Falkland islanders celebrate being landmine free - after nearly 40 years

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Yorke Beach with mine warning signsImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Yorke Beach, near Stanley, has been closed since the 1982 Falklands conflict

Falkland Islanders have been celebrating the day their beaches and coves have been declared free of landmines - after almost 40 years.

The British overseas territory was peppered with an estimated 13,000 mines by Argentine forces in the 1982 conflict.

On hand for the mine-free declaration day was Welsh-born doctor Barry Elsby.

He is one of the islanders who has never walked on the last beach to be cleared, Yorke Beach near Stanley.

He moved to the Falklands with his wife for a two-year medical contract in 1990, and never left.

He is now one of the islands' eight members of the legislative assembly governing the 2,500 population.

"I have friends who were born here after the 1982 conflict, and have never been able to stroll along this beach," he said.

"We are looking forward to reclaiming the beach by blowing up the last mines.

"This will be another good bit of closure for people who were here when the invasion happened and lived through the horrors of that time.

Image source, Falkland Islands Goverment
Image caption,
It was only supposed to be a two year posting to the Falkland Islands for Dr Elsby

"All the mine signposts were a constant reminder of what happened but now they are all away, it's another return to normality.

"It is a very welcome development and I don't think anyone ever thought this would come about."

A programme to remove the mines has been under way since 2009 as part of the UK's obligations under the international anti-personnel mine ban convention.

Media caption,

Islanders will celebrate by playing cricket on beaches which were previously out of bounds

"We never thought the islands would be completely mine free, so this is a momentous change," added Dr Elsby.

"More importantly, no-one has been seriously harmed doing this. It speaks volumes for the teams that have been responsible for doing this over so many years."

It also speaks volumes for the islanders, according to the doctor, and gives an insight into why he was happy to swap his former childhood home of Garden City in Flintshire, north Wales, for somewhere like the Falklands.

"We had clear plans when we came here in 1990 - we had no intention of staying," he said.

"But we were captivated, not just by the beauty, but also by the way of life and friendliness of the community."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
255 British servicemen died in the 1982 conflict

The son of a crane driver in the Shotton steelworks, his links with Wales remain strong despite being almost 8,000 miles (12,735km) away.

"For the last eight years, I have been laying wreaths at Fitzroy where so many Welsh Guards died and were injured, so I think those links will remain forever," he said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
It has been a long process across four decades to rid the islands of mines

The UK minister with responsibility for the Falklands, Wendy Morton said the final de-mining exercise on Saturday was a "significant achievement" for the Falklands and its population.

"We must pay tribute to the brilliant team of deminers who made a long-term commitment to this programme and put their lives at risk day-to-day, removing and destroying landmines to make the Falklands safe," she said.

"Our commitment to ridding the world of fatal landmines does not end with our territories being mine free.

"A further £36m of UK funding will allow demining projects across the world to continue, protecting innocent civilian lives."

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