Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Rwanda - 'first landmine-free country'

Rwandan De-mining Office and Ben Remfry. Photo Mines Awareness Trust
Rwandan soldiers were specially trained for the mine clearance programme

Rwanda has been officially declared landmine-free at the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World in Colombia.

Hundreds of people have been killed and injured by landmines in Rwanda.

Landmines were laid between 1990 and 1994 in Rwanda and over the past three years more than over 9,000 have been destroyed by Rwandan soldiers.

One hundred and eighty soldiers were involved in the process in which 20 minefields were de-mined over three years.


Ben Remfrey of the Mines Awareness Trust, which supervised the clearance, says that Rwanda is the first country which has had numerous mines laid in the ground to be officially declared free from landmines.

"Rwanda has made history," he told the BBC World Service.

He adds that although other countries have had far more mines laid, this is a significant step.

"Rwanda had a problem, it wasn't huge but it was still significant... and had a big social and economic impact."

Land scarce

Landmines have been devastating for Rwanda since their existence prevented many people from being able to live from their land.

Nteziyaremya Alphose. Photo courtesy of Guernsey Press and Star
Nteziyaremya Alphose is looking forward to being able to farm without fear of mines

Since 80% of the population earn a living by through agriculture, and Rwanda is Africa's most densely populated country, land is already scarce.

Nteziyaremya Alphose, a 40-year-old farmer living in a village north of Kigali, had mines on his farm.

Two adults lost legs and a child and a cow were killed on his farm.

Now his land has been cleared, he says his family are able to grow enough produce to feed themselves.

"I can now use every piece of my land without becoming a victim of landmines, my livestock can now graze on this land and not be taken away from me," he says.

Destroying the mines

The landmines were cleared by Rwandan soldiers who were specially trained in Kenya at the International Mines Action Training Centre.

The mines, mostly anti-personnel landmines, were either neutralised or destroyed where they were found by qualified personnel.

To be declared as landmine-free, Rwanda had to meet the conditions of the Ottawa Landmine Treaty.

These stipulate that not only does a country have to ensure its land is free of mines but also that it destroys its landmine stockpiles.

Lucky the MAT Mine Detection Dog. Photo Mines Awareness Trust
Each of the minefields was checked by Mine Detection Dogs

The Mines Awareness Trust say that all Rwandan stockpiles were destroyed either by burning or controlled explosions, ensuring these items could never be used again.

A dog specialist and a team of Mine Detection Dogs provided a final check of all the land surveyed and manually cleared so that the land could be signed off to international standards.

Overall, 1.3m square metres of land were tested and cleared.

It is this quality assurance that Mr Remfrey says makes Rwanda different to other countries which have declared themselves landmine-free.

Gareth Thomas, Africa Minister at the Department for International Development which funded the programme, said that this project was important for Rwanda.

"This means that Rwandans from those areas are now able to farm their land," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban convention, better known as the Ottawa Convention, was brought into force 10 years ago.

Its aim was to help rid the world of landmines on the ground as well as stockpiled mines.

Since then, a total of 156 states have ratified the convention and production of anti-personnel mines has ceased in 38 countries.

But according to Landmine Monitor's estimates, more than 160m mines are held by countries not party to the convention and 13 states are still producing mines or retain the right to do so.

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