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.

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