December 29, 2008 / 12:27 PM / in 10 years

Cyprus demining may end in Jan due to lack of funds

NICOSIA, Dec 29 (Reuters) - A four-year project to clear landmines from a buffer zone in war-divided Cyprus could end next month due to a lack of funds, a United Nations-backed agency said on Monday.

The Mine Action Centre (MAC) started work in the 180 km-long (111 mile) buffer zone separating Cyprus’s Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities in Nov. 2004. It has since cleared more than six million square metres of more than 9,000 landmines.

About 80 percent of the project scheduled to run to Dec. 2010 has been completed, but money was running out, MAC said.

"This humanitarian work is of fundamental importance for the future of Cyprus," said Michael Raine, MAC programme manager.

"It would be very unfortunate to let it lapse because of lack of money when we are so close to the goal of a mine free buffer zone."

European Union funding worth nine million euros ($12.90 million) is due to end in January. MAC said two million euros was need to continue its work to the end of 2009 and five million needed in total to rid the buffer zone of landmines.

MAC works on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme on the eastern Mediterranean island, which was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup.

Northern Cyprus is a Turkish Cypriot breakaway state recognised only by Ankara while the south is run by an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government representing Cyprus in the European Union.

Twice this month groups of illegal migrants attempting to clandestinely cross from the north to the south of the island were maimed after accidentally triggering landmines. An experienced deminer was also injured in an explosion from a small anti-personnel mine. (Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Katie Nguyen)

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