January 2012, The Month in Mines by Landmines in Africa

The start of a new year sometimes brings good news, and there was some good news coming out of Africa related to landmines.  Angola continues its relentless push towards being mine-free; schools re-opened in Libya after their grounds were demined; and European policy makers faced the continuing tragedy of landmines.  This good news was balanced out by new landmine incidents in Somalia and Senegal and continued human rights violations in Sudan and Western Sahara, enforced through the deliberate use of landmines. 

 

Angola:

The National Demining Institute (INAD), after a successful year in 2011, laid out its plans for mine action in 2012.  Focusing on road clearance and demining in areas with the greatest potential for socio-economic development, INAD will be using animals for the first time, specifically dogs from the Marshall Legacy Institute (All Africa) and rats from APOPO (All Africa).  One of INAD’s priority areas will be the new, cross-border park, the Okavango-Zambeze project with Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In 2011, INAD and other mine action operators cleared 32 million square meters of land, destroying more than 3,000 landmines in the process and clearing 337 kilometers of roadway (All Africa).  Of these totals, demining in the Kwanza Norte province make up 1.6 million square meters and 200 landmines (All Africa).

Of some concern should be the fact that while demining and mine risk education were listed as priorities for Angola and INAD in 2012, victim assistance was not mention (All Africa).  With an estimated 23,000 to 80,000 landmine casualties, Angola is not only one of the most mine-affected countries, it has one of the highest victim populations and so every year, victim assistance needs to be a priority for the country (The Monitor).

Libya:

Mere months after vicious fighting (which continues at a more limited level to this day), 1.2 million Libyan children were able to return to school this month.  With support from UNICEF and other actors, the new Libyan government cleared school-grounds of landmines to make them safe for classes.  Future plans include making schools more accessible for students with disabilities, including those injured by landmines during the 2011 conflict (All Africa).

On the other side of the ledger however, the new government in Libya is struggling to provide protections of human rights and develop a state under the rule of law.  Human Rights Watch, in a broad and scathing report on human rights abuses by the new Libyan government and its associate militias, also reported on the continued presence of thousands of anti-vehicle and anti-personnel landmines used by forces loyal to Gaddhafi in civilian areas.  These landmines will need to be cleared in order to enable Libyans to travel freely throughout the country and to access their homes (All Africa). Western governments have prioritized securing the large weapons caches from Libya, especially shoulder-fired rockets (frequently called, MANPADS), but there is continuing fear that arms from Libya have spread to other countries and to non-state actors like Boko Haram in Nigeria.  The Russians, long critical of NATO’s intervention in Libya stated that the “consequences of the Libyan crisis… are a serious threat to security and stability in the entire region” and the possibility of landmine proliferation are very much part of that threat (Reuters).

Mozambique:

One of the requirements of states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty is to destroy any newly found stockpiles of landmines.  In Mozambique, police received an anonymous tip of an old cache of landmines and small arms that belonged to the RENAMO rebels from the civil war that ended in 1992.  The police promptly destroyed the items, noting that they showed signs of neglect (All Africa).

Senegal:

The renewed fighting between the Senegalese Army and the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance has exposed Senegalese soldiers to new landmine incidents in the contested Casamance region.  At least one army vehicle struck a landmine, injuring seven soldiers near the Gambian border which was followed by a gun battle suggesting that the landmine was laid as part of an ambush (Afrique Jet).

Somalia (and Kenya and Ethiopia):

I’m combining Kenya’s ad Ethiopia’s landmine news with that of Somalia’s since the three are currently inextricably linked by the armed interventions of Kenya and Ethiopia into Somalia.  Kenyan forces were targeted by a landmine in Madera town in northeastern Kenya, injuring several civilians and leading to indiscriminate arrests of young Somalis living in the area (All Africa; All Africa).  In Dadaab refugee camp, nine landmines and other explosives were seized in police raids (All Africa).

Inside of Somalia, there appear to be four loci of conflict: Beledweyn (in Hiraan province, along the main route from Ethiopia to Mogadishu), Gedo (in southwest of the country, where the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia meet), Jubaland (also in the southwest, along the Indian Ocean and adjacent to the Kenyan border) and Mogadishu (the nominal capitol of the country). 

Map of Somalia, Courtexy of WikiCommons

In Beledweyn, Ethiopian troops and Somali forces under the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) fought with Al-Shabab militants.  The allied forces found several landmines buried in the streets of the town, apparently intended to target Ethiopia’s heavy vehicles as they passed through the town (All Africa).  A couple days after those landmines were discovered, an Ethiopian truck was struck by a remote-detonated landmine in Beledweyn.  The explosion was followed by a fire fight in which Ethiopian soldiers killed two civilians and wounded several others (All Africa). In Gedo, Ethiopian and TFG forces were attacked by militants using landmines.  An Ethipian convoy was targeted in an “enormous” blast causing an unknown number of casualties (All Africa).  In a separate incident, a TFG truck was blown up with at least five people injured, possibly killed (All Africa).  Both attacks were immediately followed by a series of arrests as the Ethiopians and TFG soldiers tried to identify and capture those responsible. Kenyan forces, backing TFG forces, continued to push further into Lower Jubba, towards their goal of the port city of Kismayo.  Al-Shabab forces are using landmines and other asymmetrical tactics to slow that advance with both sides claiming victory (All Africa).

Mogadishu is still the center of the conflict in Somalia as the TFG’s forces tried to instill a long-term sense of security in the city.  A young man and women were arrested at a city checkpoint carrying landmines that were intended for use by Al Shabab (All Africa). Al Shabab has been using landmines and improvised explosive devices in Mogadishu to disrupt the official government.  One such landmine exploded at the former United States embassy whose grounds have become a make-shift refugee camp, killing two and wounding two others (All Africa).  The TFG forces, supported by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers have been able to dislodge Al Shabab from Mogadishu’s suburbs, despite the presence of foreign jihadists within Al Shabab’s ranks (All Africa).

Away from the conflicts between Al Shabab and various government forces, US Special Forces, the same unit that killed Osama Bin Laden in May 2011, rescued two employees of the Danish Demining Group, a Dane (Poul Hagen Thisted) and an American (Jessica Buchanan), who had been kidnapped and ransomed by pirates in Somaliland.  Thisted and Buchanan are only two of many Westerners who have been kidnapped by various forces active in Somalia – Kenya’s entire pretext for invading Somalia is based upon the kidnapping of tourists from northern Kenya – but only Thisted and Buchanan have been lucky enough to merit rescue by the US army.  However, Thisted and Buchanan’s contributions to the community, they were in Somaliland providing mine-risk education to prevent new landmine casualties, were such that when they were kidnapped, Somalis demonstrated for their release.  Hopefully, both the goodwill engendered by mine action operators within their chosen communities and the threat of international retribution will protect mine action operators in the future (The Guardian).

Sudan and South Sudan:

Independence has not brought peace to South Sudan.  Instead, a war appears to be looming between Sudan and South Sudan as rebels in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity State lay landmines and seek to harass oil shipments.  South Sudan’s government in Juba accuses Khartoum of supporting the rebels, providing them with guns and landmines to attack refugees and traffic on the roadways (All Africa).  The Unity state rebels, called the South Sudan Liberation Movement, are using anti-vehicle mines indiscriminately to close roads, such that the mere threat of new mines has completely halted humanitarian traffic in addition to oil traffic. This usage of mines (and their supply by Khartoum) could amount to war crimes if the usage prevents humanitarian access to refugee camps and deliberately targets civilians.  Khartoum’s intention in supporting the SSLM is to destabilize the new government of South Sudan and prevent South Sudan from providing assistance to rebels fighting against Sudan, especially rebels formerly allied to the now-rulers of South Sudan (All Africa).

However, South Sudan is still planning a future and the Minister of Roads and Bridges for South Sudan, Gier Chuang Aluong, laid out his plans for developing South Sudan’s roadways, of which only 100 kilometers are currently paved.  Aluong recognized that landmines, both new ones and ones left over from the 20-plus years of war with Khartoum, represent a major challenge, but by setting out the government’s priorities, perhaps mine action operators can target their support (All Africa).

Western Sahara:

Malainin Kakhal, secretary general of Saharawi Journalist and Writers Union, presented a lecture at the Habitat International Coalition meeting in Cairo discussing the sovereignty of the Western Sahara state, or rather the lack of sovereignty since Western Sahara has been annexed by Morocco.  Since the early 1980s, Morocco has used massive walls, the “Berm,” to maintain its control over Western Sahara, employing more than 5 million landmines in the process.  These landmines have caused many casualties among the pastoral peoples of Western Sahara and driven the Saharawi Gazelle to the brink of extinction (All Africa).

The Rest of the World:

Finland formally became the 159th State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty when it submitted its document of accession to the United Nations.  If Poland accedes to the Treaty as it has pledged to do in 2012, then all of the countries in the European Union will be parties to the Treaty (New Design World). 

In India, concerns are mounting about the training of its deminers, many of whom do not appear to be following the accepted Standard Operating Procedures.  Since October 2002, more than 400 Indian soldiers have been killed in demining accidents another 400 injured, a staggering figure; comparable to landmine casualty figures in Angola and Mozambique (DNA India).

In the United Kingdom, a cross-party group of Members of Parliament has been formed to conduct investigations into landmine “use, the efforts of agencies to clear existing mines, and the ways we can provide them with every support.”  The group, chaired by a member of the Conservative Party, recognized the negative impact landmines have on economic development, in addition to the physical threat.  There has been no response from the US Congress to this initiative (The Guardian).

Lastly, also in the United Kingdom, doctors at the Headley Court military rehabilitation centre (the UK’s version of Walter Reed) are learning from the experiences of soldiers who have suffered traumatic limb loss in Afghanistan and Iraq and trying to apply those lessons to trauma care throughout the country via the National Health Service’s specialist trauma centers.  The quality of military trauma care is obvious: “around 90 per cent of soldiers who have lost one or two limbs in recent years return to duty, though often in a different role. Many of them undertake significant sporting challenges” such as the Iron Man Triathlon.  The goal is to replicate this success for the general population, especially considering the fact that 17,000 amputations were performed in the UK in 2009 – 2010.  Burn care is also improving as a result of the lessons learned in warfare.  The point is this: better victim assistance for landmine survivors leads to better trauma care throughout the medical system (The Daily Mail).

Michael P. Moore, February 2, 2012

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2 Comments on “January 2012, The Month in Mines by Landmines in Africa”

  1. Thank you for your detailed posting. I’ve shared it with the Minds Clearing Landmines Facebook group, which you are welcome to join. (From Laurel Anne Hill, moderator of the mindsclearinglandmines WordPress blog.)


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