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The Falkland Islands have been cleared of almost all landmines, it has been announced, nearly 40 years after the end of the war in which the British military retook the territory by force from Argentine troops.
Tens of thousands of mines and bombs have been removed as part of a UK-funded programme since 2009, a task carried out by a team of specialist deminers, many of them from Zimbabwe.
Islanders will mark the moment with a ceremonial detonation of the final landmine at the weekend, along with games of cricket and football on reopened beaches.
Wendy Morton, a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office minister, said: “This is a huge achievement for the islands and we must pay tribute to the brilliant team of deminers who put their lives at risk day to day removing and destroying landmines to make the Falklands safe.”
The removal of the mines laid during the conflict with Argentina means the UK has met its obligations under the anti-personnel mine ban convention. Britain now believes there are no anti-personnel mines on any of its territories around the world.
The 1982 conflict followed an invasion by Argentina to assert territorial claims over the islands it calls the Malvinas. Margaret Thatcher, the then prime minister, ordered a counter-invasion in which 649 Argentinian military personnel and 255 British troops were killed as well as three Falklands islanders.
A group of about 100 Zimbabwean contractors who were brought in to lend their expertise to the mine-clearing operation, which was run by the firm SafeLane Global, have been working on the island for about a decade and have managed to clear the explosives three years ahead of schedule.
The UK will also help to remove mines in other countries, including Zimbabwe, as part of a £36m funding programme.
Morton said: “Our commitment to ridding the world of fatal landmines does not end with our territories being mine-free. A further £36m of UK funding will allow demining projects across the world to continue, protecting innocent civilian lives.”