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NZ to send de-mining experts to Iraq

NZ to send de-mining experts to Iraq

New Zealand will provide up to 15 Defence Force personnel to assist the United Nations with mine clearing operations in Iraq, Foreign Minister Phil Goff announced today.

“Our de-mining experts will be part of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), which is preparing an emergency response team to survey and clear land mines and unexploded bombs,” Mr Goff said.

“We have approved the contribution of four experts to assist with establishing and managing the UN's de-mining activities in Iraq. Two are likely to be deployed in the next two to three weeks.

"Once the programme is up and running, an additional 11 NZDF personnel have been approved for deployment on the request of UNMAS, to provide mine safety training and emergency assessments.

“Landmines and unexploded munitions present a serious impediment to the immediate safe delivery of humanitarian assistance in many parts of Iraq, and to the longer-term reconstruction of the country.

"High levels of land mine contamination have been reported in northern Iraq and along the borders with Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Problems with unexploded ordnance, including cluster munitions, have been reported throughout Iraq. There will be further unexploded ordnance as a result of the air and ground attacks by coalition forces.

"UNMAS's work will cover a number of areas. It will survey and clear mines and unexploded ordnance to make access routes and infrastructure safe. It will provide support for the search and removal of booby traps and other improvised explosive devices, and it will undertake risk education with the local population and offer assistance to victims.

Mr Goff said de-mining was one of a range of options the government was considering to ensure New Zealand played its part in humanitarian and reconstruction activities in post-conflict Iraq.

"New Zealand has recognised expertise in de-mining, and we already have one member of the NZDF on secondment to UNMAS who is preparing to travel to Iraq to work as a coordinator.

"In late March New Zealand was one of the first countries to make a financial contribution to UNMAS, providing $300,000 as part of a $3.3 million package to assist UN and international relief agencies in providing humanitarian assistance in Iraq.

"Last week we gave the Red Cross another $1 million, on top of an initial contribution of $500,000, to assist with emergency relief work," Mr Goff said.

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