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Unilateral de-mining in buffer zone begins
2004-11-17 10:41:24

Nicosia, Nov 17 (CNA) -- A Cyprus National Guard minefield within the UN-controlled buffer zone, will be cleared tomorrow as de-mining operations begin in Cyprus in full support of UN policy and in accordance with the provisions of the Ottawa Convention.

Speaking at a technical briefing at the Ledra Palace, in the UN buffer zone, Head of the European Commission's office in Cyprus Andriaan van der Meer said he was grateful for the ''cooperation of the National Guard and the Government'' on this project funded by the EU programme ''Partnership for the Future'' at an estimated cost of 2.5 million euro. The United Nations coordinate the implementation and two British companies have been selected to clear the minefields and manage the project.

The opening of the ''PFF Landmine and Ordnance Clearance Programme in Cyprus'' will take place at the presence of the media who will be transferred to the first minefield and be given the opportunity to watch the destruction of the first two mines by detonation and a de-mining and mine detection dog display.

The Turkish side has declined to cooperate in the de-mining process and as the Project Manager of the EU Programme Michael Raine said, UNFICYP are ''in further negotiations with the Turkish side''.

''What we have heard so far there is a verbal commitment, and UNFICYP is on further negations with the Turkish side on this'', he added.

Asked how difficult is this project taking into consideration that only one side is participating, Raine said: ''we have the minefield records and we also have the minefield maps, which tell the pattern in which the mines were laid''.

''So what we do is clear the threat, which is the mines, when we come to an area we come to a pattern and if there is a mine missing we also have a 'missing mine drill' and we will search around the area and widen our search to find this mine that may have been shifted'', he explained.

Answering to a question on the dangers of this programme, Raine said that ''people always look at de-mining as being something that is dangerous, but when you compare it to the industries you have more accidents on the production line of a factory''.

He noted that people who are in de-mining are trained professionals, adding that the people who will work in Cyprus ''have worked in many different countries throughout the world''.

An estimated 3.000 mines will be cleared from 8 minefields, belonging to the National Guard, the project is expected to be completed in just over a year and work will take place on a daily basis.

A Mine Action Cell was set up under the umbrella of the PFF Programme in order to manage and support the operations and two organisations have been contracted, the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to conduct Quality Management and ArmorGroup Services to conduct Mine Clearance operations.

The 44-strong ArmorGroup team includes specialists from UK, Bosnia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The Mozambican and Zimbabwean elements are professional de-miners. The Bosnian element includes two dog handlers responsible for four mine detection dogs.

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