Speaking Too Soon: Are Mine-Free Countries Really Mine-Free?

I have spoken out in previous posts against states that have submitted Article 5 Extension requests, seeking additional time to meet the Mine Ban Treaty’s obligation to clear all mined areas within ten years of the Treaty entering into force.  My concern is that many states do not begin the demining process promptly and then use the extension process to ask for forgiveness for the delays.  The good news is that 10 countries in Africa have declared themselves to be mine-free, having cleared all national territory of anti-personnel landmines (International Campaign to Ban Landmines). By starting the demining process promptly after ratifying or acceding to the Treaty, most states should be able to complete the demining process within the ten-year period allowed by the Treaty. However, there is also a risk of proceeding too quickly with the demining process and recent reports test the claims of two of those “mine-free” countries, Burundi and Zambia and a lawsuit against the international demining company, Ronco Consulting, demonstrates the liability issues in declaring areas mine-free prematurely.

I would also like to point out that the Mine Ban Treaty only requires states to clear all anti-personnel landmines, not all unexploded ordnance or anti-vehicle mines.  Therefore, states should be clear when they declare themselves to be mine-free whether or not they include all unexploded ordnance in that declaration or only anti-personnel mines.

 

Early Question Marks

Burundi and Zambia are not the first African countries to have their mine-free claims challenged, only the most recent ones.  In 2008 Djibouti declared itself to be mine-free, but a border conflict with Eritrea in that same year appears to have led to new anti-personnel mine contamination.  In 2009 Djibouti reported to the Second of African Francophone Seminar on Mine and ERW Action that the country “had a residual problem of anti-personnel mines” (The Monitor).

In 2009 Namibia declared itself “in full compliance with Article 5” of the Mine Ban Treaty, repeating an assertion made in 2001 that all demining activities had been completed.  However, in 2009, the government of Namibia sought several hundred thousand dollars worth of funding to clear landmines along the Angolan border.  Australia and Canada have published warnings about the presence of landmines in the Namibian sections of the Okavango transborder park and Namibia reported at least one landmine accident to the Third Continental Conference of African Experts on Landmines in 2009, but did not disclose the location of the incident (The Monitor).

 

New Questions

In 2011, at the meeting of States Parties in Cambodia, Burundi declared itself to be mine-free.  After several years of work by Mines Advisory Group, Burundi completed clearance activities a full three years before its Treaty-mandated deadline of 2014.  Burundi was able to declare itself mine-free despite continued conflict in mine-affected regions that only concluded in 2010 (Reuters).  However, not even six months after the declaration of mine-free status, villagers living in the Rumonge nature reserve reported the presence of anti-personnel mines and a teenager was killed while gathering firewood.  A resident said “These devices [anti-personnel landmine] still exist on this reserve and the population is ready to collaborate with the technical demining team” (Networked Blogs).

At the Mine Ban Treaty’s second review conference in Cartagena, Colombia in 2009, Zambia declared itself to be mine-free (Voice of America).  Earlier this month, Zambia’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Mwenye Musenge, called on the Zambian government to provide more assistance to the Zambia Anti-Personnel Mine Action Centre (ZMAC).  In his call, Musenge pointed to the plight of landmine victims in Zambia while noting the “Western, Eastern and Southern provinces have been cleared of the landmines.”  Musenge said that ZMAC “has done almost 100 percent of its work of removing landmines,” suggesting that some landmines remain in the northern province, along the Angolan border (Daily Mail, emphasis added).

It is possible that the minefields in Zambia and Burundi were not recognized as such at the time the countries announced themselves as mine-free.  If that is the case, then, just as they are required to do if they discover previously unknown stockpiles of landmines, Burundi and Zambia should proceed to clear these landmines as soon as possible.  If the minefields were recognized at the time of the announcement or if the countries had not bothered to consider the possibility that there might be landmines in Rumonge reserve or the Northern province, then the countries were irresponsible in making their announcements.  More care and prudence might have prevented the death of the Burundian teen mentioned above.  In addition, a recent lawsuit may establish liability for those who prematurely declare areas mine-free.

 

Fantham versus Ronco Consulting

In April 2009, United Nations Mine Action Office Quality Assurance Officer Steve Fantham was injured by a landmine during a routine evaluation of a minefield south of Juba in what is now South Sudan.  Fantham’s right leg was amputated below the knee.  Despite his injury, Fantham returned to his quality assurance position less than six months after his accident with a renewed sense of purpose: Fantham now knew firsthand the potential damage that landmines could cause (United Nations Mission in Sudan, pdf).

For Fantham, the injury was unexpected.  As a mine action professional with many years of experience, he was familiar with the risks posed by landmines, but Fantham also knew that the minefield in which he was injured had been declared clear of mines by Ronco Consulting.  The United Nations had contracted with Ronco Consulting demine roadways in South Sudan, including the areas on each side of the roads.  In April 2008, Ronco declared the minefield where Fantham was injured to be clear of mines and after investigation, the United Nations found no evidence that new mines had been laid between Ronco’s clearance activities and Fantham’s injury.  Further, the United Nations team, in its investigation of Fantham’s accident found three other landmines in the area that Ronco had declared to be cleared.  The United Nations investigating team declared that Ronco should have found and cleared the mines.

Based upon the findings of the UN investigating team (which included a representative from Ronco), Fantham sued Ronco in United States court, claiming that Ronco’s negligence had led directly to Fantham’s injury (Fantham v. Ronco Complaint, pdf).  Shortly after filing the claim, Ronco settled the lawsuit with Fantham for an undisclosed sum of money (Fantham had sued for $10 million) without responding to or challenging the claim (Blake Hannafan).

Unfortunately, not every landmine victim who is injured by a landmine in a supposedly cleared minefield will be able to sue those who made the mine-free claim.  Many international demining organizations will be protected from lawsuits through their contracting mechanisms and national demining authorities will be protected by national sovereignty, and many landmine survivors will not have standing in the countries where international operators are registered.  Having said that, hopefully the Ronco case will ensure that deminers use caution when declaring minefields to be clear because of Fantham’s ability to sue and receive a settlement.

But countries also need to be cautious before declaring themselves to be mine-free.  If injuries from anti-personnel landmines occurred in Burundi and Zambia after the mine-free declarations, the other Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty should review the mine-free claims and force a re-assessment of minefields.  States should also be explicit about what the declaration of mine-free status actually means: does it include anti-vehicle mines and unexploded ordnance or only anti-personnel mines?  Will demining continue to clear all explosive remnants of war once the Treaty-mandate for clearing anti-personnel mines is met?  Every day there are new victims of landmines; we need to be sure those victims are not coming from areas that are thought to be mine-free.

 

Michael P. Moore, June 28, 2012

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The Yawning Gulf of Victim Assistance

Victim assistance, the provision of services and supplies to survivors of landmine (and other explosive ordnance, including IEDs) injuries, can vary widely depending upon where the victims live.  American survivors have access to a range and quality of services and products unavailable to the majority of survivors who are from landmine-affected countries; landmine survivors in comic books have access to even better care than Americans.  In recent years, innovations in prosthetic technology have allowed landmine survivors in developed countries to have a greater degree of mobility than ever before.  With that mobility comes an ease of re-integration as survivors are able to engage in simple behaviors like walking and running and more complex behaviors like running for Congress.  That mobility comes with a pretty hefty price tag and the cost of the best prosthetics is prohibitive for most landmine survivors (meaning those not in the United States or other developed countries).  For landmine survivors in less-developed countries, the quality of prosthetics is very poor despite attempts at innovative responses, many of which are framed in the false language of “appropriate technology.”

I’m focusing on prosthetics in particular, but I think the differences in surgical care, physical rehabilitation and economic reintegration are similarly vast.  So while I may appear to conflate victim assistance with prosthetic technology below, I’m only using it as one specific example of the difference.  As a quick example, the doctors who volunteer with the Prosthetic Outreach Foundation of Seattle (and please don’t think I’m picking on POF; I visited their facility in Vietnam and love what they do) to provide orthopedic surgery in developing countries do so for only one or two weeks a year; the rest of the year they are available to help patients in the United States (Prosthetic Outreach Foundation).

 

Victim Assistance in Comics

Marvel Comics characters seem to be distressingly susceptible to landmine injuries.  Fortunately, in the world of comics, the medical treatments available to landmine survivors is far superior to that available in the real world.  For example, Nick Fury, a character in the recent hit movie, “Avengers,” stepped on a landmine in World War II, but he was then given “Infinity Formula” by a French doctor which not only saved Fury’s life, but also greatly slowed his aging.  This slowed aging allows Fury to be played by the actor Samuel L. Jackson who was not even born when World War II ended (Entertainment Weekly).  Another example is the cyborg, Coldblood, who will feature in the upcoming, “Iron Man 3.”  After Eric Savin steps on a landmine, cybernetic surgery is performed on him, saving his life but transforming him into a cyborg villain (Variety). So, for those keeping score at home, in the comic book universe, advanced biochemistry and surgical techniques are used to help landmine survivors recover.  But in developed countries, the reality isn’t too far from the fantasy.

 

Victim Assistance in the United States and other Developed Countries

The highest quality of victim assistance in the United States is that available to soldiers returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have become more powerful in recent months leading to a greater percentage of incidents where the victims have multiple amputations (Stars and Stripes).  American soldiers treated at Walter Reed or the Bethesda Naval Medical Center have access to high technology prostheses including “’a ‘power knee,’ which is the first motor-powered prosthetic; a powered ankle-foot unit with microprocessor technology to detect changes in terrain; a microprocessor knee with artificial intelligence that recognizes and adjusts to changes in speed; and ‘cheetah feet,’ which are prostheses specially designed for sprinting and high-level competition” (US Army).  Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee sprinter uses the “cheetah leg” in competition.

The Cheetah Leg and the Flex-Foot (a high-tech prosthetic for daily usage, Ossur) were both invented by Van Phillips, a American who lost his own leg in a water-skiing accident.  Phillips felt that the quality of prosthetics available when he became an amputee in the 1970s had not progressed beyond the peg leg of pirate history and he was determined to come up with something that allowed amputees to return to active lives and to no longer feel discomfort (Ossur).  His success can be seen by the fact that Pistorius has been banned from Olympic competition because the Cheetah Leg was determined to give him an unfair advantage over non-amputees (New York Times) (if you will permit me a brief rant: if Pistorius has an unfair advantage because he wears prostheses, why don’t other sprinters have their feet amputated and get fitted for Cheetah Legs?).

As Pistorius shows, the Cheetah Leg and other top-of-the-line prostheses are available to more than just US soldiers.  Two million Americans, one in every 450 persons, is an amputee and as the quality of prosthetics improves, many people who have suffered severe injury, e.g., diabetes or car accidents, are opting for amputation over efforts to preserve the damaged limb.  With modern prosthetics, a person can lead a more active life than would be possible with the damaged limb.  Limbs are more lifelike, they can have painted toenails, and many are starting to have bionics. With sensors and computerized joints, an individual wearing a prosthesis can walk with the same gait as someone who has never suffered an injury.  Such technology does not come cheap though; the best equipment costs upwards of $70,000 and most prostheses need to be replaced every few years (New York Times).

The newest prosthetics are bionic, actually wired into the human nervous system.  The technology is still in development, but Todd Kuiken at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago has been able to develop an arm that allows an amputee to feel with his or her prosthesis (BBC News).  Such technology is so cutting edge as to seem like science fiction; the realm of comic book victim assistance doesn’t seem so far anymore.

 

Victim Assistance in the Developing World

So I mentioned that prosthetists in the United States are working on a new leg that would cost $70,000 and “can sense the actions of the wearer and the terrain on which the person is walking and adjust accordingly. Its microprocessors help coordinate reflexlike responses to the user’s motions, and its robotics simulate the action of missing calf muscles and Achilles tendons.”  The article continues by saying that most US insurance companies would not cover the cost of such a prosthetic (New York Times), but then again, many in the developing world don’t even have the opportunity to have a health insurance company deny coverage, so the point is a bit moot for this discussion.  My point is that there are prosthetists working on innovative options for landmine victims in the developing world.  Van Phillips, Ossur’s inventor mentioned above, told me about an initiative he started to develop a $10 below-knee prosthesis.  This prosthesis could be built locally, from locally available materials and be widely available to landmine victims and other amputees in developing countries (personal communication).  Rob Gabourie, a prosthetist working with researchers at Queen’s University and Kingston General Hospital in Canada, developed the Niagara Foot, a cheap, durable prosthetic foot specially designed for landmine victims after calls by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) for innovation in victim assistance.  The Niagara Foot is made from locally available materials and has been built and tested in many locations, including Canada, Germany, El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico.  Landmine victims from Thailand and El Salvador have been given Niagara Feet and the design “won first prize for rehabilitation and assistive-technology products at the Medical Design Excellence Awards” in 2012 (Kingston Whig Standard).  A third innovation is the Low-Cost Prosthetic Knee Joint, or the LC Knee which is an above the knee prosthesis that costs all of $50.  Jan Andrysek of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital designed the LC Knee which won a $100,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada. Andrysek plans to use the grant funds to test the LC Knee in developing countries, including Ethiopia, Colombia and Nicaragua (Toronto Star).

These innovations are very good and should be applauded; they will provide amputees in the developing world with far better quality prosthetics than most have access to now.  These innovative prostheses all fall under the definition of “appropriate technology.” The International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO) define appropriate technology as “a system providing proper fit and alignment based on sound biomechanical principles [that] suit the needs of the individual and can be sustained by the country at the most economical and affordable price” (Journal of Mine Action).  I get this definition and I understand why ISPO advocates for appropriate technology, but at the same time, I think that’s (forgive me) bullshit.

The only appropriate technology is the best technology, period.  It doesn’t matter if the landmine survivor is in Angola, Armenia or America; they should all have access to the best care and services possible.  I recognize that today, this is not possible, but the effort of groups like ISPO and the ICBL should be to elevate the quality of care in developing countries to that of the United States and other countries.  US amputees should not have access to $70,000 prosthetics while Angolans are left hoping to get a $50 one; it’s not just unfair, it’s completely wrong.  Yes, build the $50 prosthetic today, but let’s not be satisfied with that.  Let’s build victim assistance up to the greatest possible level instead of accepting the lowest common denominator.   Race to the top; not settle at the bottom.

Michael P. Moore; June 17, 2012 – Father’s Day, in honor of every other Father’s daughter and son.


Angola’s Article 5 Extension Request

In the negotiations that lead to the Mine Ban Treaty, the 10-year requirement for clearing all mined areas within the a country was agreed upon because the negotiators felt that ten years would be sufficient for most countries to complete demining. The negotiators also realized that some countries would require more time, but if they set the deadline to meet the needs of the most mine-contaminated countries, the negotiators feared that countries would delay the start and completion of demining.  But some mechanism would be needed to allow heavily mine-affected countries to seek additional time to complete their clearance activities and that mechanism is the Article 5 Extension request protocol and format that is currently in place and almost 30 countries have availed themselves of to date.

At least three countries’ extension requests could have been predicted at the time the negotiations took place: Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia.  Angola and Afghanistan were still in the midst of their civil wars during the Mine Ban Treaty negotiations while Cambodia’s mine contamination, and publicity about it, was a huge part of the impetus for the Treaty.  Since the Treaty came into force, Afghanistan has known little peace and Cambodia has experienced a proliferation of mine action operators and activities.  Afghanistan and Angola both ratified the Treaty in 2002 and have 2013 deadlines for mine clearance (January 1, 2013 for Angola, March 1, 2013 for Afghanistan); Cambodia ratified the Treaty in 1999 and has already sought and received a ten-year extension of its Article 5 obligations (ICBL).

 

The Landmine Situation in Angola

Angola’s 40-year conflict came to a conclusion in 2002 with the death of Jonas Savimbi and the transformation of his UNITA into a political party (again).  Angola signed the Mine Ban Treaty as soon as it was open for signature in December 1997 but did not ratify the treaty until July 2002 and the end of hostilities.  In March 2012, the Angolan government submitted its Article 5 Extension request, a request whose submission had been planned and expected by the States Parties who will meet and review the request later this year.  My comments are based upon the translated document available on the AP Mine Ban Convention’s Implementation Support Unit’s website (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).

After the end of its civil wars, 2.4 million Angolans lived in areas affected  by landmines and another 1.5 million Angolans were displaced, many of whom would return to mine-contaminated communities.  Estimates of the number of landmine survivors range from 50,000 to 80,000 with thousands more killed outright; one out of every 2,000 Angolans lives with a landmine injury; one in eight lives in a landmine-affected community.  Currently 793,177,246.68 square meters (or approximately 306 square miles, or equivalent to the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region) of territory are thought to be contaminated with landmines

But Angola has not been idle.  Other countries who have sought Article 5 extensions have done so because they delayed the start of landmine clearance and never devoted the necessary resources to the task.  Since 1996, 4,491,707,182 (approximately 1,750 square miles) of land have been cleared of landmines by dozens of domestic and international demining organizations; almost half that amount cleared by the Angolan government’s Executive Commission for Demining (CED) for economic development activities.  Tens of thousands of mines have been destroyed with the Angolan government being one of largest donors to mine action (the actual amount contributed by Angola is unclear from the extension request being variously reports as $315 million, $24 million and $1 billion).

 

The Extension Request

Angola’s extension request is a two-stage request, much like other recent requests (e.g., Zimbabwe’s pending request).  In the first stage, the Angolan mine action authority will obtain a more accurate picture of the landmine contamination and then use that information to submit a second extension request for the remaining demining work to be done.  Several years ago, Angola was subject to a Landmine Impact Survey (LIS), but the LIS methodology seems to be widely discredited for over-estimating the contamination.  In addition, because upwards of 40 different companies and organizations have been conducting clearance and survey work in Angola, there is no unified information source for where minefields are and where demining has been completed.  Until a single, accurate source of information exists and can be accessed by all mine action operators, progress on demining will be stymied and the potential for gaps or missed minefields exists.

That said, this may also be a problem of Angola’s own making.  There are two separate agencies, CNIDAH (the Inter-Sectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Assistance for Mine Victims) and CED, responsible for coordinating demining tasks.  The exact roles of the two agencies in relation to each other is still being sorted out, but the divide seems to be that CNIDAH manages the activities of international mine clearance organizations while CED manages the Angolan government’s demining activities.  By having two separate oversight agencies with different mandates, the opportunity for confusion is compounded.  One recommendation would be for Angola to consolidate oversight and prioritization of demining under one agency (or even better, have all mine action be coordinated by that one agency).

Another area of concern about the extension request is the complaints in the document about support from international donors.  In terms of need, Angola will require significant funding to cover the costs of demining, but the country has significant oil wealth and that wealth is why mine action donors are shifting their funding away from Angola to other, resource-poor countries.  Angola makes a big deal of the amount that the country has committed to demining, but I think there is ample evidence that Angola can continue to support the demining work without large amounts of international support.  First, Porsche will be opening a showroom in Luanda for its sports cars in the near future (The Guardian); any country that can support a Porsche dealership should be ashamed to ask for development aid.  Second, Angola is the second largest exporter of oil from Africa, trailing only Nigeria, with the capacity to export 2 million barrels per day.  Angola also has significant diamond deposits (UNITA funded its rebellion with diamonds, one of the original sources of “conflict diamonds” along with Sierra Leone) and earns nearly a billion dollars a year in diamond exports (State Department).  These natural resources provide Angola with a significant portion of its government revenue; revenues that are not shared equitably.  Despite a $5,900 per capita GDP, Angola has a very low development rating: on the Human Development Index, Angola is only one place above Burma (Myanmar) and below Pakistan and Bangladesh (UNDP, pdf).  Angola is viewed as a corrupt country, 42 other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are seen as less corrupt than Angola (Transparency International), so if Angola were to clean up its act a little bit and share the national wealth a little more fairly, the need for international support for mine clearance would be alleviated.  Those steps would also make the international donor community more likely to support mine clearance because the donors would have confidence in knowing their money will get to the projects as intended.

However, Angola has made tremendous progress towards becoming mi ne-free.  20,000 Angolans are employed in the mine action sector.  The authors of the Extension request estimate that only 40% of the landmine contamination has been completed.  While I would have preferred to see a complete, single stage, extension request, I think Angola has demonstrated a commitment to landmine clearance that other countries (I’m looking at you, Uganda and Zimbabwe) have not.

 

Michael P. Moore, June 12, 2012


The Month in Mines: May 2012, by Landmines in Africa

This month saw the hosting of the Mine Ban Treaty intersessional meetings – the mid-year meeting of parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in advance of the annual Meeting of States Parties – with many countries giving updates on their progress towards achieving their Treaty obligations.  Also in the headlines was the release of four deminers who had been seized by Sudan and accused of providing military assistance to South Sudan.  There were also reports of landmine accidents and injuries in several countries and landmine clearance continues in Angola, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

News from the Intersessional Meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty

The biggest piece of positive news to come out of the Intersessional Meetings was the announcement of Somalia’s accession to the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).  Somalia had been the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa outside of the Mine Ban Treaty, but now, with Somalia becoming the 160th party to the Treaty, all of Sub-Saharan Africa is under the Treaty regime.  On the continent as a whole, only Egypt, Libya and Morocco have not ratified or acceded to the Treaty.  Somalia now has four years in which it must destroy all stockpiles of anti-personnel mines (should be easy, Somalia is not believed to possess any such stockpiles, but some may be held by non-state actors like Al Shabab) and ten years in which it must clear all anti-personnel mines (a much larger task since the UN-recognized government of Somalia does not control all of the country and the 20-plus years of conflict in the country means that there are very few places uncontaminated by explosive remnants of war of one kind or another; although most are believed to be items other than anti-personnel landmines).  An even greater ask for Somalia will be the provision of adequate victim assistance services to its citizens. With the constant risk of famine, Somalia will focus on providing basic human needs before tackling its health care system; most likely leaving victim assistance to the international community and international NGOs.

In a good news, bad news offering at the meetings, Mauritania announced improved efficiency in its mine clearance and land release programs, while Burundi reported that mined areas still existed in the country despite its earlier claims to being mine-free (US Campaign to Ban Landmines, pdf).  Mauritania had requested and received a five-year extension to its mine clearance deadline and is now dedicating adequate resources and using the latest techniques to be sure it meets that deadline.  Burundi announced completion of demining with three years left until its original ten-year deadline expired and in retrospect, was too hasty in making that declaration.  The ten-year deadline for landmine clearance is not an arbitrary deadline; it was based on the best estimate of the Mine Ban Treaty’s drafters about how long landmine clearance could be expected to take.  Burundi’s desire to beat the deadline, while admirable, makes any future declaration of mine-free status, suspect.

 

The Sudans

Four United Nations deminers who had been arrested by Sudanese armed forces while providing assistance and clearance expertise in South Sudan were released by Sudan.  Thabo Mbeki, former South African President, negotiated the release of the four, a Norwegian, a Briton, a South Sudanese and a South African, three of whom had been working for the South African demining company, Mechem.  The arrests, termed abductions by Mechem, occurred within a period of heightened hostilities, if not outright war, between South Sudan and Sudan over the oil fields that lie along the border between the two countries.  The four men were unharmed, but there has been no word about the impact the abductions will have on future demining operations near the Sudan – South Sudan border (UK Press Association; Agence France Presse; Zoutnet).

One of the largest hindrances to landmine clearance in the Sudans has been the constant presence of Sudanese soldiers in and around the disputed Abyei province.  With the announcement by Khartoum this month that its army will withdraw from Abyei, landmine clearance can proceed and tensions over the status of Abyei can subside (BBC News).

 

Angola

Angola has submitted an extension request for its Article 5 demining requirements, but continues to work on clearing the country.  The Health Ministry will host a “Health Hall” later this year to help landmine victims and other persons with disabilities access rehabilitation and reintegration services (All Africa). In Cunene province, the National Demining Institute (INAD) destroyed anti-tank mines and conducted mine risk awareness (All Africa).  The Social Minister, Joao Baptista Kussuma, travelled to Huambo Province to check on the demining progress there and received a report that 3.7 million square meters of land and 47 kilometers of road were cleared, destroying dozens of mines in the process, with the help of the HALO Trust (All Africa; All Africa). 

 

Democratic Republic of Congo

The US Army, in the form of the 184th Ordnance Battalion from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, travelled to Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo in April to provide in-person training in explosive ordnance disposal techniques.  In a bit of a puff piece from the Army’s blog, the participants were able to provide some context into the challenges of working in DRC, referring to the fact that the training site had no electricity and so the trainers relied on a blackboard to present their information.  The DRC deminers also related their lack of knowledge about types of ordnance, despite living and working in a former battle site (US Army Africa Command).  Kisangani had be the site of a pitched battle between Ugandan and Rwandan forces during the Congolese civil wars of the late 1990s and early 2000s with accusations levelled against the Ugandans of use of anti-personnel mines. 

South of Kisangani, in the Marungu highlands along Lake Tanganyika and the Zambian border, reptile specialists reported the discovery of a previously-unknown-to-science lizard.  Remarkable for surviving in a landmine-contaminated area that had also been the site of fighting in the 1990s and 2000s, the lizard, Cordylus marunguensi , was described in the African Journal of Herpetology.  The discovering scientists did not know if the lizard was endangered, but it’s possible that the presence of landmines and other unexploded ordnance had helped preserve the habitat by preventing encroachment from agriculture and herding (Mongabay).

 

Egypt

A very brief mention (in an Azeribaijani news site) was made of a 22 year-old Egyptian soldier dying in a landmine accident in the Sinai Peninsula.  Millions of mines were laid in Sinai during the 1967 war between Egypt and Israel and these mines will not be cleared until a permanent peace is established in the Middle East (DPA).

 

Namibia

The Namibian Red Cross celebrated its 20th anniversary and took advantage of the festivities to outline the continuing danger posed by landmines to Namibians, especially those living in the Kavango region near the Angolan border.  Bandits operating in the Kavango region during the Angolan civil war used landmines to shield their activities resulting in more than 200 casualties.  The Namibian Red Cross continues to offer mine risk education to avoid additional injuries (All Africa).

 

Mali

The crisis in northern Mali, precipitated by the Toureg rebellion, the presence of Al Qaeda in the African Maghreb, and the coup that toppled the democratically-elected government, has caused mass displacement in the country.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that more than 300,000 Malians, half of whom are children, have fled the violence, violence which has been exacerbated by the impending threat of drought and famine.  Children’s rights are being violated by the armed forces as children are forced into soldiering and girls are abducted.  Landmines injuries and fatalities have also been reported, but with the food and health crisis, care and support are unavailable (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

Twenty-two officers from the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) completed a training of trainers course for deminers facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as part of the capacity building efforts by the ICRC.  The trained officers will be able to work with deminers and ZNA members in the mine-affected regions of the country, mostly along the borders, to train others in demining techniques.  The ICRC official present at the graduation ceremony for the course reiterated the ICRC’s commitment to helping rid Zimbabwe of landmine (All Africa).

 

Somalia (and Kenya)

Somalia was mentioned at the top of this post as the newest country to join the Mine Ban Treaty.  Somalia is also wracked by conflict as the Al Shabab militia uses guerrilla and asymmetric warfare tactics to resist the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces supporting the TFG and the armies of Kenya and Ethiopia which are occupying large sections of the country.  Al Shabab is using mines and improvised explosive devices in Somalia and around the refugee camps set up for Somalis in Kenya. 

In May, several blasts rocked the capitol of Mogadishu, targeting both military and civilians targets, killing and injuring more than 20 people (All Africa; All Africa).  Ethiopian troops were targeted by a landmine in central Beledweyne (All Africa).  Another four persons were killed and seven injured in a landmine blast in Galkyo, part of the autonomous region of Puntland, when security forces tried to defuse the mine which had been placed the night before (Mareeg).  In addition, three Al Shabab members were killed when the mine they were trying to plant blew up in El Bur (All Africa).

In Kenya, a landmine outside of Dadaab refugee camp, near a firewood distribution center run by the German group, GTZ, killed a Kenyan policeman and injured three others who were airlifted for treatment (All Africa).  Another four soldiers were injured by a landmine near Madera town along the Kenya-Somalia border (All Africa).

While terrible, the aftermath of these blasts is very troubling.  Human Rights Watch is monitoring accusations of abuse by Kenyan security forces in Dadaab refugee camp and produced a long report detailed arbitrary detention, torture and other violations of human rights (All Africa). Kenyan soldiers were accused of looting businesses in Dadaab camp and shooting indiscriminately after the explosion there (All Africa).  In Somalia, the body of an Al Shabab member who had been caught and killed carrying a landmine was “put on display” by security forces as a warning to other Al Shabab members (All Africa).  Ethiopian troops shot and killed two civilians after the Beledweyne blast (All Africa).

 

Michael P. Moore, June 6, 2012