By Jean Christou
There are still more than 7,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines in the ground across Cyprus, affecting two million square metres of land, and which would cost €7 million to clear, UNFICYP said on Monday.
In a fact sheet to mark International Day of Mine Awareness, 2016, UNFICYP said that in 2015, four minefields remained inside the buffer zone and more than 35 were still scattered across the island. Between 2004 and 2011 some 27,000 landmines were cleared from the buffer zone at a cost of €14 million.
UNFICYP said that in recent years, the two sides in Cyprus had continued to prevent access for demining to the four known mined areas in the buffer zone, of which three are under the control of the National Guard and one under that of the Turkish forces.
It said both Cyprus and Turkey were party to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction – known as the Mine Ban Treaty. Under its terms, both parties are obliged to report the location of all mined areas that contain, or are suspected to contain, anti-personnel mines under their jurisdiction or control.
“With this obligation in mind, the Secretary General has consistently called upon both sides to share any information on the location of minefields across the island,” said UNFICYP.
Since 1964, there have been six deaths and six injuries as a result of landmines in Cyprus, one of whom was a deminer, killed in 2009 during a mine removal operation. UNFICYP said that even with training, mine disposal experts expect that for every 5,000 mines cleared, one worker will be killed and two workers will be injured by accidental explosions.
“For decades, mines have posed a danger or delay to the everyday activities of the people living and working in Cyprus, threatening farmers working to cultivate their land, the natural environment, flora and fauna, residents of areas close to the buffer zone, UN peacekeepers on patrol in the buffer zone, the opening of new crossing points, and efforts to rehabilitate historical areas and buildings within and outside the buffer zone,” the peacekeeping force said.
“Tragically, removing landmines is far more expensive than putting them into the ground in the first place. The cost of removing a landmine is ten times more than the price for its production and installation.”
A landmine costs €70 to buy. The cost of removing one is €1,000. Most mines in Cyprus are US and Chinese-made anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.
“Landmines do not become inactive with age. If anything, they can become more unstable over time,” UNFICYP said.
It said that over the past eight years, UNDP Partnership for the Future (UNDPPFF), the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and UNFICYP worked together with the two communities to remove over 27,000 landmines from the buffer zone. Eighty per cent of the funding came from the European Union. More than €14m has been spent so far on removing mines in Cyprus.
UNFICYP said that although most of the Cyprus buffer zone is now mine-free, minefields adjacent to the these areas threaten to re-contaminate those places already cleared.
“Wet weather and mudslides continue to cause mines to wash into the buffer zone, posing a dangerous hazard for farmers, communities and UN peacekeepers,” it said.
And though deminers work quickly to identify and secure these areas and to obtain funding and support to re-clear affected sites, “the only solution to prevent new mines shifting into areas that have already been cleared is to remove all the minefields in and along the buffer zone.”
The last mine incident was in September 2015 when a landmine exploded under a tractor near Mammari. The driver escaped injury.
A month later, James Bond star Daniel Craig arrived in Cyprus to witness first-hand the work of UN deminers on the island. It was Craig’s first ‘mission’ as part of his new role since being appointed as the first United Nations Global Advocate for the Elimination of Mines and Explosive Hazards a year ago this month.
By Jean Christou