Landmines and the 2012 Famine in East Africa

Famines are the confluence of environmental and political factors.  Insufficient rainfall or poor harvests aren’t enough; political actors have to actively prevent the delivery of food assistance to those who need it.  Often food assistance is deliberately withheld: one is starving the opposition, with a criminally-broad definition of who the opposition is.  Landmines assist in the withholding of assistance; either by deliberately seeking to interfere with travel and transit or by disrupting refugee movements.

The situation as of November 2011:

In 2011, tens of thousands of people in East Africa died as a result of famine.  Famine conditions continue in Somalia as of this writing due to the lack of rainfall in October – December 2010 and lower-than-average rainfall in April-June 2011 and due to the lack of an adequate humanitarian response.  The needed humanitarian response was constrained by a lack of urgency from donor countries to provide food and financial aid to international relief agencies and the restrictions on access to famine-stricken areas by Al Shabab, the major rebel force in Somalia.  FEWS Net (the Famine Early Warning System Network) predicts that Famine conditions (defined as “Catastrophe” on the IPC Food Insecurity Scale here: http://www.fews.net/ml/en/info/pages/scale.aspx) will lift by the new year although 250,000 people still face imminent starvation and child mortality rates will remain high due to outbreaks of infectious diseases.  So while the “famine” will end, “emergency” conditions will continue for the foreseeable future, if conditions remain unchanged (FEWS Net, pdf).

An emerging hunger crisis – a “food security alert” – is occurring in Sudan along the border with newly independent South Sudan. More than 3 million Sudanese are facing food insecurity and “harvest prospects are significantly lower than last year and the five-year average, and an early start to the lean season is expected in March / April instead of May / June” (FEWS Net, pdf). Just as in Somalia, central Sudan has seen irregular rainfall patterns that have constrained the harvest and FEWS Net is expecting food security to worsen to “Crisis” levels, based solely on availability of food.

Unfortunately for both Sudan and Somalia, the climate is not the only factor to worry about.  While for Somalia, FEWS Net reported a general improvement in the situation, that improvement was based upon the ability of humanitarian agencies to provide assistance after the withdrawal of Al Shabab from Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia in August.  In Sudan, the rainfall shortages have been accompanied by an outbreak of violence between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the rebel group, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army / Movement – North (SPLM/A – N). 

Why things will get worse:

On November 28th, Al Shabab banned 16 aid agencies from operating in central and southern Somalia, the areas hardest hit by the 2011 famine and those still facing famine conditions (The Independent).  This news followed several weeks of positive news about the lifting of the famine and the success international organizations had been having in delivering food assistance (The Independent; IRIN News; Voice of America).  Al Shabab’s actions were in response to the invasions of Somalia by Kenyan (IRIN News) and Ethiopian (Al Jazeera) armed forces.  Al Shabab claimed that it was banning the aid agencies as a result of “illicit activities and misconducts” but others believe Al Shabab’s decision was based on the “belief that aid groups are serving as spies for outside countries or as vehicles to undermine support for al-Shabaab’s harsh and strict interpretation of Islam” (The Independent). 

Since the ban has been in place, “Humanitarian activities in the parts of the country left by the banned aid agencies have been reduced to ‘almost nothing’… [and] critical services such as food, water, health and nutrition had been suspended” (IRIN News).  To enforce the ban, Al Shabab has changed its tactics employing “suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, ambushes and even frontal attacks against soft targets” (IRIN News).  Recent news reports have shown that Al Shabab is using landmines and improvised explosive devices to sow fear in the refugee camps and disrupt travel by Kenyan armed forces across the Kenya – Somalia border.  Therefore landmines are actively being used to prevent humanitarian assistance from reaching famine-stricken regions of Somalia. 

The United Nations has issued a $1.5 billion request for humanitarian aid for Somalia for 2012  While the rains have returned to Somalia, ending the 2011 famine, the humanitarian crisis is far from over.  Thousands of Somalis are still in displacement camps, having originally sought refuge from the drought, now they seek refuge from the expanding war, and so have not planted their fields for the next harvest (CBS News).  “The drought in Southern Somalia is over but no one is going home” (The Independent).

In Sudan the poor harvests in the states along the new border between Sudan and South Sudan have been exacerbated by the outbreak of hostilities between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the rebel group, Sudanese People’s Liberation Army – North (SPLA-N), an offshoot of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army that has become the government of South Sudan.  Refugees are streaming into South Sudan and Ethiopia and north to Khartoum.  Humanitarian agencies have been banned from the area by the various armed forces so food aid can’t get to anyone who has not been able to flee.  As for the refugees, those that flee into Unity State in South Sudan are at risk from the anti-tank mines that have been placed in the roadways by yet another rebel group fighting against the South Sudanese government (FEWS Net, pdf).  The United Nations has even been relocating displacement camps away from the mine-affected regions of Unity State (All Africa).

The situation in Sudan is worsening.  FEWS Net predicts that the denial of access for humanitarian aid will drive the region to the brink of what is officially defined as “famine,” by March of 2012 (FEWS Net, pdf).  Should the conflict deepen or become more entrenched, by the summer we will see the regions along the Sudan – South Sudan border facing full-fledged famine, just as we saw in Somalia this past summer. 

In both Sudan and Somalia, the problems arise from poor harvests due to drought or irregular rainfall, but it is the political conditions and the conflicts in the countries that make these famines.  By preventing humanitarian aid from reaching those who need it most, the rebels and governments in these countries are manufacturing famines.  They use landmines and IEDs to enforce the bans on humanitarian access; landmines aimed at the opponents have the same effect: by closing the roads to your opponents, you are also closing them to your allies and to humanitarian relief.

Once the droughts and conflicts are over, the presence of landmines will threaten the lives of returning refugees.  Existing minefields in Sudan (IRIN News) and South Sudan (All Africa) and Somalia (UNMAS, pdf) have killed and injured those who have fled violence and drought and when the rains and peace return, the mines will remain, waiting to kill and injure refugees when they try to come home.

UNMAS has issued an appeal for mine action support for 2012 as part of the consolidated UN appeal (CBS News).  In recognition of the increased risk from new mines and IEDs, UNMAS is seeking $7.4 million for 2012 (Mine Action, pdf) compared to the $4.6 million requested in 2011 (UNMAS).  A similar increase is probably needed to support mine action in Sudan, but in both countries, access is limited.  The kidnapping of Danish Demining Group staff in Somalia earlier this year (BBC News) demonstrates the ability of rebels and others to enforce bans on humanitarian agencies. 

As 2011 closes, the brief notes of hope that existed as South Sudan declared its independence and Al Shabab withdrew from Mogadishu have been eclipsed by renewed violence and continuing hunger.  The famine in Somalia in 2011 was the worst in 20 years; it has not ended and now a new crisis emerges in eastern Sudan.  Violence and landmines combine with drought to breed famine.  The 2012 starving season will be upon us very soon; let’s hope the international community responds quicker next year than they did this year.

 Michael P. Moore, December 16, 2011

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Demining Extensions Granted to Eritrea and the Republic of Congo

On December 2, the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty approved Article 5 extension requests to Eritrea and the Republic of Congo, giving both countries additional time to complete their Treaty-mandated demining obligations.  Eritrea’s request was an interim one, seeking additional time (until February 1, 2015) to fully assess the extent of anti-personnel landmine contamination in the country and develop a comprehensive plan to eliminate that contamination through demining.  The Republic of Congo’s request was for two years and would cover demining of suspected areas; however, Congo’s original Article 5 deadline was November 1, 2011 and the extension was not approved until December 2.  Therefore Congo was in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty for the entire month of November 2011, the first violation of the Treaty’s Article 5 obligations by any state.

 

Eritrea

I discussed Eritrea’s extension request in an earlier post (Landmines in Africa), but it’s worth describing in full again.  Eritrea’s anti-personnel landmine contamination was first documented in a 2002-2004 Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) conducted by UNDP with the support of the Survey Action Center.  More than 900 suspected hazardous areas were identified by the LIS, areas which need to be re-surveyed by technical and non-technical means to confirm the presence or absence of anti-personnel mines.  Eritrea’s extension request assumed that a great many of the suspected hazardous areas identified by the LIS are in fact contaminated by other explosive remnants of war (not anti-personnel mines) or not contaminated at all.  The extension request therefore sought the time needed to obtain a precise picture of the anti-personnel landmine contamination, and then before the end of the extension period, Eritrea would submit a comprehensive plan for demining all mined areas.  Thus, the approved extension request represents an interim request.

During the initial extension period, Eritrea will engage in manual demining activities of already identified minefields and some of the minefields that are confirmed during the survey process.  The cost of survey and demining in the extension period is $8.5 million for all activities throughout the period, of which Eritrea will provide $4.8 million and the international community has been asked to provide the balance.  This leads to the main concern about Eritrea’s extension request: the fact that international operators have been absent from Eritrea since 2005 (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).  

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in their commentary on the extension request refers to the expulsion of mine action operators from Eritrea after 2005 (the AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit [ISU] was more politic and merely referred to the “absence” of international mine action operators). ICBL considers the expulsion of international mine action operators – granted, many of whom are members of the ICBL – as an area of concern for Eritrea in its ability to obtain the needed funds from the international community to complete the interim extension period, as well as the fact that mine action standards and best practices have changed since 2005 when Eritrea last had the opportunity to learn from external actors.  Specifically, ICBL questions Eritrea’s land release methodology since land release is a relatively new technique, not one that Eritrea has ever demonstrated facility with (ICBL).

In approving the extension request, the Meeting of States Parties encouraged Eritrea to seek out the assistance of international mine action operators to build the technical capacity of the Eritrean Demining Authority.  The States Parties also encourage Eritrea to develop its fundraising plan as soon as possible to secure the needed funds from the international community to cover the extension period and to set up the funding for the next extension period (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).

 

Republic of Congo

I had also discussed Republic of Congo’s extension request in a previous post (Landmines in Africa), and won’t go into the details of the request here, if only because Republic of Congo (Congo) didn’t bother to go into much detail themselves.  The 11MSP approved a 14 month extension, until January 1, 2013, but that just papers over the following facts:

  1. Congo’s request failed to adhere to the standards or format for Article 5 extension requests as established at the Seventh Meeting of States Parties.
  2. Congo is the first state to violate the Article 5 demining obligations mandated by the Mine Ban Treaty. 
  3. The previous fact is worth re-iterating: Congo is the first state to violate the Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty.

By approving the extension request, the States Parties have created a dangerous precedent and recognized it.  In their approval the States Parties declared, “In the context of the seriousness regarding non-compliance by the Republic of Congo with respect to its obligations…, the States Parties agreed to work collectively in a spirit of cooperation to correct this situation and prevent it from occurring again” (emphasis added) (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).   

The ICBL noted the violation, calling it “deeply regrettable” noting that Congo “failed to confirm the nature and extent of antipersonnel mine contamination let along to start clearance” (ICBL). However, unlike the response to the Treaty violations of Belarus, Greece, Turkey and the Ukraine when those states failed to destroy their stockpiles of mines as mandated by Article 4 (ICBL 2009; ICBL 2010; IRIN News; The Monitor), the response to Congo’s violation was muted.  My question to the States Parties is this: why not let Congo be in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty?  Why not hold Congo up as an example to other states as Belarus, Greece, Turkey and Ukraine were?  In the most recent Landmine Monitor report, the continued noncompliance of these states was repeated and highlighted (The Monitor, pdf); then, Turkey’s announcement at the 11MSP that it had completed its stockpile destruction and was now in compliance with the Treaty was “welcomed” (ICBL).

It seems to me that Turkey positively responded to the criticism it faced from being in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and sought to avoid further stigma by destroying its stockpiles.  Why not do the same with Congo?  Reject the half-hearted attempt at an extension request and declare Congo in violation of the Mine Treaty.  The States Parties could then offer the financial and technical assistance Congo needed to get back in compliance with the Treaty, rather than approving a flawed extension request, opening the door for more such violations and requests.

In general, I am opposed to any extension of the demining deadline.  The ten year limit was agreed upon as being long enough to address the most contaminated states (e.g., Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia), while also short enough to force countries to act in an expeditious manner.  As ICBL has noted, “only those States Parties facing exceptional circumstances should be seeking an extension” (ICBL), but most of the extension requests I have seen have been requested because the requesting states have delayed the start of survey and demining activities (this is the case for Algeria, Eritrea and the Republic of Congo).  Except when ongoing security concerns prevent demining (as has been the case in the eastern districts of the Democratic Republic of Congo or throughout Afghanistan), any delays in demining will lead to preventable, foreseeable and unconscionable injuries and deaths.  All landmine casualties that occur after the expiration of the initial ten-year mine clearance period are avoidable tragedies.  Granted, a state like Angola has such a degree of anti-personnel mine contamination that the process of demining could take longer than ten years (hence the extension process), but the act of marking and defining the contaminated areas should be possible in much less than ten years, preventing any new casualties after the deadline.  I would have let the Republic of Congo languish in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and use them as an example to others: do not delay or every new casualty will be on your hands and conscience.

Michael P. Moore, December 8, 2011


Demining Deadlines Extended for Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo

On December 2, the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (11MSP) approved the Article 5 extension requests submitted by Algeria, Chile, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea.  Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty is the article that mandates all states parties to clear all mined areas within the states’ areas of control within 10 years of the treaty entering into force.  In 2006, the Seventh Meeting of States Parties created a process for state parties to request additional time to complete demining activities, an option sought by 23 states to date (17 states have completed their demining obligations without needing extensions, ahem).  Here I would like to review the requests and approvals for the extension requests of Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); I’ll review the requests of Eritrea and the Republic of Congo is later posts.

Algeria

Algeria’s anti-personnel mine contamination stems mostly from the war of independence from France (1956-1962) and the recent civil war (1994-1995).  The landmines from the war of independence were laid by French forces in mine-belts totaling 2,500 kilometers in length. Demining in Algeria has taken place in two phases, the first from 1963 to 1988 which resulted in the clearance of nearly 8 million (!) landmines from a 500 square-kilometer belt; the second phase began in November 2004 and is on-going, clearing an estimated 7,150 mines per month (i.e., 600,000 mines in total).  The mines laid by the Algerian army in 1994 and 1995 have all been cleared and what remains to be cleared are two mine-belts – one in the east of 887 kilometers covering 31 municipalities across four provinces and the other in the west of 192 kilometers covering 12 municipalities in two provinces.

Algeria requested an extension of five years, until April 1, 2017, to complete the remaining demining tasks it had identified.  The extension request demonstrated Algeria’s confidence that the extent of landmine contamination was known and manageable; Algeria simply recognized that it had started the demining process too late to be able to complete the task in the original ten-year period.  Demining in Algeria is entirely conducted by the Algerian corps of Combat Engineers and is complete funded by the state; no external assistance or support was needed or sought.  Algerian engineers had determined that manual demining was most appropriate for the terrain and for reliability.  Since the start of the second phase of demining, landmine accidents have grown infrequent, from 126 casualties in 2005 to just one in 2010.  Algerian engineers have calculated that they will be able to clear 4.9 linear kilometers per team month and by deploying three teams in the east and two in the west, all of the extant minefields shall be cleared with two notable exceptions.

Two “historical sites” consisting of short segments of the Challe et Morice mine belt are to be preserved as open-air museums to commemorate landmine victims and martyrs from the war of independence (the Challe et Morice belt is the border established by the French to prevent Algerian independence fighters from receiving assistance from allies in Tunisia; my guess is the preserved section is to demonstrate the lengths the French government was willing to go to in order to preserve its dominion over Algeria) (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).

The request from Algeria was considered to be “workable, comprehensive and complete… demonstrating a high level of ownership over the challenge” and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) called the request “well-reasoned” but asked for some additional clarity about exactly which areas still required demining.  The fact that Algeria was fully covering the cost of compliance for demining was applauded by ICBL and by the 11MSP reviewers.  ICBL did note that the preservation of mined areas, the Challe et Morice museum, was not allowed under the Mine Ban Treaty and that these areas would need to be cleared in order for Algeria to fully meet its Article 5 obligations (ICBL).

The 11MSP granted Algeria’s request without hesitation and made only one qualifying remark, that Algeria should provide annual updates on the progress to date during the extension period to the Standing Committees on demining, future Meetings of the States Parties and the Third Review Conference (likely to be held in 2014) (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).   

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo requested a 26 month extension to complete its demining obligations, giving a revised deadline on January 1, 2015.  At the time DRC ratified the Mine Ban Treaty in 2002, the government believed that there were 182 suspected hazardous areas that would need to be surveyed and possibly cleared.  Since then, an additional 722 suspected mined areas have been identified, bringing the total number of sites to be surveyed to over 900 covering more than 800 square kilometers.  The majority of these suspected areas have been re-classified as part of a “database cleanup” as “battle areas” and are contaminated by other explosive remnants of war, not anti-personnel landmines.  The actual number of suspected or confirmed sites with anti-personnel landmine contamination is 82 (12 confirmed, 70 suspected).

The request from DRC is actually two-fold: the additional 26 months are needed to complete ongoing assessments, the General Mine Action Assessment (GMAA) and the General Mine Action Survey (GMAS), to determine the “new baseline of contamination.”  National standards for clearance with quality controls and accreditation processes for mine action operators have been developed and are in the process of formal adoption and these new standards will inform the development of the baseline.  Once the baseline is established, a second extension request will be submitted to provide the necessary details on how the Article 5 obligations shall be fully met.  At this time DRC is unable to provide a comprehensive plan for meeting its Article 5 obligations because the GMAA and GMAS have yet to survey the 70 suspected areas, surveys which will be performed between January 2013 and November 2014.

A key issue mentioned in the extension request is cost.  Unlike Algeria, DRC is highly dependent upon outside assistance to complete its demining activities.  Two international operators, Mines Advisory Group and Handicap International, will be relied upon to provide the technical training and capacity to the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) to conduct survey and demining.  In addition, whilst DRC will contribute some $1.5 million annually to all aspects of mine action, the actual budget is more than $30 million per year, meaning that DRC will almost $90 million in external assistance to fund its mine action programs (and, I suppose it goes without saying, that only $600,000 per year will be spent on victim assistance compared to $5 million for “coordination”) through the end of the initial extension period (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).

In its commentary on DRC’s extension request, ICBL expressed a lot of concern about DRC’s ability to pay for the proposed mine action program. At the moment, DRC receives about $15 million annually in international contributions for mine action, half of what is needed according to the extension request, but there was no plan for how DRC would make up that shortfall, or what the consequences would be if it could not.  The ICBL also noted the slow pace of landmine clearance in DRC, only 1.28 square kilometers since 2001 (remember that one Algerian team of combat engineers goes through three times that in a month), and seemed to express reservations about the ability of DRC to ramp up its demining to meet the expected demand.  However, the ICBL did appreciate that DRC wanted to get a complete picture of its contamination and prepare a comprehensive solution that continues to build national ownership of the landmine problem as United Nations peacekeeping and mine action teams wind down (ICBL).

In its approval of DRC’s extension request, the 11MSP applauded DRC’s efforts to “garner an understanding of the true remaining extent of the challenge and develop plans accordingly.”  The 11MSP then recognized the fact that DRC would “produce a detailed plan and submit a second extension request” (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).

My thoughts:

The Algerian request and entire demining infrastructure should be held up as examples to other states parties.  Okay, Algeria started late, but once it started demining, it provided the technical, financial and human resources to the task needed and when Algeria realized that it would need additional time, a thoughtful and complete request was submitted for comments and review.   

My concern about approving an interim extension request, such as DRC’s, is the fact that such an approval could be construed as tacit approval for the final extension request, whenever that is submitted.  And in the case of a request like DRC’s that is completely dependent upon external assistance to even get to the point of submitting a final request, can the Meeting in good faith approve the request without the necessary funding being secured.  Approving Algeria’s request for an extension was easy: Algeria has everything it needs to meet its Article 5 obligations except time, thus the extension request and ready approval.  DRC needs more than just time and so the standard for approving the extension must be much higher, or the commitment from the Meeting that much greater.  Neither was in evidence in the terse decision to approve DRC’s request.  Should DRC fail to complete the survey work and fully determine the extent of the landmine contamination by the time the next extension request is due, what recourse will the Meeting of States Parties have?  No sanction mechanism is available under the Mine Ban Treaty so what other option exists?  Shame is a powerful weapon and certainly states would seem to want to avoid being called out for failure to meet their Treaty obligations, but it’s not enough.  Will a future Meeting of States Parties have to commit to fund whatever portion of DRC’s mine action plan that remains unfunded?  ICBL and the 11MSP allude to these issues, but do not grapple them head on.  More on this when I discuss Eritrea’s and the Republic of Congo’s extension requests.

Michael P. Moore, December 6, 2011

December 7, 2011: This post has been edited to correctly attribute the AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit (ISU) as the source of documents related to extension requests and decisions.


The Month in Mines: Landmines in Africa in November 2011

November saw the publication of the 2011 edition of The Landmine Monitor and the opening of the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (11MSP) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  These two events help to remind the global community of the continuing threat that landmines pose and the reports of new usage of mines in Libya (and elsewhere) was a major theme to coverage of these events (BBC News).  With news stories also covering landmine-related incidents and events in Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and Somalia, let’s start this month’s wrap-up on the positive side of the ledger.

 

The Good News:

South Sudan became the 158th state to ratify or accede to the Mine Ban Treaty in mid-November (All Africa).  Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the civil war in Sudan and established the process for South Sudan to emerge as an independent state in July of this year, demining, risk education and victim assistance activities have been conducted in South Sudan, all 10 of whose states are considered mine-affected.  Acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty was South Sudan’s first international treaty action as an independent state.

On the first day of the 11MSP, Burundi declared itself to be free of anti-personnel landmines.  Remarkable for a country that faces significant economic and political challenges, Burundi has been able to achieve this milestone a full three years prior to the Treaty-mandated deadline for mine clearance (Monsters and Critics).

Rwanda conducted a stockpile destruction exercise in conjunction with the Regional Centre on Small Arms, destroying over 40 tonnes of ammunition that had been recovered from rebel groups and from old stockpiles held by the Rwanda Defense Forces.  The exact composition of the stockpile to be destroyed was not clear, but the act represented a continued effort by the Rwandan government and military to eliminate unexploded ordnance and explosive remnants of war.  In past exercises, Rwanda had destroyed over 1,000 landmines (All Africa).

In Angola, demining activities continue apace and Mines Advisory Group (MAG) reported on an effort to re-open schools in Moxico province, schools that had been closed due to the presence of landmines on school grounds. By clearing 248,000 square meters of land and working with donors, MAG reports that construction of a new school will be completed before the end of the year and the teachers will receive special training in mine risk education to help ensure the safety of their pupils (Alert Net).

The Landmine Monitor reported 615 landmine casualties in Africa in 2010, a slight drop from 2009’s estimate of 629 casualties, although globally the casualty figures were up 5% in 2010 from 2009 (The Monitor). This continued the general trend of the last decade with landmine casualties decreasing nearly every year.  Also in 2010, international funding for mine action was its highest ever and greatest amount of land was cleared ever (Voice of America).  Unfortunately, the good news ends there…

 

The Bad News:

For the first time since 2004, the number of countries using landmines increased, including Gaddhafi’s regime in Libya (The Monitor).  New usage of mines is also suspected in South Sudan and Somalia, but has not been confirmed officially by The Monitor. 

In South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity state, a war is brewing.  Rebel groups in the areas appear to be using landmines, especially anti-vehicle mines, to disrupt traffic and oil extraction activities.  New mines have also been placed around the disputed territory of Abyei.  Unfortunately the presence of these new mines has only been revealed by catastrophic accidents such as the October 9th incident when 20 people aboard a bus in Unity were killed by an anti-tank mine and the August 4th incident when 4 peacekeepers were also killed by an anti-tank mine (All Africa). 

As mines continue to be laid, two of the most vulnerable populations are refugees moving through the newly mine-affected area and refugees returning to their home areas.  Newly mined areas won’t be marked and refugees lack the recent knowledge to know where potential minefields might lie.  A second nascent conflict is emerging in Sudan’s South Kordofan state, just north of Unity state.  The Sudanese army has shelled villages in South Kordofan driving refugees across the border into Unity state where the new minefields threaten refugees.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is trying to relocate a refugee camp in Yida in Unity state where hundreds of South Kordofan refugees have sought security (All Africa).  The rebel group in Unity state, South Sudan Liberating Army, has announce a planned offensive for December, allowing enough time for the refugees in Yida to be moved (All Africa).

Prior to July, South Sudan was on target to complete demining of its territory by 2014. However, the new use of landmines means that at least six more years (until 2017) will be needed to complete the demining, a deadline that could get pushed further back as rebels continue to mine roads, sometimes within hours of their clearance by international and domestic operators.  The hospitals in South Sudan, despite the nascent state having a comprehensive victim assistance policy, are not up to the task of comprehensive rehabilitation of landmine survivors (Voice of America).

In Somalia, the impact of Kenya’s invasion and Ethiopia’s encroachment has been to cause the Al Shabab rebels to switch their tactics.  Whereas before Al Shabab would operate in the open (having no real resistance in the country before Kenya’s incursion), now Al Shabab is pursuing a dedicated insurgency campaign that relies on improvised explosive devices and landmines.  Two towns near the Kenya-Somalia border, Garissa and Mandera, have been the sight of several grenade and landmine attacks that have been attributed to Al Shabab (All Africa) (All Africa) (All Africa) (All Africa) (All Africa).  Garissa and Mandera are the nearest towns to Dabaab refugee camp where thousands of Somalis sought refuge after the summer’s famine. 

In addition to the attacks on Kenyan soil, Al Shabab continues to operate in Mogadishu with October and November seeing the greatest number of casualties from landmines and IEDs.  Ten people were killed by landmines in the last four days of November alone in at least three different incidents (Press TV) (All Africa). Another incident occurred at a main crossroad in the Bakara market (Americans will remember Bakara market as the site of the Black Hawk Down events), when a buried landmine killed at least four people (Mareeg). 

These new use of mines in South Sudan and Somalia almost certainly mean that landmine casualties in these two countries will be higher in 2011 than in 2010, and they were already the African countries with the most casualties – 82 in South Sudan, 159 in Somalia – in 2010. 

In Libya, the long process of demining is just beginning.  The international community continues to be focused on shoulder-fired rockets (known as MANPADS) and the threat to airline travel posed by such rockets (All Africa), but the real focus should be on the ground, not in the skies.  Dozens of Libyans have been killed or injured handling unexploded ordnance (UXO) and Libyan Red Crescent volunteers have been trained in mine risk education techniques to spread the word about the dangers of landmines, grenades, mortar shells and cluster munitions (Geneva Lunch).  The Joint Mine Action Coordination Team (JMACT) in Libya hosted Georg Charpentier, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, on a tour of mine and UXO-affected areas in Misrata (JMACT), and Mr. Charpentier responded by calling for more support for mine clearance activities (United Nations).  Here’s hoping Mr. Charpentier’s words are heeded.

Michael P. Moore, December 1, 2011.