Mozambique declared free of land mines

Nation destroys last mine in removal project that began in 1993

Mozambique has been declared free of land mines after the last explosive device was detonated in mid-September in the central Sofala province.

The unexploded mines were a legacy of the nation's 16-year civil war, between 1977 and 1992, which claimed one million lives. The successful demining programme was part of Mozambique's obligations under the Ottawa Treaty, a 1999 agreement which required the country to eradicate all landmines.

The country originally had ten years to clear them but the deadline has been extended several times since 2009. The province of Maputo, the region around the capital, was declared landmine-free in April 2014.

Operations to remove the mines began in 1993 and the project was helped early on after the British charity Halo Trust received the support of Princess Diana for its landmine removal work.

Over the last two decades the charity has removed over 171,000 explosives from some 1,100 minefields – about 80 per cent of the country's entire number of mines – thanks to the work of 1,600 Mozambican men and women, and donations of $57 million, mainly from Britain and the US.

More recently Halo's efforts have been supported by Cindy McCain, wife of John McCain, the senior American senator and the Republican candidate in the 2008 US presidential election.

The country's demining project also relied on the deployment of a squad of specially-trained African giant pouched rats, trained by Belgian non-governmental organisation APOPO to locate buried mines by conditioning the animals to associate the scent of explosives with the reward of food. The Mine Detection Rats (MDRs) were able to check 200 sqm of land for mines in 30 minutes.