September 2011, the Month in Mines

Libya dominated the landmine headlines in September, but news also continued to come out of Somalia (mixed) and Angola (good).  The second meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions was held in Lebanon with the participation of several African states, including Swaziland – a party to the Mine Ban Treaty since June 1999 – which acceded to the Convention during the meeting.  Eritrea and Sudan also appeared in landmine-related news stories this month.

I think the biggest story of the month is the slow realization of the scale of the landmine problem in Libya.  Two United Nations Inter-Agency Missions, one to Brega (UNOCHA, pdf) and the other to Ra’s Lanuf (UNOCHA, pdf), provided some information in the broader context of the emerging humanitarian crisis in the country.  The NATO Civil-Military Fusion Centre published a landmine-specific background paper on Libya documented the widespread use of anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines by forces loyal to Gaddhafi (Civil-Military Fusion Centre, pdf).  There was some early usage of landmines by rebels in Libya before they disavowed any further use (BBC News), but there have been no recent reports of use by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC). 

The landmines that have been laid in Libya number in the thousands, possibly the tens or hundreds of thousands and clearance will take years.  Mines Advisory Group has destroyed 8,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (Mines Advisory Group) and Danish Church Aid is active in Misrata which was struck by cluster munitions (Danish Church Aid), but the NTC estimates that at least 40,000 landmines were laid around Brega alone (Reuters) and the Gaddhafi regime possessed thousands more mines in warehouses that have since been looted (Time).  The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), responsible for securing and overseeing the removal or destruction of conventional munitions “is woefully understaffed” in Libya (Time). 

In addition to the immediate need for mine clearance, Libya’s hospitals are already overwhelmed by the number of persons – many of whom are civilians and children – who have been injured in the fighting. “The most common injuries now are amputations and ‘open fractures’, which are bones literally shattered and sometimes jutting out of the body from high-velocity wounds” and one author estimated the number of amputations performed in Misrata as almost 5,000 (The National).  Libya lacks the rehabilitation infrastructure to adequately respond to such injuries with no prosthetic centers or wheelchair manufacturers; in addition to the absence of physical rehabilitation facilities, Libya also lacks the ability to provide emotional, psychological and socio-economic assistance to those disabled by their injuries (The National).

Efforts in Libya have already begun to try and get the oil and petroleum industries back on-line.  While still mostly intact, the oil wells and refineries are currently off limits due to severe landmine contamination.  Thousands of mines were laid by Gaddhafi’s forces around oil facilities and until those are removed, a process that will take many months, Libya’s ability to rely on its oil revenues, estimated at $176 million per day (Reuters).

Outside of Libya, Somalia and Angola featured regularly in the news with stories about landmines.  After Al-Shabab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu (a tragically short retreat as today’s – October 4th’s – news shows: BBC News), the Transitional Federal Government’s forces, supported by international peacekeepers, sought to clear the streets of the city.  The security crackdown found many landmines and improvised explosive devices in areas formerly held by Al-Shabab (Mareeg; All Africa; and All Africa).  Those seizures of explosives led to the unfortunate death of Mustafa Mohamed Da’ud, an employee of the United Nations Mine Action Service in Somalia.  Mr. Da’ud apparently died whilst unloading ordnance from a truck in preparation for destruction (All Africa).  In Angola, continued progress was made on demining activities in the country, led by the National Institute for Demining (INAD) (All Africa; Angola Portal; All Africa; and All Africa).  INAD’s work was recognized with the Diamond Trophy of the Business Initiative Directions for the socio-economic benefits of demining (All Africa). 

Brief mentions were also made of landmine incidents in Eritrea where seven people died and dozens more were injured when the bus they were riding in struck a landmine (All Africa; and Assena); in South Sudan where Mines Advisory Group destroyed a large stockpile of arms belonging to the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (Mines Advisory Group); and Sudan where United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) peacekeepers have expanded their mine risk education activities in response to several recent incidents involving children in Darfur (United Nations). 

Lastly, although not in Africa, a twenty-two year old elephant, now-named Pa Hae Po, wandered from Thailand across the border into Burma where he stepped on a landmine severely injuring his front left foot (The Guardian).  Pa Hae Po’s injury was reported, among other sources, by the Associated Press  and Official Wire globally (AP; and Official Wire); by the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle in the United States; by the Guardian, Telegraph, Edinburgh Evening News and Birmingham Mail in the United Kingdom; and by 3 News in New Zealand.  All told, Pa Hae Po’s story was carried by 144 news outlets (Google News Search).  If Pa Hae Po had been a child in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Chad instead of an elephant in Thailand, how many stories would have been written about him?

Michael P. Moore, October 4, 2011

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