The Month in Mines: May 2012, by Landmines in AfricaPosted: June 6, 2012
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.
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 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).
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).
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).
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).
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