Cambodian experts deactivate mudslide minefield in Cyprus

MAMMARI, Cyprus Wed Apr 23, 2014 1:57pm EDT

1 of 2. A Cambodian mine clearing expert checks for explosives in a mine hazard area in the United Nations controlled buffer zone, east of the Cypriot capital Nicosia April 23, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Andreas Manolis

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MAMMARI, Cyprus (Reuters) - Landmines are meant to lurk underground for years until someone steps on them, but United Nations deminers in Cyprus have now found some that have moved about 50 meters (yards) since being buried almost 40 years ago.

Cambodian experts investigating a minefield that moved in a mudslide in late 2012 have found the first migrating anti-tank mine in an area some 15 km (9 miles) west of Nicosia, Colonel Angus Loudon, chief of staff at the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) said on Wednesday.

The discovery on Tuesday was a stark reminder of the silent killers which still lace the terrain on either side of the dividing line that split Cyprus in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

The island's Greek and Turkish populations live divided by a 180-km corridor of land splicing it east to west. The minefield effectively slid south from the Turkish-held north to farmland in a United Nations-controlled buffer zone.

"We are on a bit of a slope here, but I haven't seen this sort of thing happen anywhere else," Loudon said. "We do not know how many more mines might be in there."

The multi-national UNFICYP force oversaw the destruction of more than 25,000 landmines in the buffer zone over a five-year period until the end of 2011.

CAMBODIAN EXPERTS

Four known minefields remain in the buffer zone, subject to removal in consultation with the opposing forces. Countless others are in territory controlled by either side.

When a reconnaissance mission in late 2013 confirmed the farmland in the buffer zone had become a mine hazard area, the U.N. called in experienced Cambodian deminers to secure the area and assess a second mine hazard area in southeast Cyprus.

The 21-strong company from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, which gained experience in the dangerous work by demining their own country, are part of a 184-strong unit helping clear Lebanon of mines for the past six years.

U.N. officials have repeatedly urged the sides to cooperate to clear remaining minefields in the buffer zone and beyond.

The U.N. force on the island is one of the world's longest serving, first deployed in 1964 to quell an outbreak of violence between the two communities. Peace talks resumed to unite Cyprus in February 2014.

Until the flooding in October 2012, the area where the moving minefield was discovered was mostly farmland used by a local community. During the hunting season, locals were known to spar with U.N. peacekeepers over access to the land.

Unless it is booby-trapped with an anti-tampering device, the landmine found on Tuesday will be taken from its location to another area for a controlled explosion to destroy it.

"Our families think what we do is dangerous, but if you follow procedure you are safe," said Lt. Suon Sutharith, supervisor to the Cambodian demining team.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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