Maputo - Mozambique will likely miss a deadline to rid the country of landmines laid during the bloody civil war due to skirmishes between the army and former rebels, an official said on Monday.
Mozambique was supposed to clear the last tracts of mined land by the end of this year, but clashes between government forces and the revived Renamo rebel movement could make that impossible.
“Without a ceasefire I don't think we will reach (the target), because we cannot jeopardise (our staff),” Alberto Augusto, the director of Mozambique's National Demining Institute told AFP.
The country halted demining in central province Sofala late last year, after several personnel were injured during ambushes by armed gunmen loyal to Renamo - a former rebel group that also acts as the main opposition party.
Parts of Mozambique are still littered with landmines, a legacy of the war for independence against Portugal up to 1974 and the 16-year civil war that killed nearly a million people before it ended in 1992.
The impoverished southern African country 0 which measures just shy of 800 000 square kilometres - was one of the most heavily mined in the world.
The government, with the help of international donors, says it can clear 9 000 square kilometres a year.
Only around 3 000 square kilometres (1 160 square miles) still needs to be cleared in Sofala - about two-thirds of the total, according to Augusto.
But progress has been threatened by attacks on the highway running through the province.
In October 2012, Renamo, under its leader Afonso Dhlakama, returned to the bush and undertook fresh training for guerrilla fighters, often staging deadly attacks.
The group demands a greater inclusion in the Frelimo-led government and an overhaul of electoral laws.
No agreement is in sight despite over a year of peace talks, but Augusto said the demining organisation could still meet its deadline if the two parties reached a peace deal before May.
As a signatory to the Ottawa Convention that banned the use of anti-personnel land mines in 1999, Mozambique was initially supposed to complete demining by 2009.
That deadline was later extended to end-2014.
Mozambique will host 161 countries for a third review of the Ottawa Convention in June.