Maputo — All 11 districts of the southern Mozambican province of Gaza have been declared free of land mines, following an assessment made by the National Demining Institute (IND), in partnership with the provincial government.
A ceremony to mark the end of demining operations took place in Mabalane district in Wednesday. The last mine was destroyed, and the shrapnel was offered to the provincial governor, Raimundo Diomba.
Mabalane was the most heavily mined district in Gaza. During the war of destabilisation, mines were planted in localities along the line of rail, in an attempt to protect the Limpopo Corridor, the railway from Maputo to Zimbabwe, from attack by the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels.
The demining of Mabalane was undertaken by a Belgian NGO, Apopo, which used rats trained to detect mines under the soil, as well as the more orthodox manual and mechanizing demining methods.
Apopo cleared an area of six million square metres (rather more than 545 football fields) and destroyed over 3,000 mines. It finished the demining of Mabalane before the deadline of 2013.
With the successful conclusion of the demining programme in Gaza, 105 of the country’s 128 districts are now free of mines – all known minefields in these districts have been cleared, and they contain no suspect areas.
Under the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines, Mozambique had until 2009 to complete demining. This proved completely impossible, and so the Mozambican authorities requested, and were granted, a five year extension of the deadline. Thus, under its treaty obligations, Mozambique must conclude the demining of the remaining 23 districts by 2014.
The immediate result of the demining is that districts such as Mabalane, now declared free of mines, can use their entire area for agriculture and other development purposes, without the fear that hidden explosives will blow farmers, their children or their livestock to pieces.
Diomba told the ceremony that the delivery of land cleared of mines expresses the government’s determination to create better living conditions for the people of the province.