Speech by Mr Markopouliotis, Head of Representation, on the occasion of the International Day for Mine Awareness
30.03.2012 The speech was delivered on 29 March 2012 by the Head of the European Commission Representation in Cyprus, Mr Georgios Markopouliotis, on the occasion of the International Day for Mine Awareness at a ceremony held at the Home for Cooperation in Nicosia. The event was jointly organised by the European Commission, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus and the UNDP Partnership for the Future Programme.
Special Representatives of the Leaders,
Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General, dear Ms Buttenheim,
Representative of the UN Mine Action Service,
It is with great pleasure that I am here this afternoon to celebrate the joint efforts of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission UNFICYP, the UN Development Programme, the UN Mine Action Service, the UN Office for Project Services, and the European Commission to make the Buffer Zone – that still unfortunately divides the island - a “mine free” area in line with the Ottawa convention of 1997 signed by the Republic of Cyprus.
The 1974 events have left more than 100 minefields of different size and shape on the island. These mines, some of them made as early as in the 1950’s for the Korean War, are still active and can still kill. The coordinated effort to clear these mines has been possible thanks to an excellent cooperation of the military forces of both communities in localising the mines, facilitating the access to mined areas and certifying areas cleared for civilian use. This makes the demining project in Cyprus one of the most significant and successful confidence-building measure initiated and implemented by the two communities since the end of the hostilities.
As a result of these efforts, in the past seven years over 27,000 land mines were removed from the buffer zone, 81 minefields declared mine free, and around 10 km2 (10.985,338 m2) of land was released and returned to their original use.
The European Union was the leading international donor in this effort (€11.5 M), with remaining 20% of the funds provided by the Republic of Cyprus and other donors.
These funds would have not delivered any result without the commitment of the two communities and the staff of the United Nations.
I therefore would like to take this occasion to thank the Turkish Cypriot and the Greek Cypriot communities, and the staff of the different services of the United Nations, for the important work of the passed years.
I would like to particularly thank the de-miners, who risked their lives everyday and indeed one de-miner lost his life in a regrettable accident in 2009.
Because, mines have nasty characteristics:
- they have a long life – even after the war or conflict is over they can still kill or injure people,
- they kill indiscriminately – civilians, children, military – anybody who happens to be there.
To date, and thanks to the meaningful progress achieved so far, only four areas within or on the edge of the Buffer Zone remain to be cleared. I would like to remind of the call of the UN Secretary-General to the two parties to release those remaining mine fields so that a completely mine-free Buffer Zone may be delivered to all Cypriots.
Demining activities have not only led to an undeniable humanitarian benefit, helping to eliminate the perception among the local communities of living in an unsafe environment: they also have helped to return land to agricultural use and other fruitful activities; they have paved the way to open other crossing points of the Green Line; they have helped bringing the island a step closer to normality. However, we are all well aware that complete normality can only exist after a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem.
These results were also confirmed by a project evaluation team that visited the island between the 17th and the 28th of October 2011. The team received unanimous feedback on the conduct and the quality of the project. It is regarded as one of the most successful projects in Cyprus recent times by both UN agencies and the European Commission.
I sincerely hope that this is not the end of mine clearance efforts in Cyprus. Clearing the Buffer Zone was just the beginning. The work will need to continue in other areas to achieve our final objective of reuniting the island.
We warmly welcome the past effort as an opening door to further cooperation to secure a mine free Cyprus.
Thank you for your attention.