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WORLD | 10-11-2020 10:14

Malvinas now clear of mines, says UK government, 38 years from end of war

Islands have been cleared of landmines, 38 years after the end of the conflict between Argentina and Britain and thanks to efforts of Zimbabwean specialists, the UK government announced on Tuesday. 

The Malvinas (Falkland) Islands have been cleared of landmines, 38 years after the end of the conflict between Argentina and Britain, the UK government announced on Tuesday. 

Thousands of landmines were laid during the 1982 war for control of the remote archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, and warning signs and fences have been a feature ever since.

But the government said the disputed islands – in British hands since 1833 – were now "finally free" of the ordnance after a de-mining programme finished three years ahead of schedule.

The UK-funded programme was launched in 2009 and carried out by a team of mostly Zimbabwean de-miners.

Residents will celebrate by playing cricket and football on a beach previously left inaccessible by the lethal unexploded ordnance, said a statement.

One islander will be chosen in a raffle to detonate the last remaining mines and an Royal Air Force flyby will mark the handover of the final area cleared, Gypsy Cove, on November 14.

"Thanks to UK efforts there are no more dangerous anti-personnel mines on the Falklands Islands," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

Wendy Morton, the UK minister whose portfolio includes responsibility for the Falklands, called the completion a "huge achievement" and paid tribute to the de-miners.

Britain has committed to rid the world of landmines and pledged £36 million (US$48 million, 40 million euros) to global de-mining projects, she added.

The conflict was Britain's last colonial war, and was sparked by an Argentine invasion to assert territorial claims over the islandss.

In 10 weeks of fighting, 649 Argentine military personnel and 255 British troops were killed, as well as three Falklands islanders. 

The de-mining team from Zimbabwe, with supervising staff from British companies SafeLane Global and Fenix Insight had to contend with challenging physical conditions. 

They often worked in remote locations and through unpredictable and sometimes extreme weather. 

SafeLane chief executive Adam Ainsworth said the de-mining programme meant territory on the islands could finally be reclaimed.

"As a company we could not be more proud of our de-miners who have risked their lives to rid the Falkland Islands of this explosive threat," he added. "We will also remain forever grateful to the people of the Falkland Islands for welcoming us and looking after us."

The head of UK charity Mines Advisory Group, Darren Cormack, welcomed the clearance but said unexploded weapons of war remained a problem across the world.

"Nineteen people are killed or injured every day by landmines and unexploded bombs and over half of civilian casualties are children," he said. 

The islands have been in British hands since 1833 but Argentina has waged a long-held diplomatic battle  to try to gain control of the archipelago. Since assuming office last December, President Alberto Fernández has repeatedly reiterated Argentina's sovereignty claim over the islands.



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