Cyprus destroys mines

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cyprus yesterday began destroying its stockpile of 50,000 anti-personnel mines in a ceremony which launched the Ottawa Convention’s global «Mine Free World» initiative. The divided and heavily militarized island was chosen as the launching pad for a series of events leading to the convention’s first review conference – the 2004 Nairobi Summit. A controlled detonation of a symbolic five mines took place at Xintou military testing range outside the capital Nicosia. The destruction of tens of thousands of stockpiled mines will take place on a daily basis at two military sites on the island. Anti-personnel mines kill or maim 2,000 people every month around the globe, although landmine-related injuries on Cyprus are unusual. Cyprus has ratified the 1997 Ottawa mine-ban treaty and agreed to clear 4,000 anti-personnel mines laid outside the UN-controlled buffer zone. «Our willingness for a mine-free world is not solely limited to the implementation of the Ottawa Convention,» said Cypriot Defense Minister Kyriacos Mavronicolas. «In the last three years alone we have destroyed more than 11,000 mines of various types,» he added. The internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government has also unilaterally pledged to begin clearing landmines from the buffer zone separating the divided island’s Greek and Turkish communities. «Minefields constitute, in our case, a necessary defensive action… nevertheless, we have made the necessary choices,» said the minister. Greek Cypriots are committed to unilaterally removing an estimated 2,300 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines from a total 11 National Guard minefields inside the buffer zone. «Cyprus has committed itself to go ahead with the clearance of the buffer zone… unfortunately this action did not find the relevant reciprocity from the Turkish side,» Mavronicolas said. In July, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash offered to clear mines around the divided Cypriot capital after Greek Cypriots had already offered to remove landmines from the entire buffer zone. The Turkish army is believed to have 28 minefields of their own along the 180-kilometer (110-mile) ceasefire line where an estimated 17,000 mines are laid. Cyprus reunification talks have been in limbo since the failure to agree on the UN settlement blueprint in March. No fresh international peace effort is expected until after Turkish-Cypriot elections on December 14. The international community has been pressing the two communities to reach a settlement before Cyprus joins the European Union in May 2004.