Plan to clear mines from elephant routes

( [email protected] ) Dec 11, 2004 05:57 PM EST

A project to clear landmines along paths used by elephants in a wildlife sanctuary in Angola during migratory periods was launched at a conference on landmines in Nairobi on Thursday.

The project, to clear mines along the migratory paths in Luiana Partial Reserve in eastern Angola linking them to parks in Botswana and Zambia, was launched by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams.

The initiative will be carried out by Roots for Peace, a United States-based non-governmental organisation, which specialises on clearing mines and planting trees. It is expected to cost in the region of $637 000.

If the mines are cleared, an estimated 120 000 elephants in Botswana, whose numbers are growing at 5% annually, would be able to move north to Angola and Zambia during migratory periods, the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) said in a statement.

The statement said Unep will assist villagers living around reserves, whose crops have been damaged by elephants trying to evade the mined areas in Angola, the most heavily mined African nation.

Angola suffered 30 years of civil war between government forces and rebels, which finaly ended in December 2002.

About 2 200 sites are known to be mined or contain other unexploded ordnances.

"If this option is not followed, Botswana is faced with the stark reality of shooting and killing up to 60 000 elephants over the next few years," the Unep statement said.

Nearly 1,000 delegates are in the Kenyan capital for a week-long conference reviewing progress made since the 1997 Ottawa Convention was signed. The Convention bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of landmines that kill or maim around 40 people in the world every day, and vows to rid the world of the deadly devices by 2009.