Month in Mines, June 2012 by Landmines in Africa

If the sheer volume of stories is any indication, June 2012 was a very quiet month for landmines in Africa.  That’s both good news and bad news; good news in that there were fewer landmine accidents reported, bad news in that less progress towards mine clearance and victims assistance were reported.  The positives from the month include additional support from Japan for mine clearance in Angola and Mozambique, but these are matched with negatives in the form of new injuries in Somalia and Kenya.

 

Angola

The death of a four-year old child and injury of another from a landmine blast serves as a reminder of the danger of these weapons.  The mine was part of a pile of garbage that was set on fire and when the flames reached the mine, it detonated. A demining team was dispatched to the area to determine if additional mines are present (All Africal).

The Japanese government released an additional $1 million to support landmine clearance in Angola by the Angolan National Institute of Demining (INAD) and the Japan Mine Action Service (JMAS).  These funds are part of a fifth phase of cooperation between Japan and Angola and will benefit almost a quarter million people in Bengo Province which surrounds the country’s capitol of Luanda (All Africa).

Later this summer, Angola will host presidential elections and President Eduardo Dos Santos will be seeking to extend his tenure as president to more than 35 years with a victory in the elections.  Yes, 35 years; longer than Robert Mugabe and with Muammar Gaddhafi’s downfall, Dos Santos is the second-longest tenured African leader after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang who took power one month before Dos Santos (Jambo News).  However, support for Dos Santos and his ruling MPLA party is being challenged by demobilized soldiers who fought for the MPLA during the long civil war.  Many of the demobilized soldiers are victims of landmines and are demanding pensions and social security and in June, several hundred demobilized soldiers protested outside the Angolan Ministry of Defence.  After pushing through the anti-riot police, the demobilized soldiers forced the Angolan army’s Chief of Staff to meet with a delegation of protesters and acknowledge their demands.  After the meeting, the soldiers tried to withdraw in an orderly manner when they were attacked and chased by the riot police.  Several demobilized soldiers were injured in the melee (All Africa). 

The protests in Angola bear a remarkable similarity to similar protests in Uganda under the Walk to Work campaign.  In Angola, the protests are preceding the elections (the Walk to Work campaign was led by the defeated challenger to President Yoweri Museveni) and may serve as a harbinger for the type and methods of protests should the upcoming elections not be seen as free and fair (which they won’t be).  Maybe an African Spring is coming.

 

The Gambia

Four Gambians were killed and many others injured when the tractor they were riding on struck an anti-vehicle mine along the Senegal – Gambian border.  The tractor was returning to Gambia with a load of timber that had been purchased from Casamance rebels operating in Senegal.  According to the report, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh owned the tractor and was planning to mill the timber in a factory he owns.   Jammeh trades arms for timber with the Casamance rebels, fueling that conflict whilst personally enriching himself.  Jammeh blames the Senegalese army for planting the landmine as part of Senegal’s attempt to prevent military aid from reaching the rebels (Freedom Newspaper).

 

Mozambique

In addition to its support for demining in Angola, Japan also provided $4.5 million to Mozambique to speed up demining there.  The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Mozambique, Jennifer Topping, warns that Mozambique is in danger of missing its 2014 deadline to meet the demining obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty so the Japanese assistance is welcome and well-timed.  The Japanese support will strengthen the capacity of the National Demining Institute (IND) and pay for mine risk education programs.  More than half of Japan’s commitment is in the form of purchasing a mechanical demining machine that will be delivered in December.  This will be the second such machine in Mozambique; the first arrived in May 2011 (All Africa).

 

Somalia and Kenya

In Beledweyne in central Somalia, Ethiopian troops were targeted by a remote-controlled landmine.  Ethiopian convoys have been the subject of many such attacks since Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in support of the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG).  As has been the case in recent attacks, the soldiers respond to the blast with “heavy search operations” leaving “locals gripped in fear.”  The result is that Somalis will not trust the Ethiopians and the Ethiopians will not trust Somalis; both fearing the other.  No casualty figures were released (All Africa). 

Earlier in the month, a similar attack had targeted Puntland soldiers in the town of Galka’yo, killing six people.  Puntland forces responded with arrests of suspected bombers (All Africa).

In Kenya, in and around the massive Dadaab refugee camp, two separate attacks against Kenyan security forces were conducted by suspected Al Shabab members.  The first attack used a remote-controlled landmine placed under a tree popular with Kenyan police for resting after patrols in the Mandera region along the border with Somalia.  The bomb was detonated while the Kenyans were some distance away reducing the effectiveness of the blast but still causing injury to the hands and legs.  A suspect was arrested shortly after the blast (All Africa).

The second attack featured a landmine buried in the road within Dadaab camp.  The mine detonated just before a Kenyan police vehicle drove over it.  The police were uninjured, but the report of the incident suggested that refugees near to the blast may have been wounded and buildings damaged (Kenya News Agency). 

 

Zambia

Zambia’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Mwenye Musenge, called for additional support from the Zambian government to the Zambian Anti-Personnel Mine Action Centre (ZMAC).  This support would come in the form of assistance to landmine survivors, many of whom have been afraid to seek assistance to date, as well as complete landmine clearance in the northern areas of the country.  Zambia had previously declared itself to be free of anti-personnel landmines, but Mr. Musenge’s statements challenge that claim, suggesting that some landmines still remain to be cleared in the north of the country, along the borders with Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (The Daily Mail).  If Zambia has not yet cleared all of its mines, then the declaration of mine-free status would represent a likely violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and needs to be investigated and confirmed to ensure that no one is injured or killed by a forgotten landmine.

 

The Sudans

Two reports published in June detailed the presence and impact of newly laid landmines along the border between Sudan and South Sudan.  The first report, issued by Mukesh Kapila in his role as an anti-genocide campaigner (All Africa) describes the conflict currently taking place in Sudan’s Nuba mountain region.  The peoples of the Nuba mountains had been allied with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army which became the government of South Sudan upon South Sudan’s independence, but the Nuba mountain region remained within Sudan’s territory as the South Khordofan state.  Recently, rebels in South Khordofan have been resisting the Khartoum government and in response the Sudanese Army has bombed villages and displacement camps and used “anti-personnel landmines in the Nuba to kill and maim unarmed civilians.”  As Kapila points out, “This is a breach of Sudan’s obligations under the Ottawa Treaty” and would represent one of the most grievous violations of the Treaty to date.  Kapila accuses Khartoum of crimes against humanity, genocide against the Nuba people and calls on the United Nations Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.  Kapila also accuses the United Nations and the international community of failing to uphold the “responsibility to protect” doctrine.

The second report, issued by Amnesty International in anticipation of July’s negotiations at the United Nations for an Arms Trade Treaty, highlights the usage of anti-vehicle mines by Khartoum and its ally, the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) as well as other serious human rights violations.  Khartoum has provided the SSLA with Chinese-manufactures anti-vehicle landmines which have been used to disrupt traffic on the main roads in Unity State killing and injuring dozens of civilians and increasing the cost of food and fuel as transport companies become hesitant to travel through the region.  Amnesty International advocates for an Arms Trade Treaty that “would require all governments to stop the international transfer of arms where there is a substantial risk those arms are likely to be used to commit serious human rights violations” (All Africa). 

 

The United States

Separated by almost 800 miles, Peoria, Illinois and the Fort Meade Army Base near Columbia, Maryland now have something in common: both had World War II era landmines found in the trash.  In Peoria, a Japanese-made mine was discovered at the local recycling center.  Because the recycling center sometimes receives propane tanks and other flammable or explosive items, the crews there sift through the metal items before processing; during that sifting process the landmine was discovered and turned over to an explosive ordnance team for disposal (Journal Star).  At Fort Meade, a landmine of similar time period but unknown provenance was discovered in the Manor View dump site.  Again, an explosive ordnance team responded to the call and removed the item (ABC Channel 2 News).  Because Fort Meade is the home of the National Security Agency, Fort Meade has its own EOD team while the Peoria landmine – a model 3 “Flower Pot Mine” – had to be removed by the police and then turned over to a military team. 

To avoid such incidents in the future, perhaps the good citizens of Peoria and Fort Meade can look to a couple of Bucknell University professors who are working to train rats to find and mark landmines as part of a Defense Department contract.  APOPO pioneered the use of rats for landmine detection (TED Talks), but APOPO’s methodology is decidedly low-tech.  The Bucknell University (home of the Bison) scientists will train the rats to turn in a circle when they smell explosive materials and that turning will (and to quote Dave Barry: “I am not making this up”) activate the motion sensors in the miniature backpacks worn by the rats to mark the spot the explosives were detected via GPS transmitters.  The goal of the scientists is to create a system “rugged so you can drop it out of a plane.”  No word on whether the rats will also be issued miniature parachutes for when they are dropped out of said planes (PRWEB). 

 

Michael P. Moore, July 6, 2012

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