MAPUTO , Mozambique, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Mozambique has destroyed its last land mine, ending two decades of work to remove 171,000 explosives left from conflicts ending in the 1990s.
After a long fight for independence and a civil war, the small east African country was pocked with unexploded land mines, typically small, disc-shaped metal and plastic devices, installed beneath the surface of the ground and which detonate when stepped on. Operations to remove the mines, generally by locating and exploding them, began in 1993, with $57 million in donations, largely from the United States and the United Kingdom, to the Halo Trust, a British charity focused on the removal project.
An early proponent of the project was Princess Diana; another has been Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was present and wearing body armor Wednesday when the country's last land mine, under a railway bridge in Sofala, was detonated.
"Many people thought Mozambique would take a hundred years to demine the whole country. We ended up demining in less than 30. The key was the commitment of the government having a clear plan, doing it district by district, and the generosity of donors. Donors go anywhere there is a clear plan and they can see the value of money," commented Albert Augusto, director of the National Demining Institute.
In the late 1990s, about 600 people were killed or injured by accidental involvement with land mines in Mozambique; the number fell to 13 in 2013. A 1999 treaty nearly halted production of land mines, and 27 countries have declared themselves mine-free, although the British-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported last year about 4,000 people are killed annually by land mines.