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Cyprus begins destruction of anti-personnel mines
2003-12-03 13:03:00

Nicosia, Dec 2 (CNA) -- Thirty anti-personnel mines were destroyed here Tuesday during a ceremony to mark the commencement of the process for the destruction of anti-personnel mines in Cyprus.

The ceremony was held at the Testing Range at Xintou area in Vizakia in the presence of Acting President of the Republic, House of Representatives President Demetris Christofias, ministers and foreign dignitaries, including Jody Williams who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to eliminate anti-personnel mines, as well as Ambassador Wolfgang Petrisch, President Designate of Ottawa Convention's First Review Conference.

The first mine was detonated by Christofias, followed by Defence Minister Kyriacos Mavronicolas, Chrysostomos Seas, a Cypriot farmer who lost his leg due to a landmine while working in his field, Williams and Petrisch.

In his speech, Christofias said "our principles position on anti-personnel mines is another strong signal to the international community and out Turkish Cypriot compatriots of our determination to strive for a peaceful solution of the Cyprus problem, based on UN resolutions and international law".

He reiterated the government's "firm commitment to continued negotiations on the basis of the UN Secretary-General's plan for finding a functional and viable political settlement", and sincerely hoped "that such a solution will be found soon, so that a united Cyprus would accede to the EU on May 1st 2004, for the benefit of all Cypriots, for the benefit of peace on the island, in the region and beyond".

Christofias also said the "government of Cyprus attaches great importance to the international effort against mine proliferation and the clearing of minefields", noting that in this context "and within the spirit of the Ottawa Convention, the Cyprus government put forward last year to the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, a proposal for the clearance of all minefields in the buffer zone, laid by the National Guard immediately after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus".

The Acting President underlined the presence at the ceremony of Jody Williams, "whose strong belief in individual action in bringing about change, was recognised through the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to eliminate anti-personnel mines, as well as the presence of Ambassador Petrisch, President Designate of Ottawa Convention's First Review Conference, who will launch the process for the Convention's First Conference, the 2004 Nairobi summit on a Mine Free World".

He said the "launch coincides with today's official ceremony to mark the commencement by the Republic of Cyprus of the destruction of stockpiled anti-personnel mines, the first significant step taken by our country to fulfill our obligations under the Ottawa Convention".

He said it also "coincides with the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa in 1997 and with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and Jody Williams in Oslo, as well as with the International Day for Disabled People which is marked around the globe tomorrow, 3rd December".

Christofias also took the opportunity to express gratitude to the government of Canada for its generous contribution of 330 thousand dollars towards the demining of the buffer zone, in an effort to reduce tension and put an end to the threat against innocent human life, thus contributing to the return of these areas to conditions of normality and safety.

In his speech, Defence Minister Kyriacos Mavronicolas said, "today's ceremony practically proves that the Republic of Cyprus focuses on the implementation of international treaties and conventions that it signs".

The Defence Minister said he wished to solemnly state that we wish to join our voice together with the million other voices for a world, free of anti-personnel mines and for a world without innocent victims and without unnecessary pain".

Mavronicolas said the government's willingness "for a mine-free world is not solely limited to the implementation of the Ottawa Convention" but since 1983 "we have demined ten mixed minefields, which we have made available for free use" while in the last three years alone, "we have destroyed more than 11 thousand mines of various types, anti-personnel as well as anti-tank".

He said that at the same time, the Republic of Cyprus has committed itself to go ahead with the clearance of the buffer zone, in cooperation with the UN. "This is an action which, unfortunately, until this day did not find the relevant reciprocity from the Turkish side and (Rauf) Denktash".

"Certainly our wish and effort is to find a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem which until now, due to the intransigence of the other side, remains unsolved, therefore obstructing the demining of the whole of Cyprus to become a reality".

Welcoming those present, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Sotos Zackheos, said Cyprus "signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines on 4th December 19997 in Ottawa, deposited the instrument of ratification on 17 January 2003 and, since the 1st July 2003, is a full-state party".

He said that despite the fact that part of Cyprus' territory "remains under Turkish military occupation and still faces the potential threat of further aggression, Cyprus has become party to the Convention and is committed to faithfully fulfill all its obligations within the prescribed time limits".

Zackheos announced the decision of the Council of Ministers to set up a three-member national committee which is responsible for the National Plan, for the implementation of the convention and will supervise its timely implementation".

He said Cyprus has established a close working relationship with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining and its close contacts with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and other leading NGOs associated with this cause.

"The message that we would like to send from this Testing Range, not as Cypriots but as human beings, is that humanity must not rest until each and every anti-personnel mine is cleared and eliminated", he added.

In his speech, Petrisch said work must continue, despite the great progress achieved in the field of anti-personnel demining.

He pointed out that by signing the Ottawa Convention, Cyprus will contribute to international security and secure that there will be no more victims from these weaponry systems.

He said the great effort of the international community is not enough because many people still suffer from the mines, and we must do whatever possible to have this issue in the governments' agenda.

Petrisch said that 141 countries have signed the Ottawa Convention and 31 million anti-personnel mines have been destroyed so far.

On her part, Williams said Cyprus is making a "very bold step", by accepting the Ottawa Convention despite the fact that the Cyprus problem remains unsolved.

"You have decided to take measures for a peaceful solution of problems and to reinforce international law", she said, assuring that efforts will continue until the last anti-personnel mine in the world is destroyed.

The National Guard has 48 thousand landmines in storage while another 4.600 in minefields. The Greek Cypriot side has 11 minefields in the buffer zone while the Turkish occupation forces 27.

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