Maputo - Mozambique plans to clear all known minefields with the help of international backers by the end of this year, hoping to rid its territory of a deadly scourge that caused thousands of casualties after a civil war ended in 1992, experts said Monday.
The removal of virtually all anti-personnel landmines would be a major accomplishment for Mozambique, where mines were first planted in the 1960s during a war for independence against Portuguese colonialists and then in the civil war that followed. Officials want to shift resources used for demining to development in Mozambique, which struggles with poverty despite a relatively high economic growth rate.
Mozambique suffered "massive contamination" from landmines that made it one of the worst-affected countries in the world, said Jared Bloch, spokesman for the Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines. But its accomplishments in mine clearance mean it has "set the bar" for other countries that are also dealing with a legacy of landmines from past conflicts and border tensions.
Bloch spoke by telephone from the Mozambican capital of Maputo, which is hosting a conference this week on efforts to implement the international Mine Ban Treaty, which seeks to end the use, production and stockpiling of anti-personnel mines.
Mozambique, however, missed a 2009 deadline to clear the landmines and security problems in central Sofala province, a key area slated for demining, slowed the effort there. Sporadic violence between two old adversaries from the civil war, the opposition group Renamo and the ruling Frelimo party, has been largely confined to Sofala, a center for Renamo fighters who have launched attacks. Mozambique will hold general elections in October.
But the situation has improved in Sofala, said Alberto Augusto, the director of Mozambique's National Demining Institute.
"We have the conditions to start working again," Augusto said.
Despite a lack of maps of minefields and other challenges, Augusto is confident that Mozambique can meet its 2014 deadline to clear all anti-personnel mines, saying: "I think we can make it."
Mozambique will hold general elections in October in a key test of the country's political stability.
Over the decades, landmines were used in all 10 of Mozambique's provinces. Many were used to restrict access to towns and were also placed around dams, electricity pylons and other infrastructure, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Mozambique also shares dense border minefields with Zimbabwe, known as Rhodesia before independence from white rulers whose troops laid mines in the area in the 1970s to stop guerrilla infiltrations.
Demining groups acknowledge that a relatively small number of landmines could go undetected because they have been shifted by heavy rains and flooding over the years and might still pose a hazard to the population.