November 23, 2020
THE UK government has honoured 100 Zimbabwean deminers who have cleared the Falkland Islands of around 25,000 lethal mines that were laid by Argentinian forces that occupied the self-governing British Overseas Territory in 1982 for 74 days.
Argentina invaded what it called Islas Malvinas to assert its territorial claims but Britain sent troops to re-take the Falklands.
At the end of the conflict, 649 Argentinian troops and 255 members of the British counter-invasion force had been killed, with 100 minefields dotted all over the remote South Atlantic archipelago.
The Zimbabwean contractors, who began the UK-funded programme in 2009 to clear the mines, completed the dangerous mission three years ahead of schedule.
On November 14, the Falklands was officially declared landmine free in a local celebration, followed by an official ceremony hosted by the British government on November 17 where the deminers were presented with certificates signed by Wendy Morton, the UK Minister with responsibility for the Falklands.
“This is 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,” Ms Morton said.
In a video message to Falklanders, Prince William said: “I’m very pleased to join you in marking this historic moment as the Falkland Islands are declared mine-free
“I would like to say a huge thank you to all those who have helped to achieve this milestone. “In particular we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Zimbabwean demining staff, who have worked tirelessly over the years in very difficult and dangerous conditions.”
The Zimbabwean demining experts, with supervising staff from British companies SafeLane Global and Fenix Insight, had to struggle with the islands’ challenging physical conditions, often working in remote locations and through the unpredictable and sometimes extreme Falklands weather.
Last year, Michael Madziva, the site supervisor of the demining team, told AFP: “The Zimbabwean deminers are experts in this job.
“We’ve been doing this for quite a long time.
“Most of us are in our 21st year doing this job.”
He added: “What makes them good deminers is they love their job.”
SafeLane Global recruited the Zimbabwean deminers after it landed a contract in 1999 to clear two million mines along the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
John Hare, the technical director of SafeLane Global and a former bomb disposal expert with the Royal Engineers in the British army, told AFP: “Since 2015, I’ve had basically the same group of deminers.
“They’re… a really great group of guys to work with.”
The Zimbabweans, who have since become world-renowned for their demining expertise, have been deployed all over the world to clear mines laid during conflicts.
Countries they have worked in include Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Eritrea, Croatia and Lebanon.
The UK has played a leading role in ridding the world of mines, recently providing an additional £36 million of funding to the Global Mine Action Programme 2 (GMAP2), bringing its total contribution to £124m, to continue demining projects in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
“Our commitment to ridding the world of fatal land mines does not end with our territories being mine free,” said Ms Morton.
She said the extra £36 million “will allow demining projects across the world to continue, protecting innocent civilian lives”, adding: “This recognises that landmines continue to cause harm and damage lives, many years after conflicts are over.”
GMAP2, which started in 2018, deals with the threat posed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war.
By June this year it had cleared and confirmed safe the equivalent of 28,800 football pitches of mines and delivered mine risk education to over two million people.