Landmines in Zambia in 2012?

In 2009, Zambia announced that it had cleared all of its territory of anti-personnel landmines in accordance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty, two years ahead of its Treaty-mandated deadline.  In 2008 and 2009, Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) surveyed the country and certified that the country was free of anti-personnel landmines.  The Zambia Mine Action Centre (ZMAC), the national mine action authority, used NPA’s report as the basis for Zambia’s declaration to the Cartegena Summit for a Mine-Free World, the second review conference for the Mine Ban Treaty.  Zambia’s declaration was qualified, saying that Zambia still faces “the challenge of clearing explosive remnants of war which have been the major cause of accidents in the country in the last 5 years.”  In addition to recognizing the continued presence of explosive remnants of war (other than anti-personnel landmines), Zambia stated that if “previously unknown mined areas are discovered after this declaration, Zambia undertakes, firstly; to report such mined areas in accordance with its obligation under Article 7; second, to ensure the effective exclusion of civilians in accordance with Article 5 and thirdly, to destroy or ensure destruction of all such mines” (Cartegena Summit, pdf).

Based upon recent news reports, it is possible that the landmine threat lingers in Zambia despite the announcement of the country being mine-free in 2009.  However, Zambia appears to be acknowledging the issue and trying to address it.

Earlier this year, a Zambian Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister of Defence, Mwenye Musenge, traveled to the northwestern regions of the country as part of a tour with the ZMAC.  One of the main messages from Musenge’s tour was a call for additional support for landmine survivors, many of whom live in the northwest of Zambia and lack access to victim assistance.  The northwest region borders Angola and Zimbabwe and liberation movements in those countries used Zambia as a base for activity and movement of people and materiel to rebel groups.  According to ZMAC, a large proportion of landmine survivors living in Zambia are Congolese and Angolan in origin and fled their countries during the conflicts there and re-settled in Zambia.  In addition to calling for assistance for landmine survivors, Musenge stated that “as of two years ago, 98 per cent of such gadgets [grenades and landmines] had been diffused or detonated.”  Musenge said Zambia’s “Western, Eastern and Southern provinces have been cleared of the landmines” and that ZMAC “has done almost 100 percent of its work of removing landmines and other military gadgets in affected provinces of the country” (Daily Mail; Zambia Post). 

In August, Community Development, Mother and Child Health Deputy Minister, Jean Kapata “implored people living in once landmine-infested areas to be cautious even if Zambia had been declared a landmine-free country.”  Kapata made this statement as she supervised the transport of five landmine survivors who had been identified during Musenge’s visit to the northwest to Lusaka for comprehensive medical treatment.  The survivors were also to be fitted with new prosthetic devices at the Italian Orthopaedic Hospital, which would be a significant improvement over the locally produced items being used (All Africa).

Also in August, Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Given Lubinda met Russia’s Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister, Mikhail Bogdanon.  During this meeting Lubinda asked “Russia to help through its expertise in sweeping landmines on the borders with countries such as Angola.”  Lubinda said “the Zambia-Angola border remained unsafe despite demining that had been carried out” (All Africa).

I think it will be very interesting to hear Zambia’s presentations at the upcoming Meeting of States Parties in Geneva in November.  Zambia needs to publicly declare whether or not it is still a mine-affected country and if it is, how it proposes to resolve the issue.  Unfortunately for Zambia, most of the minefields are along its borders with Angola and Zimbabwe, two countries that have not prioritized clearing the border areas of landmines up until now.  Zimbabwe has only this year started the clearance process along its borders (All Africa) and despite the tourism potential for Angola, demining on the Angolan side is still delayed (Angola Press).  There is also the strong possibility that the “landmines” referred to in these reports are other explosive remnants of war and not anti-personnel landmines.  If that is the case, then ZMAC should reach out to the Members of Parliament and educate them about the difference between landmines and other explosive remnants of war.   

Michael P. Moore

August 28, 2012

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