October 2011, the Month in Mines

October’s African mine action stories featured ongoing discussions at the United Nations, the continuing conflicts in South Sudan and Libya, Kenya’s invasion of Somalia among other items of interest.  Senegal, Western Sahara, Angola, Mauritania and Zimbabwe also appeared in news outlets.  There were positive developments and some setbacks as the mine action community gears up for the 11th Meeting of States Parties in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the end of November.

The Good News:

United Nations General Assembly

Each year, during the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee (a committee of the whole that addresses issues of peace and international security) meetings, a resolution is debated and passed encouraging adherence to the Mine Ban Treaty and international cooperation on mine action, especially demining and victim assistance (Reaching Critical Will, pdf). This year was no different with the resolution passing unopposed with 155 states voting in favor of the resolution on October 28th. Seventeen countries abstained; all of the abstaining votes come from non-Parties to the Treaty, including two mine-affected African states, Libya and Egypt.  (Personal aside: I’m a bit surprised that the new regimes in Libya and Egypt abstained from this vote; this was an opportunity to demonstrate a clean break with the former regimes.)  Thirteen African states were absent from the vote including four mine-affected states: Chad, the Gambia, Somalia and South Sudan (Reaching Critical Will, pdf). 

During the debates of the First Committee, statements related to the continuing threat of landmines were made during the thematic debate on conventional arms by Senegal (Reaching Critical Will, pdf) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Reaching Critical Will, pdf).  The thematic debate focused on the 2012 negotiations of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to regulate the international trade of small arm and light weapons and the references to landmines tied in issues of victim assistance and international cooperation, elements so important to the Mine Ban Treaty, which should illuminate the debates around the ATT.  The International Campaign to Ban Landmines also made a brief presentation, providing a global view of the continuing threat of landmines (Reaching Critical Will, pdf).

The United Nations Fourth Committee (United Nations) which is responsible for addressing a variety of issues, including landmines, took a much more aggressive stance towards landmines.  Labelling them as “perverse,” the committee passed a resolution calling on states to fulfill their “ethical and moral imperative” and take action to demine all mine-affected areas by identifying minefields and providing technical and financial assistance to clear those minefields.  Sudan, Senegal, Libya and Mozambique all made statements in support of the resolution and identified ways that they and the international community could advance the actions required by the resolution (United Nations).  (Another Personal Aside: read this press release.  After the anodyne and bland comments made in the First Committee, the statements by representatives to the Fourth Committee will re-affirm your faith in the international system and show you how much these representatives care about the issue of landmines.  I love the Fourth Committee.)

Senegal

In Senegal, Handicap International and the City of Geneva provided the funding for a new demining bulldozer.  The bulldozer will operate in the mine-affected Casamance region and greatly speed up the demining process, especially since plastic mines have been used in this area which cannot be detected by standard metal detectors (All Africa).

Angola

The Marshall Legacy Institute and the Angola National Institute for Demining have signed an agreement to introduce mine-detection dogs to the country.  The initiative, funded by the US government, will speed up the demining process in the country by further diversifying the techniques available to deminers (All Africa).  This news follows announcements of minefield clearances by the HALO Trust (All Africa) as well as reports of new injuries (All Africa).

Western Sahara

Pambazuka News published a special issue on Western Sahara, calling it the last colony in Africa.  With articles on the history of the Polisario Front and the annexation of Western Sahara by Morocco, Pambazuka also reminded readers of the staggering number of landmines along the berm built by Morocco to separate areas controlled by Morocco from those controlled by Polisario (Pambazuka). 

Recruitment

If you would like to get involved in mine action advocacy, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor is recruiting a Coordinator who will be responsible for putting together next year’s Monitor.  The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor is widely considered the authoritative annual report on mine action and is released annual in conjunction with the Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.  The announcement can be found here: http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/news/?id=3471.

The Bad News:

Libya

With the death of Moammar Gaddhafi, the National Transitional Council in Libya declared the end of the revolution as the new leadership of the country was recognized at the United Nations General Assembly meeting.  The lingering effects of the war and the Gaddhafi regime will likely be felt for many years as tens of thousands of landmines litter the Libya landscape and stockpiles of weapons of the old regime have been looted or seized by various militias. The United States, concerned most about the threat of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs) to international airlines, has increased its commitment to destroying stockpiles of weapons in Libya to $30 million.  Two demining organizations, Mines Advisory Group and the Swiss Demining Foundation, have received the lion’s share of this funding and have been using the funds to conduct demining activities in addition to stockpile destruction (Washington Post). A former US ambassador to Morocco stated that one of the priorities for development in Libya will be the elimination of minefields in the country to allow free transport within the country (Huffington Post).  At the United Nations, Libyan representatives confirmed that demining was a priority for the new government, especially removal of the new landmines laid by Gaddhafi’s forces during recent combat.  The Libyan representative declared the countries intention to seek assistance from the United Nations and the international community for mine clearance (United Nations).

One area that was not mentioned in great depth is the immediate need for victim assistance in Libya.  During the final assaults on Sirte, the local hospitals were overwhelmed by casualties (Digital Journal), and the medical infrastructure necessary for long-term rehabilitation simply does not exist.  Some of the most severely wounded Libyans have been evacuated to the United States for emergency treatment, but they are only a handful of the thousands who need assistance now and will continue to need assistance in the future (AFP).  In addition to the demining assistance provided by the international community, victim assistance should be a priority for Libya. 

Mali and Mauritania

Reports indicate that arms from Gaddhafi’s arsenals, including landmines, have leaked into neighboring states.  In Mauritania, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb has taken up residence in Mali’s Wagadou Forest – where they had previously been based until being driven out by Mauritanian forces – and has laid landmines around the area to prevent entry by Malian and Mauritanian security forces.  One person has been killed and two other wounded by these new mines (Maghrebia).

Somalia

Three employees of the Danish Demining Group, an American, a Dane and a Somalian, were abducted in central Somalia by members of Al Shabab on October 25th. The Danish Demining Group (DDG) has been working in mine action in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland for many years and the employees were seized after providing a mine-risk education workshop.  The kidnappings followed other abductions of Westerners in Somalia and Kenya (The Telegraph).  Traditional elders in Mogadishu have condemned the abductions and called for their immediate release (All Africa).

The abductions also followed the October 16th invasion of Somalia by the Kenyan army.  Kenya, feeling its tourist industry threatened by the abductions of Westerners from resorts and the continuing refugee flights of Somalis fleeing the twin scourges of violence and famine, responded with its first military action against a neighbor in its history.  At the behest of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and with the logistical and military support of Western states (including France who had already been involved in military actions in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya), Kenya’s army and air forces attacked Al Shabab territory in southern Somalia, especially around Kismayo (IRIN News).  Already Kenyan soldiers have been subject to harassment attacks including the use of landmines by Al Shabab on the roads to and from Somalia (All Africa), and these incidents are likely to increase. 

 Kenya’s invasion represents the third force to try and provide some security and stability to Somalia in recent years.  For many years, a peacekeeping force consisting of Ugandan and Burundian soldiers has been present in the country serving as the de facto security force for the UN-accepted TFG in Mogadishu.  A couple of years back, the Ethiopian army (with support from the United States) invaded Somalia and took down the Islamic Courts Union, which has since transformed into Al Shabab who is the target of Kenya’s military actions.  Another military force in this starving, landmine-littered country is the last thing Somalia needs.  Just as the rains are beginning to fall and the drought might be lifting, this new round of violence is creating additional displacement, just at the time when refugees and the displaced need to be returning to their homes. 

South Sudan

Violence continues in South Sudan’s Unity State as rebel forces there have also placed many anti-tank mines in the roads.  Anti-tank mines are not banned by the Mine Ban Treaty and so rebels may be able to access them from any number of sponsors.  In October, a bus struck such a mine, killing 20 people, on a road that had previously been considered free of mines.  Demining agencies, including Norwegian Peoples Aid and the local Mine Action Center expect more mines to be laid in the coming weeks as the dry season arrives (AFP).

The Ugly News:

United States

As the United States continues to develop the Spider Networked-Munition system, an “alternative to anti-personnel landmines” (US Army, pdf), a couple of incidents reminded Americans of how dangerous these items are.  First, four landmines were found in a passenger’s luggage at Salt Lake City Airport.  The passenger in question had taken the mines as souvenirs following military training.  Never one to miss an opportunity to inform the public, “TSA officials wanted to remind passengers that land mines are among the prohibited items that aren’t allowed on airplanes.” The mines had apparently been defused and were removed from the baggage.  The idiot who tried to bring them on the airplane was not arrested (Salt Lake Tribune).

In New York City, a Yonkers man found a World War II-era “bouncing betty” landmine in his grandfather’s attic.  He brought the item first to an antiques dealer trying to sell the item, but the dealer, deciding that a landmine was not something he wanted in the store, directed the man to a nearby police station.  However, the man with the mine was not familiar with the area and, missing the police station, walked half a mile until he reached a firehouse which was promptly evacuated along with the surrounding block.  No word on whether or not the mine was live or defused (LoHud.com).

Coming up on November 28th is the 11th meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Information about the meeting, including the draft agenda can be found here: http://www.apminebanconvention.org/?id=3618

Michael P. Moore, November 3, 2011

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