December 2011 – The Month in Mines by Landmines in Africa

As in each month, there is bad news and good news coming out of Africa related to landmines.  Conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia continue to generate new landmine casualties while a renewal of conflict in Senegal over the separatist Casamance region also led to new incidents.  In Zimbabwe, Uganda and Libya, remnants of long past and recent wars continue to plague residents.  On the positive side, Angola continues to make slow, but determined, progress towards becoming a mine-free state, a status that Burundi was able to confirm.  And in the United States, the 10th edition of the publication, To Walk the Earth in Safety, was released to much fanfare.

 

South Sudan

The States of South Sudan, from WikiMedia.org

Unity and Jonglei states and the disputed Abyei province appear to flash points for conflict in South Sudan.  Oil-rich Unity state has been the site of the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) rebellion and rebels have used Chinese-made anti-tank mines to thwart traffic along the roads around the capitol, Bentiu (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa).  These mines represent a new threat where there had not been one in the past according to the UN Mine Action and Coordination Centre in South Sudan (All Africa). In addition, refugees fleeing fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Southern Khordofan state have sought refuge in camps near Yida in the northern part of Unity state, but these camps are threatened by a possible spread of conflict from Sudan.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees wants to move the camps south, further into Unity state, but has not been able to declare where the camps would be due to fears that rebels will place landmines in those areas and because the roads southward have already been mined (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa). 

In Jonglei state, a local rebel leader, George Athor, was killed by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the army of South Sudan.  In possible retaliation for Athor’s death, an SPLA soldier was injured by a landmine during Athor’s burial.  The landmine incident, shortly followed by the killing of another SPLA soldier, led to a Christmas Eve massacre by members of an SPLA unit who fired indiscriminately on a church in the town of Khorfulus (All Africa).  Athor’s death followed an outbreak of ethnic violence between the Luo Nuer and Murle communities which left 40 dead (All Africa).

Abyei province is a region on the Sudan – South Sudan border whose status and sovereignty were to be determined by a referendum that has never been held.  Sudanese armed forces have occupied Abyei since May 2011 and claimed sovereignty over Abyei in violation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  Situated on top of large oil fields, Abyei’s financial value to either country makes it worth fighting over; a fight Sudan appears willing to make and South Sudan does not.  Because of the occupation by Sudan, the landmines that litter Abyei have not been cleared (All Africa) and those landmines are preventing refugees who fled Abyei during May’s fighting from returning to their homes (All Africa). 

 

Sudan

States of Sudan, from WikiMedia.org

In addition to the conflicts in the Blue Nile and South Khordofan states mentioned above, Sudan is facing an emerging conflict in Kassala state.  In Blue Nile and South Khordofan, the conflict is between the Sudan government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army / Movement – North (SPLA/M-N), an offshoot of the SPLA that has since become the army of South Sudan.  During the Sudanese civil war, the members of SPLA/M-N were allied with the SPLA and since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the SPLA/M-N members have felt isolated and alone, left in Sudan when they may have wanted to be part of South Sudan.  In the last few months, the Sudanese army has bombed villages and areas where the SPLA/M-N sought refuge in South Sudan’s Unity state.  Sudan has barred access to Blue Nile and South Khordofan creating a “major deterioration in the condition of people there, including rising malnutrition, food insecurity and the dangers of unexploded ordnance and landmines” according to the United Nations (All Africa).

Kassala state in eastern Sudan is the most-landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) affected state in Sudan according to Mines Advisory Group with 2 million square kilometers of land to be surveyed and demined.  Kassala is also suffering from drought and despite being home to a major oil pipeline to the Red Sea, the state is poor and a burgeoning humanitarian disaster.  Rebels from the Beja peoples have been training and arming themselves in the mountains along the Eritrean and Ethiopian borders and have recently joined forces with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Army, rebel groups active in Darfur in western Sudan.  Observers expect the situation to deteriorate, especially if drought conditions continue, sliding into famine (All Africa).

 

Somalia

Somalia, from WikiMedia.org

As Kenya’s intervention in southern Somalia enters its third month, landmine and grenade attacks – typically attributed to Al Shabaab – in Mogadishu and the Somali refugee camps in Kenya continue.  In Mogadishu, the Transitional Federal Government started the month by denouncing a landmine attack that killed five women (All Africa), but the security situation has improved in some ways.  Somali soldiers foiled landmine attacks (All Africa) and uncovered fifteen landmines that had been buried in the city (The Monitor).  The ability of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to provide security in Mogadishu allowed United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to visit the city in the highest-level visit to the country in years (BBC News). Despite these gains, landmines claimed four lives and injured many others in two separate attacks in Mogadishu (All Africa; Mareeg). 

In Somalia, despite the presence of Al Shabaab factions in Mogadishu, most of the landmine incidents occur in and around the border region with Kenya, apparently as retaliation for Kenya’s invasion of Somalia.  Landmine or grenade attacks took place in the Dabaab refugee camp just inside Kenya’s border (All Africa; All Africa) while other attacks occurred along the road between Mandera and Wajir in Kenya’s Northeastern Province (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa).  These attacks have occurred as Kenya’s army drives further into Somalia and intensifies its fight against Al Shabaab.  The advance has led to further landmine incidents as Kenyan forces enter the mine-affected regions of Somalia and as Somali soldiers support Kenya’s forces (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa). 

Also in Somalia, demining activities continue in the northern areas that constitute the semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland.  In Puntland’s “capitol” of Bosaso, a deminer was killed in a landmine removal accident (All Africa).

 

Libya, Senegal, Uganda and Zimbabwe

While the Sudans and Somalia generated the most news stories involving landmines in December, Libya, Senegal, Uganda and Zimbabwe also experienced landmine incidents.

In Libya Georg Charpentier, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, issued a call for additional funding for demining and mine risk education.  He said that demining teams were under immense pressure to scale up their activities due to the widespread contamination of landmines from the year’s civil war, but those same operators were facing funding shortfalls (All Africa).  In a related story, a landmine clearance company hired by the National Transitional Council of Libya has had to suspend work because the NTC lacks funds to pay the company and Western banks have refused to send monies to Libya due to past sanctions and concerns about the weak and unregulated financial sector (Reuters).  Thus, while there is a need for additional funds to pay for demining and mine action, the government of Libya is not in a position to support those activities.

As part of an apparent return to violence over the separatist Casamance region, a Senegalese soldier was killed by a landmine in the region following a military operation against the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC) that resulted in the loss of several Senegalese soldiers (All Africa).

In northern Uganda, thousands of persons displaced by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Lamwo district are still living in camps as Uganda’s demining teams remove landmines that had been placed in and around the homes of the displaced. In addition Uganda’s Mine Action Programme Coordinator said the Ugandan demining program lacks adequate funding and Uganda is in jeopardy of missing it August 1, 2012 deadline to complete demining – a deadline that has already been extended once (All Africa).

Zimbabwe faces extensive landmine contamination from its civil war in the 1970s and in the town of Beitbridge, along the border with South Africa, a man suffered injuries sufficient to require amputation of both legs when he set off a landmine whilst preparing timber for house construction. The incident highlights the need for both demining and mine risk education in the country (All Africa).

 

Burundi

At the Twelfth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Burundi formally declared that all demining activities in the country had been completed and Burundi is now free of all anti-personnel landmines.  Burundi had had a deadline of 2014 to complete the demining, but with the support of Mines Advisory Group, DanChurchAid and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, Burundi completed the demining three years ahead of schedule.  Whilst the country still faces contamination from unexploded ordnance and other explosive remnants of war, the clearance of the last anti-personnel mine is great news and an example to other countries in Africa, many of which have (or will) require extensions to their demining deadlines (AlertNet).

 

Angola

Angola is one of the most mine-affected states in the world, but each and every month the country and its demining authority, the Angolan National De-mining Institute (INAD), makes slow but steady progress towards the clearing all landmines from the country.  Over one thousand anti-personnel landmines and one anti-tank landmine were cleared from Quipungo district (All Africa); 44 personnel mines and six anti-tank landmines were cleared and destroyed from northern Bengo Province (All Africa); and 4 million square meters of land and 96 kilometers of road were cleared of 174 anti-personnel landmines, 3,217 Uxos and seven anti-tank mines  in Kwanza Sul province (All Africa). 

 

United States

December marked the release of the 10th annual edition of the State Department publication, To Walk the Earth in Safety, which details the US government’s humanitarian demining and mine action programs.  US Secretary of State spoke at the release of the report which details the $201 million provided to 49 countries to “clear explosive remnants of war and destroy excess stockpiles of weapons and munitions” (Voice of America).  Clinton and the US recognize the threats posed by landmines, saying, “Landmines render thousands of acres of land unusable and literally tear away the fabric of communities unable to farm land, to walk safely from village to village” and Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro referred to the Obama Administration’s review of the US government’s landmine policy, saying, “Thus far our review is taking into account what impact it would have on our ability to conduct military operations… After that review is done we will come to a decision about the best way ahead, but that should not in any way detract from the significant efforts the United States has made” (Bloomberg News).

Specific to Africa, To Walk the Earth in Safety documents the $26 million the US provided for mine action in 2010 to Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia and Sudan.  The US has also provided assistance for conventional weapons destruction in Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone (State Department).  The report was released on Monday, December 19th.  On Thursday, December 22nd, the US Department of Defense issued a $1.4 million award to Spectra Technologies, LLC of Camden, Arkansas for landmines, probably M18A1 Claymore mines (FedBizOpps Award # W52P1J11D00770002).  The ink on a report about how the US works tirelessly to rid the world of the threat of mines had barely dried before the US was ordering new mines. Sometimes the brazenness of the hypocrisy stuns me.

 

Michael P. Moore, January 8, 2012



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