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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December, 2004, 00:02 GMT
Landmines: Mozambique's hidden killers
Orla Ryan
BBC News business reporter in Mozambique

A deminer in Mozambique
$1 to put in the ground but up to $1,000 to find it and take it out

Twelve years since the civil war ended, there are still thousands of mines in Mozambique's soil.

Some 100,000 landmines have already been taken out of the ground, but the work is nowhere near complete.

Many people are aware of the human cost of landmines - since 1975 there have been more than one million landmine casualties around the world.

Now, more and more countries are realising the development costs. Landmines stop people growing crops, getting clean drinking water, building hospitals and starting businesses.

Florencio Chongo was a soldier in the government forces during the civil war.

Florencio Chongo
Former soldiers such as Florencio Chongo now work as deminers
Now Mr Chongo works for the Accelerated Demining Programme, which operates in Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo provinces. Its work is financed by the Mozambican government, international donors and charities, such as Adopt-A-Minefield.

Where once he used to place landmines, now he coordinates efforts to remove them.

Metre by metre

In Tinonganine, a demining site just outside of Maputo, the 26 miners and two paramedics start work at six in the morning.

The scattered, blue-clad figures clear the ground metre by metre, a slow, painstaking process.

Every ping of the metal detector could indicate the existence of an unexploded mine or just the presence of a piece of metal scrap.

The terrible human toll taken by these indiscriminate weapons is compounded by deep and lasting economic damage
Julia Taft, UNDP

One person had died and another person was injured before work began at this site, says Mr Mabui, the platoon commander and an ex-soldier like many of his colleagues.

Since they started work more than a year ago, they have found two mines and three bombs in the 442,779 square metre area they have cleared, he tells me.

People are now returning to work on the cleared land.

Clearing a quarry

The Cimentos de Mocambique limestone quarry in Matutuine district was once surrounded by a battery of mines to protect the soldiers inside.

It took six months to demine this quarry before work could start
After the war, it took two platoons of men about six months to clear the area of mines, Mr Chongo says.

About 17 people now work here, plant manager Rodrigues Mangujo tells me. It is the only functioning quarry in Mozambique, producing limestone needed to help rebuild the country.

Reducing poverty is one of the aims of Mozambique's National Mine Action Plan; the government frequently asks ADP to clear areas so that businesses can restart.

Six mines had to be removed from the land on which the giant Mozal aluminium smelter was built, Mr Chongo says.

About 60% of the land ADP clears is agricultural land.

The realisation that clearing mines can contribute to a country's development is not limited to Mozambique.

Cambodia has made the removal of landmines a Millennium Development Goal.

"The land mine problem is a critical development issue," Julia Taft, UN assistant secretary-general, told the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World in early December.

Landmine facts
About 19,000 people are killed or injured by landmines every year around the world.
It costs $1 to place a mine up to $1,000 to remove it
There are an estimated 70 million landmines in the ground in 90 countries
About one third of all landmine casualties are children
Source: UNDP website, Adopt-A-Minefield
"The terrible human toll taken by these indiscriminate weapons is compounded by deep and lasting economic damage," she said.

For his part, Mr Chongo has been taking mines out of the ground for 10 years and knows there is still a lot of work to do.

"The number of accidents have decreased because of awareness...that does not mean the mines are not there," Mr Chongo says. "The problem is how many areas people don't enter because they suspect."

As we drive around Maputo bay, he points to areas that have been cleared of mines, so that power lines can go up and factories and schools can be built.

"We don't take landmines from the ground because they are there, we take them because we want to achieve something," Mr Chongo says. "What we want to achieve is a development impact."

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