Mozambique was officially declared mine-free on Thursday, September 17. As one of the country’s main demining operators, Handicap International hailed the announcement as a victory for the people of Mozambique. Liberated from this threat, which has caused thousands of casualties, Mozambicans can finally turn the page on this chapter of their history, and enjoy the opportunities for growth that were previously impossible with so many landmines present.
From the start of demining operations in 1998, Handicap International was a key mine actor in Mozambique. Over a period of 17 years, the organization demined more than 16 million square meters of land, and neutralized 6,000 anti-personnel mines and 5,000 explosive remnants of war using a demining process combining people, dogs, and machines.
“It’s a victory for everyone in Mozambique,” says Gregory Le Blanc, head of Handicap International’s mission in Mozambique. “Now children can play outside, farmers can work their fields, and villages can grow without the fear of setting off a mine. However, the country must continue helping victims, because 'mine-free' doesn’t mean that the victims of these barbaric weapons have disappeared.”
Under the terms of the Ottawa Treaty, Maputo is obliged to continue helping its thousands of mine accident survivors. They will need rehabilitation and orthopedic follow-up care, social and occupational inclusion, and other assistance for years to come.
“The international community also needs to keep up its efforts against mines,” says Le Blanc. “Although we’ve made a lot of progress, there’s still a long way to go in terms of funding for demining, victim assistance, and risk education. By staying the course for so many years, Mozambique has shown that it is possible to beat anti-personnel mines. It sends a message of hope to all countries which are having to deal with this terrible burden.”
It took more than 20 years of hard work by several demining operators to eradicate mines in Mozambique. A devastating 25-year war of independence (1965-1975), followed by a civil war (1977-1992), had left Mozambique among the most mined countries in the world, along with the likes of Angola, Afghanistan, and Cambodia.
162 States, including Mozambique, are parties to the Ottawa Treaty, equivalent to 80% of the world’s countries. Only 35 States have yet to
sign the treaty. The treaty, which bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and requires States Parties to
destroy them, was adopted in 1997; it entered into force on 1 March 1999.