Month in Mines, July 2012 by Landmines in Africa

The big disarmament news in July was United Nations negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty, negotiations which broke down when the United States declared (on the last day of course) that more time was needed for consideration of the terms of the Treaty.  The small disarmament news was the accusation of new use of landmines in Mali by Islamist forces and more casualties across the continent.  Unfortunately, whatever happened at the United Nations was not going to stop landmine and small arms casualties, even if all nations had been able to agree to the Treaty.  However, positive signs were to be found in Angola and Zimbabwe as clearance efforts there continue.  One day, the good news will far outweigh the bad.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s mine action community is heroically trying to catch up after more than a decade of isolation.  Because of sanctions against the country – related to farm seizures by “war veterans” in 2000 and widespread violence against political opposition after the 2008 elections – military equipment and training has not been available to Zimbabwean engineering units, forcing a delay in the country’s mine clearance activities.  With the sanctions lifted and an Article 5 mine clearance extension in place, Zimbabwe appears to be re-doubling its efforts to clear landmines in the country left over from the 1970s liberation war against the Rhodesian government.  In July a partnership agreement was Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) to survey and demine the country’s border with Mozambique, a region that is under-developed due to the threat of landmines (All Africa).  The agreement with NPA is in addition to the existing agreement between Zimbabwe and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) under which the ICRC has already trained dozens of Zimbabwean soldiers in mine clearance techniques.  ICRC will also provide metal detectors, and trauma kits and other safety equipment to better protect and equip the Zimbabwean demining teams (ICRC).

Democratic Republic of Congo

After receiving an Article 5 extension to its deadline for clearing landmines, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is looking to other countries for assistance in meeting the revised deadline of January 1, 2015.  To that end, a delegation of “senior staff” from the DRC’s national mine action authority traveled to neighboring Angola this month to exchange experiences and observe how Angola’s National Inter-Sectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Aid (CNIDAH) coordinates mine action.  The teams traveled to several field sites to learn about “the activities of the State on the ground, the activities of national and international organizations working in the field of demining, as well as how it decentralizes the coordination at the provincial level” (All Africa).

Angola

Angola’s mine clearance continues at the slow and steady pace established by the country.  In July, a government official announced that over 13 million square meters of roads (the article says kilometers, but I think it’s a type from translation), including secondary and tertiary roads in Cabinda province have been cleared of mines.  The clearance will provide immediate economic benefits as goods and people will now move more freely through the province (All Africa).  Also announced in July was the renewal of cooperation between the Japan Mine Action Service (JMAS) and National Demining Institute of Angola (INAD).  Through JMAS, the Japanese government is providing US $1 million in bilateral assistance to Angola to support mine clearance while JMAS provides technical assistance through its network of former Japanese military experts (All Africa).

To date, all mine clearance in Angola has been performed by manual or mechanical means.  In July, the mine action authorities in Angola confirmed partnerships to add animal detection to the toolkit used by Angolan deminers.  Through the Marshall Legacy Institute, trained demining dog handlers from Bosnia will train INAD staff on how to use dogs to detect landmines (no mention of where or how the dogs themselves will be trained, but I would assume that Angola will develop a local training and breeding facility)  The Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) has brought several trained mine detection dogs from the Mine Detection Dog Center in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Angola.  One in Angola, the dogs continued their training and bonding with their handlers to from a qualified mine detection team.  The teams have already begun their work and cleared several thousand square meters to allow access to fresh water for a local community (Angola Press Agency; Marshall Legacy Institute, personal communication).  Through Norwegian People’s Aid, APOPO will provide 40 mine detection rats.  Mine detection rats have been used successfully for many years in neighboring (and also Lusophone) Mozambique.  The Belgian government will provide the funding for the project which will hire 10 female handlers for the rats adding an additional gender component to the assistance (Norwegian People’s Aid).  Both dogs and rats are used to survey minefields, which can then been cleared manually or mechanically, and also to verify that clearance has been completed by re-surveying cleared fields before they are released for use.

Senegal

The humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, caused by extensive drought along the edge of the Sahara desert in western Africa, brought attention to the continuing threat of landmines in Senegal through an article in the Huffington Post.  Handicap International has been active for more than a decade there clearing landmines, providing mine risk education, and facilitating the re-integration of survivors.  The context of the article discussed the fragility of life in the Sahel which is only compounded by the presence of landmines that prevent people from using the limited arable land and traveling along the roads.  Senegal is a relatively well-developed country in the Sahelian region and the implication was that in other countries, e.g. Niger, Mauritania and Mali, the mixture of drought and landmine contamination will prove fatal (much as it has in Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea).

Unfortunately, the Huffington Post article was followed by a report that demining in the landmine-affected Casamance region is slowing down due to a transition in the responsibility for demining from Handicap International to a South African firm (HI will continue to conduct mine risk education and victim assistance in Senegal).  To date, HI estimates that only 10% of mine-affected areas have been cleared while at the same time, Casamance rebels continue to plant new landmines.  Anne-Sophie Trujillo, HI’s director in Senegal expressed concern about Senegal’s ability to meet its 2016 deadline for mine clearance, saying emphatically, “demining will not finish by 2016” (All Africa).

Kenya

At the end of July, a police vehicle traveling in a convoy with a Care International vehicle providing humanitarian assistance was targeted with a remote controlled landmine near the Dadaab refugee camp.  Dadaab is home to tens of thousands of refugees from Somalia and Kenyan police and politicians have accused Al Shabaab of recruiting from within the camp.  The police vehicle in the attack was following a Care van and deliberately targeted.  After stabilization, the injured policemen were to be airlifted to Nairobi for treatment.  The attack is part of a campaign of violence against Kenyan police and security who work in and around the camp (All Africa).

Somalia

The Al Shabaab insurgency remains very active in Somalia attacking a number of targets through the use of landmines.  In July, a meeting of the National Constituent Assembly was halted when a landmine detonated within the compound where the meeting was held (RBC Radio) and a former minister for humanitarian affairs was assassinated when a landmine destroyed the car he was riding in (All Africa).  Not content with attacking only soft targets, Al Shabaab is accused of targeting Somali government soldiers in Mogadishu in the middle of the month (All Africa) and at the end of the month (All Africa).  Ethiopian soldiers were targeted in Beledweyne town in central Somalia (All Africa) and Kenyan forces were attacked in southern Somalia (All Africa).

In response to the attack in Beledweyne, Ethiopian soldiers were accused of firing indiscriminately at civilians, killing at least 10 people, and arresting 200.  According to Somali officials, “we don’t know where these people [the 200 arrested] were taken and held by the troops.  We [are] shocked and terrified about the [Ethiopian] army’s behavior and actions” (All Africa).  The Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia are operating completely independently of the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) backed AMISOM force.  Kenya’s soldiers have been integrated into AMISOM, but not Ethiopia’s (Wikipedia).  This is a problem because there is no oversight or control over the Ethiopian troops in Somalia and if the reports above are correct, the Ethiopians are engaging in human rights violations that need to be stopped.  The UN and AU should act immediately to either bring the Ethiopian troops into the AMISOM force and therefore under the command and control of the AMISOM commanders or have Ethiopian withdraw its forces from Somali.

Mali

According to the Tuareg group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its ally the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) are using landmines for the first time in Mali.  The mines are being placed around the northern town of Gao, near Timbuktu where MUJAO has been accused of destroying centuries-old shrines and centers of worship, to prevent the resident of Gao from fleeing.  According to the MNLA, the Islamists want to use the population of Gao as human shields against a possible attack by a united West African force or the Malian army and to do so, they have used landmines to block any means of escape from Gao.  How the Islamists obtained the landmines is not clear, but they could have been in the possession of the Tuaregs (the MNLA and the MUJAO were allied until recently against the Malian government) who looted them from Libya’s stockpiles during the fall of Gaddhafi’s regime there since the Tuaregs formed a large portion of the mercenaries in the Gaddhafi’s employ (Al Arabiya). 

The Gambia

The government of the Gambia recognized the Day of the African Child on July 14th with the theme of the rights of children with disabilities (The Gambia has not ratified or acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in case you were curious [UN Enable]).  The organizers of the commemoration noted that landmines are a major cause of disability in post-conflict countries and with the close proximity of the Gambia to the Casamance region of Senegal, the impact of landmines is well known to Gambians (All Africa).

Western Sahara

Two young men were riding in a Land Rover when they ran over a landmine near the city of Smara.  The driver died after two days in the hospital while the passenger remained in critical condition (Sahara Press Service).

 United States

Not to be outdone by a Belgian not-for-profit, the US Army has gotten into the business of training rats to detect landmines.  Of course, they gave their project the nifty title, Rugged Automated Training System (R.A.T.S.) to make it sound more macho that it is.  The “automated” in the title refers to the fact that unlike APOPO or even dog training programs, the Army’s system will be automated (not handler or trainer based) and “is designed to inexpensively train rats to detect buried explosives to solve an immediate Army need for safer and lower-cost mine removal.”  The article goes on to say, “If we can demonstrate that rats can be trained inexpensively to be reliable detectors, then this method would not only lower costs for the Army but would also create new opportunities for using animals to detect anything from mines to humans buried in earthquake rubble” (Phys.Org).   I believe APOPO has already proven this and perhaps the US Army should save a little time and hire a few of APOPO’s HeroRATS.  Either that or brace itself for the patent lawsuit that APOPO has every right to file.

Michael P. Moore, August 6, 2012

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3 Comments on “Month in Mines, July 2012 by Landmines in Africa”

  1. I received the following note from the Marshall Legacy Institute and corrected the post accordingly:

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your work on the Landmines in Africa blog, I can tell you put a lot of work into acquiring and organizing what amounts to a hefty amount of information for your posts. I just read your newest post, and wanted to help you fill in some info on the Angola portion in regards to INAD’s developing Mine Detection Dog (MDD) capacity.

    The dogs were trained by the Mine Detection Dog Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a very reputable organization, where the MDDs in training go through a rigorous 3-5 month training course to learn to detect the explosive odors commonly found in landmines. Once they arrived in Angola, they began the second phase of their training, where they bond with their handlers and train in order to certify (handler and dog) to IMAS as an MDD team. Angola (INAD) is not developing their own training or breeding center, but MLI and INAD do hope to continue to develop the MDD capacity in INAD coming years.

    Although this is less relevant, I think you’d be pleased to know that all six teams accredited to IMAS on their first attempt and without any missed of extra indications. We couldn’t be more pleased with the work they’re doing in the field either. They completed their first task in three weeks, searching a total of 65,525 square meters of land that will be renew access to a waterway for a village nearby and to build a water purification system.

    As you can tell we’re pretty excited about our program in Angola, best of luck with your blog and keeping the world informed with the landmine situation in Africa.

    Best regards,

    Lauren

    Lauren Demeter
    Program Assistant
    Marshall Legacy Institute
    http://www.marshall-legacy.org

  2. Jeff says:

    Do you have any information on becoming a mine sweeper? Do charities do training, are foreigners needed or even wanted? I would like to become someone who removes mines, I don’t want to join the army because I am against war, rather I would like to do the opposite and remove them for a good reason.

    • Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for your request for information about explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training. The reality is this: most EOD technicians are trained in the military. Very few civilians receive EOD training. The exceptions to this are the EOD staff trained by non-governmental organizations, but most people who are trained by NGOs are in-country nationals and not expatriates. In South Africa, one option is Mechem (http://www.mechemdemining.com/) which offers some training courses. You could contact them directly to find out the schedule of trainings, requirements for registration and costs.

      However, I would also recommend you not completely discount the military option. In the United States (which is the only military I have even a slight amount of knowledge about), a person can work out a very explicit contract with the recruiter in which you could guarantee that you would be assigned to an EOD unit. I met a man who wanted to join the Navy SEALs and had such a contract written that guaranteed he would receive an honorable discharge if he was not admitted to SEALs training. The trick is to get it in writing. In this case, yes, you would serve some time in the military, but your role and duties would be specified in advance and upon completion of your service, you could take your skills wherever you felt they would be most needed.

      Thank you for you desire to help others. I really hope you are able to achieve this goal.

      moe


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