Zimbabwean deminers clear deadly legacy of Falklands war

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The first explosion shook the land and sent a plume of black smoke 30 metres into the air. Seven others followed in close succession until a pall of peat and sandy dust hung over the narrow peninsula, flanked by the breakers of Surf Bay, which connects Stanley to its old airport.

A casual visitor arriving on a cruise ship at the weekend might have thought that Argentina was mounting a second invasion — a response to the oil drilling that began last week in the disputed waters off the Falkland Islands. The explosions were actually part of an effort to remove a deadly legacy of the first invasion. Work has finally begun to clear the 120 minefields, containing at least 20,000 mines, that the Argentinians laid in 1982.

The minefields are everywhere apparent — on the road to Stanley from the new Mount Pleasant airbase, on the low hills behind the town, on seemingly unspoilt beaches where the Argentinians feared that British Marines would land to recapture “Las Malvinas”. They are ringed by barbed-wire fences festooned with skull-and-crossbone signs.

Clearance work began straight after the war but was soon halted because several British servicemen were injured. The minefields were instead fenced off and left, there being little pressure for land in the sparsely populated islands. The fences were improved in the 1990s after the odd cow or sheep was blown up, but no human was injured and the islanders learnt to live with them.

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