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Mozambique floods move deadly mines to unknown areas

Unexploded ordnance from civil war shifted downstream

March 14, 2000
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EST (1800 GMT)

MOAMBA, Mozambique (CNN) -- Wary rescuers kept an eye on the skies above southern Africa on Tuesday as they scurried to repair roads and deliver aid to the thousands of survivors who have been left homeless by a month-long flood.

But the potential of more devastating rains and flooding was not the only concern. Along with the cloudwatching, workers gingerly watched their steps for a legacy of Mozambique's 16-year civil war -- land mines, loosened from their known locations and moved who-knows-where by the deluge.

VideoCNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports on a new danger brought about by the floods: uprooted land mines.
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The U.N.'s land-mine program considers Mozambique one of the most heavily mined locations in the world -- hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have been killed or maimed by the deadly bombs that hide just beneath the surface. Before the floods, an average of four people per month were killed in mine explosions.

So many mines were planted in the region that it's impossible to know just how many are still out there, even after the U.N.'s six-year program to get rid of them. And now the floods have moved them.

"No one can be sure of the numbers, but land mines may have been moved 10 or 20 kilometers (6 to 12 miles) downstream from mined areas that were located near river banks," said Emmanuel de Casterle, the United Nations Development Program's resident representative in Mozambique. "We have even had reports of fishermen catching land mines in their nets."

The mines also pose a problem to villagers making their way back to flooded farmlands -- and work crews trying to repair the damage caused by four weeks of relentless river overflow.

Land mine
Mozambique is one of the most heavily mined locations in the world, according to the United Nations  

Disease, hunger, and now explosions

Using former guerrillas from both sides of the conflict, the demining program in Mozambique had found and cleared more than 18,000 mines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance since it began surveying the area in 1994, two years after the bloody civil war ended. But the floods have been costly to the effort.

"We were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Jacky D'Almeida, director of Mozambique's demining program. "No one knows where the mines could be today. In some of the flooded areas, we will have to start all over again."

D'Almeida called the situation "a nightmare."

"We are going to hear about those mines in the next 10 days, in the next 10 years," he said. "You never know when you are going to stop hearing about those mines."

The demining program in Mozambique has cleared more than 18,000 mines and other unexploded ordnance since it began surveying in 1994  

Deminers, who had been focusing on clearing land for agricultural use, have switched their priorities toward making areas safe for repair crews trying to get electricity back into remote areas. The shift in focus has left farmers more vulnerable than ever.

Mozambique's government is urgently preparing pamphlets and other graphic information warning the public about the newly unleashed danger. But farmers desperate to replant crops washed away by the floods are not likely to heed the warnings, adding mines to an ever-growing list of dangers that already includes drowning, disease and hunger.

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