demining needs in those areas. We hope to see more mining clearance projects,” Lund said.
Quoting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, she said, however, that no progress has been registered on the issue of access to the four known remaining minefields inside the buffer zone, three of which were laid by the National Guard and the other by Turkish forces.
UNFICYP, she said, echoes the calls of the Secretary-General for both sides to intensify their efforts to provide access to all remaining mined areas inside and outside the buffer zone to achieve, at long last, a mine-free Cyprus.