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Mozambique Makes Push to Be Landmine-Free

FILE - An anti-personnel mine detecting worker stands at a mine field near Vilancoulos in southern Mozambique, 450 km (265 miles) north east of Maputo, Nov. 2004 file photo.
FILE - An anti-personnel mine detecting worker stands at a mine field near Vilancoulos in southern Mozambique, 450 km (265 miles) north east of Maputo, Nov. 2004 file photo.
Two decades ago, when a devastating civil war ended, Mozambique was considered one of the countries most gravely affected by landmines. Now the country is hoping to be declared mine-free by the end of the year. But, as the world marks the International Day of Mine Awareness on April 4, will revived hostilities between the two civil war enemies - Frelimo, which runs the government, and Renamo, which is now the opposition - keep the country from reaching its target?

Luis Wammasse was a young soldier fighting in Mozambique's civil war when he stepped on a landmine.

His says his story is "no different from that of many Mozambicans." He lost his leg during the civil war when he was 22 years old. He says he was forced to stop school because as the son of a farmer he could no longer help with chores to finance his education.

He says he lost his confidence and could not face the world until he was lucky enough to find people to help him believe in himself again.

Far from giving up, Wamusse founded an organization which helps other land mine victims. There are some 20,000 still scattered across Mozambique.

Many are peasants, living in remote rural areas and have no means to heal. Some use tree branches to construct crutches. Some never get to a hospital at all.

He says his organization meets people who are living with shrapnel from the blast in their bodies. They were never operated on because they have no way to get to the city to get help.

Challenging task

De-mining presents a special challenge in a country where frequent floods displace landmines. Some landmines date back not just to the civil war, but to the war against Portuguese rule. And no charts exist to help find them, explains the director of Mozambique's national de-mining institute, Alberto Augusto.

"The difficulty is we don't have maps," he said. "No one knows where the mines are except the community. Maybe a cow died here because of a mine or someone died from an accident and then we start."

As time goes on, accidents are increasingly rare. Last year there were only four. All the victims were de-mining personnel.

With the help of foreign donors including the United States, Britain, Norway and Japan, 200,000 landmines have been cleared so far.

Renewed insurgency

The country is hoping to be declared free of known landmines by the end of the year.

But, there is an unexpected complication: most of the landmines that still need to be cleared are in central Mozambique, in Sofala province, where Renamo has reignited a fresh although low-level insurgency against the government.

"We have challenges of course. One of the challenges is Sofala, and particularly, Chibabava. Last year we withdrew our people very early, early, I think in September. In fact we had two people injured in that area where the conflict is in fact taking place," Augusto explained.

With the de-mining effort on hold in central Mozambique, Alberto Augusto said Renamo and the government must agree to a cease-fire by May in order for de-miners to finish the job by year's end.

In June, Mozambique will host the 161 signatories of the 1999 International treaty to ban anti-personnel mines. The country hopes to it can keep its promise and be free of landmines by December 31.