Egypt stepped up efforts to clear millions of World War Two mines from prime north coast land in a $250 million demining project to ready the area for tourism, energy, and agriculture investments, an official said.
Egypt says Allied and Axis armies left behind 20 per cent of the world's remaining landmines and explosive war remnants around El Alamein, site of a decisive World War Two battle.
"This project opens a huge wide open gate to the future," said Fathy El Shazly, the Director of the Executive Secretariat for Demining and Development of the Northwest Coast. "Our project is, par excellence, a demining for development project."
The area slated for demining stretches along Egypt's Mediterranean coast from El Alamein toward the Libyan border.
The overall development of the area is estimated to cost $10 billion, a government report on the demining project said.
With most of its roughly 77 million people crammed into a strip of land along the Nile valley and in its fertile Delta, Egypt wants to develop other areas such as the northern coast.
Already, beach resorts popular among wealthy Egyptians dot the northern Mediterranean coast, and both Egyptian and foreign developers have bought up mine-free land in nearby areas.
The cleared land will be allocated to tourism, oil and natural gas, renewable energy, and agriculture, Shazly said in his Cairo office, where dismantled landmines sit for display.
Shazly, who is running the project that has UNDP backing, said he planned to clear all the mines in the area -- approximately 248,000 hectares of otherwise pristine coastline and desert hinterland -- within five or six years.
"I am confident that this is entirely achievable," he said.
Egypt cleared around 3 million mines and war remnants out of 19.7 million from 1981 to 1999. Since stepping up efforts, deminers have cleared over 300,000 more mines and other ordnance from over 5 percent of the area since February, Shazly said.
Shazly said the area slated for demining holds an estimated 4.8 billion barrels of oil and more than 13.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, as well as some 3 million acres of arable and grazing land. He was citing government estimates.
Egypt's current proven natural gas reserves stand at around 77.2 trillion cubic feet, while reserves of crude oil and condensates come in at 4.4 billion barrels.
Funding for the project has been provided by the government, UNDP, and included donations from Germany and Britain, while Italy provided non-monetary assistance. The armies of those three countries were involved in planting the mines in the war.
Egypt has not signed the 1997 Landmine Convention, denying it access to an international fund for demining. Among Egypt's objections is that the treaty does not mandate parties that laid mines beyond their borders to clear them or pay for clearing.