Mozambique declared “mine free”

Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister
Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister (left) and National Demining Institute Director

More than 20 years after its civil war ended, the Government of Mozambique announced on September 17, that the country was free from the threat of landmines, meaning there are no more known minefields in the country.

"It's with great pleasure that I have the privilege to declare Mozambique a country free of the threat of landmines," Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister Oldemiro Baloi announced to a gathering of national and international partners, including ambassadors, heads of missions and representatives of international organizations that helped de-mine the country.

Highlights

  • Government of Mozambique announced on September 17, that the country was free from the threat of landmines
  • Mozambique was considered one of the most mined countries in the world
  • The overall costs of demining activities in the country are estimated, according to Minister Balói, at just over 220 million US dollars
  • This demining effort fulfills Mozambique’s international obligations under Article 5 of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention

Mozambique was considered one of the most mined countries in the world, alongside Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bosnia and Iraq, the result of the 10-year war of independence from 1965 to 1974, followed by a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992.

During the conflict in Mozambique, combatants on all sides used landmines, which had a terrifying impact on civilians and blocked development in mined areas long after the conflict ended.

The humanitarian demining operations in Mozambique, initially conducted by ONUMOZ, started in January 1993, shortly after the war ended and were carried out under the Peace Agreement, signed in Rome on 4 October 1992.

Minister Baloi declared that the National Mine Action Plan 2008 -2014 was successfully implemented. In this period, 86.392 anti-personal land mines, 136 anti-tank mines, 5.475 items of unexploded ordnance and 83.882 pieces of light caliber ammunitions were identified and destroyed during demining operations.

This resulted in the survey and clearance of over 3000 areas in an extension of 55.494.569 square meters that could not be used for social and economic development activities prior to demining operations. The implementation of the National Mine Action Plan reduced the number of new landmine casualties and allowed the demining of national development infrastructures, including the Cahora Bassa electricity generating dam, power lines from linking Mozambique and South Africa, important rail way lines, as well as the entire border area with Zimbabwe.

The overall costs of demining activities in the country are estimated, according to Minister Balói, at just over 220 million US dollars, financed by the Government of Mozambique and through cooperation partners, who provided political, technical and financial support. These included Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States of America, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, the European Union and UN agencies such as UNDP, UNMAS and UNICEF, among others.

This demining effort fulfills Mozambique’s international obligations under Article 5 of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention (aka the Ottawa Treaty). The Ottawa Treaty, which 162 countries have signed, prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and requires states to destroy all anti-personnel land mines within their jurisdiction. Mozambique was one of the first countries to sign the treaty in 1997 and hosted the first Meeting of State Parties to the Convention in Maputo in May of 1999.

To facilitate implementation of the treaty, the Government of Mozambique created the National Demining Institute (IND), in 1999, through which the government ensures policy-making and coordination of the all humanitarian demining activities. Mozambique’s implementation of the treaty included the removal and destruction of 37,818 anti-personnel landmines in the stockpiles of the Armed Defence Forces of Mozambique (FADM), which was completed in 2003. But the far greater challenge for Mozambique, was the identification and clearance of all areas contaminated with landmines in the country.

Minister Baloi praised “the job well done” by the IND as well as the de-miners – to whom he said, “working with metal detectors, bulldozers, sniffer dogs and sometimes even sniffer rats - you took personal risks in order to free the land from these deadly devices".


Challenges remain

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation admitted that there may be unknown areas that are still contaminated with other explosive remnants of war and even landmines. Only the known areas have been inspected and cleared, and not the territory as a whole.

"It would be unrealistic to say that there will never again be accidents related to mines or other explosive devices. History shows otherwise," he said.

The Government is therefore developing the capacity of police and military officers to manage the residual contamination from unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and other explosive remnants of war, by identifying the types of munitions, assessing the risks, and disposing of explosive devices.

The Minister also acknowledged that with the completion of this phase, there are new challenges. One of the challenges is to reallocate the human resources from the de-mining activities into other units of Government or the state. He also advanced that the "know-how" that the country has acquired could be utilized in supporting other countries that still face the grave problem of land-mines.

Now that the country is ‘mine-free’, the Government hopes there will never be another mine victim in Mozambique. However, in accordance with its obligations under the Ottawa Treaty, the government will also continue to support the unfortunate victims of previous landmine accidents, who face a lifetime of disability as a result of these indiscriminate weapons.

Great Victory for Mozambique and partners

The Acting United Nations Resident Coordinator in Mozambique, Bettina Maas, said at the ceremony that the declaration of Mozambique as a mine-free country is a monumental achievement not only for the country but also for the international community, particularly those working to ban anti-personnel landmines around the world.

"We recall that 20 years ago, experts estimated that to demine Mozambique would take 50 to 100 years. At that time the problem of landmines in Mozambique was comparable to that of other countries strongly affected by these such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Cambodia, Vietnam, Croatia and Bosnia, "the UN Representative said.

According to her, the problem of mines in Mozambique in the nineties was so pronounced that the country was described as an example of why it was necessary to ban anti-personnel mines. "We wish to highlight the leadership of the Government of Mozambique and the IND in this meritorious work because, from the extension of the five-year period in 2008, we have noted with appreciation the significant progress towards the goal of a Mozambique free of land mines," she added.

Maas acknowledged the support from the international community in this effort hailing it as a compelling example of what can be accomplished when there is “good coordination and a common vision”.  She also praised the demining organizations, companies and their professional staff for this great accomplishment.

The UN in Mozambique will continue to support the country in the years ahead to develop internal capacity to deal with any situation that could require de-mining expertise, she explained.