Maputo — Three young men died in the southern Mozambican town of Bela Vista on Monday when a piece of unexploded ordnance blew up in their faces.
According to the National Demining Institute (IND), the device the three had stumbled across was not a land mine, but an unexploded mortar shell.
They found it in the bush and took it home where they tried to dismantle it, in the belief that they would find mercury inside, which they could sell. They clearly had no idea that tampering with the shell could cause it to explode.
The explosion was heard throughout Bela Vista, causing panic. Later the story spread that the three youths must have stepped on a land mine.
The head of the IND Operations Department, Belchior Martins, however, identified the lethal device as a 60 millimetre mortar shell. He pointed out that, characteristically, anti-personnel mines tend not to kill those who step on them, but mutilate them, often by blowing off their legs.
Over the past six months, an area of over 170,000 square metres in Matunuine district (of which Bela Vista is the capital) has been cleared of mines by a commercial operator, the Mozambican Demining Company.
During the demining, a variety of munitions and explosive devices were found and destroyed. It was hoped that Matutuine could be classified as a district free of mines in January.
Mozambique is party to the Ottawa Convention which outlaws anti-personnel land mines. Mozambique ratified this treaty in 1999 and had ten years to remove land mines from the entire country. This was an enormous task, and so the government sought and obtained a five year extension. Thus next year is the deadline for completing the demining.