According to the British Foreign Office, the Falkland Islands will be free of landmines, for the first time since the 1982 conflict. Following the Falklands War, fought between the United Kingdom and Argentina over control of the archipelago, approximately 25,000 landmines remained. The clearing program has been ongoing since 2009, funded by the U.K., as the Islands remain internationally recognized as a British overseas territory. On November 14th, the final mine will be detonated, in a ceremony that will reopen the beaches. The landmine removal occurred in accordance with the Ottawa Treaty, the United Nations convention which effectively bans and aims to eliminate anti-personnel landmines.
Following the completion of the demining program in the Falklands, no landmines will remain on British territories. Wendy Morton, a Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office Minister, responsible for the Falkland Islands, claimed “Our commitment to ridding the world of fatal landmines does not end with our territories being mine free…A further 36 million pounds of U.K. funding will allow demining projects across the world to continue, protecting innocent civilian lives.” Britain subsequently joins twenty-nine other nations that have cleared all known landmines from their territory. Under the Ottawa Treaty, signed by 164 nations, “It is necessary to…contribute in an efficient and coordinated manner to face the challenge of removing anti-personnel mines placed throughout the world, and to assure their destruction.” The U.K. has met its obligation to the treaty, characterized by Morton as “a huge achievement for the islands and we must pay tribute to the brilliant team of deminers who put their lives at risk day to day removing and destroying landmines to make the Falklands safe.”
News articles celebrating the successful removal of the landmines often overlook or minimize the significant contributions of the demining team. A group of one hundred Zimbabwean contractors were brought to the Falklands, supervised by the British companies SafeLane Global and Fenix, in order to rid the islands of the mines. The contractors, considered experts in the field, initially received training in 1999, as two million mines were cleared along the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Subsequently, the demining specialists have been deployed globally, sent to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Eritrea, Croatia, Lebanon, and the Falkland Islands. The team in the Falklands, consisting of about one hundred Zimbabwean contractors, undertook painstaking work, quite literally sifting through sand and peat. However, as the project was under British management, the success is often erroneously attributed solely to the United Kingdom.
The Falkland Islands are internationally recognized as British overseas territory, but the archipelago is located only 500km off the coast of Argentina. The South American nation has claimed sovereignty over the Falklands since the 19th century, although the residents maintained British citizenship. Argentina, governed by a military dictatorship, was facing an economic crisis. In an attempt to regain the Argentinian public’s support, on April 2nd, 1982, forces invaded and occupied the Islands. Britain, under the leadership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, responded with a counter-invasion. The conflict only lasted 74 days. However, over 25,000 landmines were buried by Argentine forces prior to the June 14th surrender to Britain. Approximately, 650 Argentinian lives were lost, Britain lost 255 and three Islanders died.
On November 14th, the landmine removal program in the Falklands will end formally, three years ahead of schedule. Games of cricket and football are going to be played on the beaches in order to celebrate the newly unrestricted access, free of mines. However, British funding will continue to be contributed to demining projects in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Some members of the Zimbabwean demining team have chosen to remain on the Falkland Islands, after a decade of living as part of the community.
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