Today 14 November 2020. the Falkland Islands have been officially declared mine-free, almost 40 years after the end of the Falkland Islands war. The minefield danger signs and fences that were once the hallmark of the invasion have all finally been removed, and the community is again free to enjoy some of the Islands’ most beautiful areas which have been off-limits since 1982.
During a celebration named ‘Reclaim the Beach’, hundreds of residents flocked to Gypsy Cove and Yorke Bay, the final two beaches to be cleared using armoured excavators with sifting buckets and a screening machine, due to the depth at which the mines had become covered by sand. Speeches were given by Deputy Governor Alex Mitham, MLA Leona Roberts and Guy Marot from the Falkland Islands Demining Programme.
The symbolism of people walking past discarded minefield signs after the last landmines left behind in the #Falklands by Argentine forces in 1982 were destroyed this afternoon pic.twitter.com/a6lAkCZ5Ww— Ronnie MB (Ronnie MacLennan Baird) (@RMBFLK) November 14, 2020
Following this, Luke Thomas (3) was invited to press the button on the final detonation and Julia Knipe (3) was able to open the final fence to allow the public on to the beaches. Both youngsters, who were ably assisted by their parents, were thrilled to take such active roles in this historic event and won the chance to participate via a local charitable raffle.
Speaking of the celebrations, MLA Leona Roberts, said: “It’s hard to put into words what this milestone means to so many people. The Falkland Islands are known for our amazing physical landscape – for our endless horizons, our outdoor spaces and unique scenery – but since 1982 that landscape has been scarred by the terrible legacy of war. We have had to teach our children about the dangers of minefields and have hoped but not quite dared to dream of the day when we would become mine-free. To say that I am delighted that we can once again roam wherever we wish is a complete understatement.
There are so many people to thank and I cannot begin to express the full extent of my gratitude, but I would like to recognise the tireless efforts of the UK Government, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Fenix Insight and SafeLane Global. Also, on behalf of our community and the generations to come – thank you to everyone involved in this incredible achievement and for finally giving us back our home.”
The last land mine in the Falklands was destroyed today and the people of the Falklands can now enjoy this beautiful beach near Stanley following an official opening pic.twitter.com/cb63sjbYMS— Lisa Watson (@Lisafalklands) November 14, 2020
‘Reclaim the Beach’ follows decades of difficult and courageous work by many people, both local and from overseas. Large numbers of mines and unexploded ordinance were left behind after the conflict, and painstaking work by the SafeLane team of predominantly Zimbabwean deminers cleared and made safe an area the equivalent of over 28,800 football pitches.
The UK-funded demining programme, which cost £44m and began in 2009, finished its work three years ahead of schedule, marking a significant achievement despite the challenges of working in remote locations and in all-weather conditions. It also demonstrates the UK’s commitment to meeting the humanitarian goals of the Anti-Personnel Man Ban Convention.
Deputy Governor, Alex Mitham, added: “This is a truly historic moment for the Falkland Islands, because today, after almost 40 years, the Falkland Islands can now be officially declared mine-free. However, the UK government’s commitment to ridding the word of landmines doesn’t end here and we continue to commit millions of pounds to demining projects across the world in order to protect innocent civilian lives.
“Projects such as this speak to everyone’s morality – in what is right – and everyone’s humility in appreciating the sacrifices that have been made to achieve this nation’s safety. For me this goes to the very heart of what this project is really about – respect for the sanctity of all life – protecting and safeguarding everyone. It should and must transcend ideologies. All nations should be able to stand as one in celebrating this triumph, because it gives people a future free of fear and harm. Something that everyone deserves.”
Guy Marot, Head of the Falkland Islands Demining Programme, said: “This has been a very challenging programme undertaken by around 240 people over the years in a huge team effort. I am delighted to have been in a position to see the first mine and the very last mine taken out of the ground. It really is for all of us to say the job is done.”
HRH the Duke of Cambridge has also recorded a special message for the Falkland Islands: