Since 1974, Cyprus has been divided in two parts by a buffer zone controlled by the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Cyprus. The buffer zone occupies three percent of the island, including some of the most valuable agricultural land. It is 180 kilometres long and between three metres and seven kilometres in width. During the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, both parties laid defensive minefields within and outside of the buffer zone.
The Cyprus Mine Action programme has been underway since 2004 and is being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in conjunction with UNOPS and in close coordination with UN peacekeepers. The Mine Action programme is currently entering the final stage of mine clearance within the buffer zone thanks to donations of equal value from both the Government of Cyprus and the European Union, amounting to a total of $6.84 million.
UNOPS, on behalf of UNDP, provides a number of support functions that allows smooth operational capacity, these services range from procurement of goods, contracts management, programme management and quality control, financial administration and finally provision of highly trained and specialized staff to implement the programme.
UNOPS has contracted four manual clearance teams, each consisting of 10 deminers, a team leader and a medic. A total of 83 percent of the minefields along the buffer zone have already been cleared. Since 2004 a total of 17,000 mines have been destroyed.
| Cyprus minefield map, January 2010|
The clearance of the buffer zone has facilitated the opening of several crossing points that have increased the mobility of Cypriots and strengthened economic development for both sides. The Mine Action programme has been instrumental in assisting both sides in fulfilling their legal obligations towards the Ottawa Treaty, of which both Turkey and Cyprus are signatories.
In addition to the clearance capacity, the Mine Action Centre also provides basic mine risk education to UN military personnel, whose activities regularly take them within close proximity of mined areas in the buffer zone.
Some of the anti-tank mines have anti-handling devices that cannot be disarmed, and so to ensure the safety of deminers all mines are pulled out remotely, which has greatly slowed the clearance process. The addition of a mechanical clearance team in 2010 will substantially speed up this process and will assist the programme in meeting its target of having a mine-free buffer zone by 2011.
There are also a number of minefields known to exist outside of the buffer zone and the programme is therefore seeking additional funding and agreements from authorities to clear these minefields with the overall aim of having a mine-free Cyprus.