- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 26, 2015

MAMMARI, Cyprus (AP) - Cambodian army Lt. Sovannara Leang says helping clear ethnically-divided Cyprus of land mines has hit home with him.

“This has affected my country as well,” said the 32-year-old officer who’s been in the army since 2002. “It’s a humanitarian issue. It affects people’s lives.”

Land mines remain a scourge for Cambodia where millions of undetected mines left over from three decades of conflict continue to injure, maim and kill.

Leang and his 20-man team where seconded from Lebanon’s U.N. peacekeeping force to help clear a parcel of farmland inside a no-man’s land that separates breakaway Turkish Cypriots in the north from internationally recognized Greek Cypriots in the south.

U.N. Peacekeeping Force Commander Maj. Gen. Kristin Lund said the team disposed of two anti-tank mines and anti-personnel mine fragments that had shifted into the U.N.-controlled area from an adjacent Turkish Cypriot minefield during winter floods.

The 17,000 square meter (183,000 square foot) parcel will be released for cultivation and grazing. Lund said the U.N. has received a pledge from Turkish Cypriot authorities to clear their minefield in the coming months and eliminate the danger of mines shifting in the area once and for all.

The land mines, like the U.S.-made, World War II-era anti-tank mines the Cambodian team disposed of, are a vestige of defenses set up in the wake of the 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup that aimed to unite Cyprus with Greece.

U.N. led-demining work between 2004 and 2011 removed more than 27,000 mines from inside the 180 kilometer-long (120-mile) U.N.-controlled buffer zone. But Lund said no progress has been made in accessing the buffer zone’s remaining four minefields - three controlled by the Greek Cypriots and the other by Turkish forces.

Many more minefields lie on either side of the buffer zone, although all anti-personnel mines have been removed from Greek Cypriot minefields under the country’s international treaty obligations.

Lund, who’s the U.N.’s first and only female peacekeeping force commander, said there’s now “real momentum” to move ahead with ridding Cyprus of all remaining minefields amid a positive climate in renewed talks to reunify the country.

Underscoring their commitment to peace, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have agreed to open new crossing points across the divide which Lund said has refocused attention on demining needs in those areas.

Earlier, Anastasiades provided Akinci with detailed information about 28 Greek Cypriot minefields in the north. Lund said 25 of those minefields were found to pose no mine risk at all.

“I don’t think this beautiful island should have any mines at all and this will be to everyone’s benefit,” Lund said.

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