Harare wants landmine deadline extended

landmineHARARE Zimbabwe has requested an extension to January 2011 of the deadline on the clearance of anti-personal landmines amid indications it could take another 30 years for the cash-strapped country to rid itself of mines unless urgent funding is obtained for the programme. (Pictured: Stepping on a landmine More than 1 500 people and 120 000 livestock have been reported kille

Lack of funding and nearly 10 years of international isolation have seen Zimbabwe miss the March 2009 deadline to meet Article 5 of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.

Zimbabwe still has about 800 square kilometres of land contaminated with anti-personnel mines which were planted during its 1970s war of liberation.

According to a government document seen by The Zimbabwean On Sunday last week, the clearing programme that started soon after independence in 1980 have seen just over 300 square km cleared from an initial contaminated area of 1 119.9 square km and recovering 33 032 AP mines in the process.

Inherited numerous minefields

The anti-personnel mines in the country were laid during the war of liberation, which lasted up to 1979 when Zimbabwe gained independence from the Britain the following year.

At independence, the new government of Zimbabwe inherited numerous mined areas within the country and six well-marked minefields along its borders with Zambia on the north and Mozambique on the east and south-east.

The minefields covering a total area of 1071.4 square kilometres were estimated to contain a total of 2.6 million AP mines made up of Ploughshear, VS 50, R2M2, Carrot, R1M1 and M972 landmines.

Apart from the marked minefields, other smaller minefields were discovered either during clearance of the marked minefield or when reported by the locals.

With assistance from the United States of America, Zimbabwe cleared the Victoria Falls to Mlibizi minefield, which was 286 square km in length.

However, the support dried up or was abruptly stopped after one and half years of operations, leaving the Zimbabwean government to complete the clearance on its own – an operation that lasted a total of seven years, the report said.

The European Union also funded the clearance of Musengezi-Rwenya minefield by commercial deminers during the same period.

Again the de-miners left when funding abruptly dried up, leaving the job uncompleted.

30 years to clear mines

If Zimbabwe continues at the current funding level of about US$10,000 per year, Zimbabwe projects it could take more than 30 years to complete implementation of Article 5 (of the Convention), the government report said.

President Robert Mugabe said last week that an additional 8.5 square km of minefields was cleared this year along the Sango Border Post near Mozambique but said lack of funding was undermining progress on the exercise.

The 8.5 square km so far cleared is encouraging news, given that it was achieved with the use of our own resources, Mugabe said during a ceremony to commemorate Zimbabwes Defence Forces Day last Tuesday.

Acknowledging the extension of the de-mining deadline by the United Nations Security Council, Mugabe said the exercise would spur efforts to put in place the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park a multi-billion dollar tripartite tourist project involving Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique.

Zimbabwes participation in the transboundary park programme has been hampered by the twin problems of lack of funds and fears of stumbling upon the landmines which have killed hundreds of people and destroyed livestock in the past two decades.

Tourism has also been affected, especially by the Sango Border Post to Crooks Corner minefield where the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park was established. The operation of the park is affected by the presence of mines on the Zimbabwean side.

Landmines have caused untold suffering to the communities living in affected areas, with individuals unable to carry out economic activities such as farming.

Since 1980, more than 1 550 people have been reported killed or maimed and 120 000 livestock killed. The casualties could be higher since the areas where the minefields were laid are remote and some cases likely go unreported.

The communities are denied a total of 45 700 hectares of productive land, according to the government report.

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