The Month in Mines, May 2013Posted: June 4, 2013
We call them “celebvocates,” the celebrity endorsers and advocates who support their pet causes and the month of May was a good one for landmine celebvocates. In the early part of the month, Prince Harry visited Washington, DC, toured a photo exhibit with Senator John McCain and hosted a dinner at the home of the British Ambassador to the United States benefiting the HALO Trust (The Scotsman; PBS; Clarence House). Green Mountain Coffee Roasters continued its support of the POLUS Center with a US$200,000 donation to the Coffeelands Trust which provides mini-grants and rehabilitation services for coffee growing communities that have been impacted by conflict (Business Wire). The Humpty Dumpty Institute’s landmine clearing project receives support from Mary Wilson, a founding member of Motown’s The Supremes (MLive). The actor made famous as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” in a series of advertisements for Dos Equis Beer, Jonathan Goldsmith, announced his support for Clear Path International which has an office in Goldsmith’s adopted home of Manchester, Vermont (The Republic). Lastly, in Manchester, England, East Enders star Kacey Ainsworth ran the BUPA Great Manchester Run on May 26, joining a team supporting Find A Better Way, which was itself founded by celebvocate and Manchester United legend, Sir Bobby Charlton (Howle Communications).
Of course, the month of May was not only about celebrities. In Tunisia new mines continue to be found with devastating results; in Senegal, deminers became pawns in the continuing civil war; in Nigeria, landmines were discovered in the arms cache of a suspected terrorist cell; and globally, the landmine community met for several days of meetings in Geneva to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of the current landmine situation.
Three Bedouin children were injured when a landmine detonated near where they were playing in the Sinai Peninsula (Ma’an News).
Landmine blasts targeting soldiers were reported in Beledweyne and Mogadishu. Two landmines, the second detonated after soldiers and first responders arrived on the scene of the initial blast, generated significant casualties in Mogadishu near the offices of the Ministry of Defence (Mareeg). In Beledweyne, the Ethiopian troops who provide security in the border town were targeted. Several troops were injured and their compatriots opened fire which fortunately did not result in any additional casualties (Shabelle Network).
The military operation to oust Islamist terrorists from the Jebel Chaambi region near the Algerian border continued into May after several Tunisian soldiers were injured by landmines. Tunisia, which had previously declared itself to be free of anti-personnel landmines still possesses advanced mine clearance equipment which it has put to use in Jebel Chaambi, including a bulldozer that detonated at least one mine (All Africa; All Africa). Representatives of the Tunisian government, including the acting Prime Minister, the President and the National Constituent Assembly all praised the injured soldiers and promise to provide them with the necessary services and support for their recovery, while also noting the threat that the Islamists posed to the government and regime that has emerged in the wake of the Arab Spring (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa). Unfortunately, despite the equipment and the recognized threat, two more soldiers were wounded and had to be evacuated by helicopter. One soldier lost his leg in the blast and the other is possibly blinded for life (Tunisia Live).
A US $6 million grant from the Japanese government has helped to launch mine clearance work in Mali. Led by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), clearance efforts have already removed 900 explosive remnants of war (ERW) and will allow displaced persons to return to their homes (UPI).
As part of its global launch of the report, “The State of the World’s Children: Children with Disabilities,” UNICEF profiled two Ugandan landmine survivors and described their situation since their injuries. Both children, Beatrice and Sony, lost legs in 2002 from a landmine placed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. They received prosthetic devices and have been able to continue their schooling and are currently enrolled at Gulu College in Gulu district. Through the support of civil society organizations, Sony and Beatrice have been able to reintegrate into their communities where they feel accepted and while they “live with challenges of disability every day… disability does not define them.” The intention of the report is to show that “children have the right kind of social support and services will help define their futures – and ultimately influence how they contribute to their communities and their countries” (UNICEF).
Two events in Senegal raised awareness about the issues of landmines in the country. In the first, Khadimou Rassoul Badji peddled 450 kilometers from Ziguinchoir to Dakar on his hand-cranked tricycle, arriving in Dakar on May 1st. Badji has been disabled since childhood by polio, but as the president of a sports association for persons with physical disabilities in the southern Casamance region, he has met many Senegalese children injured by landmines and wanted to raise awareness in the capitol, Dakar, about this issue and the needs of child landmine survivors. For Badji, cycling 450 kilometers in five days was a way to promote sport for disabled people and to prove to his countrymen that disability is not inability (France 24).
Unfortunately, a week after Badji’s ride concluded, 12 deminers employed by South Africa’s Denel Mechem in the Casamance, were taken hostage by a faction of the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC). The deminers were all Senegalese nationals who were working in a “demarcated a zone beyond which [the rebels] said the safety of the landmines workers would not be guaranteed.” The MFDC has linked demining in Casamance with the peace process there and the MFDC may have kidnapped the deminers as a way of forcing talks with the Senegalese government. The kidnapping has led to a halt in demining in the region, which is likely to delay Senegal’s compliance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty. Until the kidnapping, Senegal appeared likely to be able to complete demining by the 2015 deadline, but with the delay, compliance is less likely. The MFDC has allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the kidnapped deminers who were reportedly in good health and as a “Mother’s Day gift,” the MFDC released the three women deminers at the end of the month. The nine men continue to be held and there is no timetable for their release (The Times; Africa Review; All Africa; Africa Review; IAfrica).
Angola’s delegation to the intersessional meeting of the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty had the express intention of raising funds for mine action in Angola. Some donor countries, seeing the oil wealth of the country and noting the large national capacity – some 57 demining brigades – devoted to national development priorities, have re-allocated their support for mine to other countries. The Angola delegation did not seek funds for those national brigades, instead, the delegation was seeking support for the mine clearance organizations, like the HALO Trust and Mines Advisory Group, that are working in the country (Angola Press Agency; All Africa).
Zambia had very limited landmine contamination and was able to declare itself mine-free (the official term is compliance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty) some years ago. What contamination did exist was the result of freedom fighters using Zambia as a base of operations during the liberation struggles against the governments of Rhodesia, Mozambique and Angola during then rebels fighting the governments after independence. However, since the declaration, Zambia has continued to discover landmines and has established the National Committee on Anti-Personnel Landmines to ensure that Zambia continues to comply with the Mine Ban Treaty. The Chairman of the Committee, Gabriel Namulambe, has been traveling to the mine affected regions of Zambia, conducting mine risk education and communicating to the local population the government’s plans to conduct minefield clearance. Namulambe has also been cautioning Zambians not to tamper with any landmines that they might discover in the hopes of recovering non-existent red mercury (Lusaka Voice; Lusaka Voice).
The use of landmines by rebel groups in northern regions of South Sudan are hampering farming activities in those areas. To date, demining groups have not been able to operate in Upper Nile State as militia forces have refused to respond to a presidential pardon and offer of peace (Radio Miraya). In other parts of South Sudan, mine clearance has made enormous strides. A total of 1 billion square meters of land has been cleared of landmines so far, but thousands of South Sudanese remain threatened by mines (Radio Miraya).
Also this month, the United Nations re-affirmed the mission of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) which is responsible for peacekeeping in the disputed territory of Abyei which lies on the border between South Sudan and Sudan. The United Nations recognized the continuing danger of landmines in Abyei, “which hinders the safe return of displaced persons to their homes and safe migration” and demanded that the two governments allow UNMAS to operate in Abyei to mark minefields and clear mines (All Africa).
A cache of weapons belonging to an alleged member of Hezbollah was discovered by Nigerian authorities in the northern city of Kano. Nigeria has in the last few weeks been engaged in a fight with the Islamist group, Boko Haram, and has declared a state of emergency in three states. The arms cache included ammunition, guns, explosives and at least four anti-tank landmines. The cache was discovered when the co-owner of Abuja’s Amigo Supermarket and the Wonderland Amusement Park, Mustapha Fawaz, was arrested. That arrest led to the other members of the Hezbollah “cell,” but at least two members, including the other co-owner of the Amigo Supermarket and the Wonderland Amusement Park remain at large and probably outside the country. The Nigerians suspect the cell of planning attacks against Israeli and American targets in Nigeria (All Africa; All Africa).
The United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on cultural rights reported that the Moroccan-built berm dividing Western Sahara into the sections controlled by Morocco and the Sahrawi Polisario Front also prevents transmission of culture. The 1,700 kilometer berm is reinforced with hundreds of thousands of landmines which pose a continuous threat to the Sahrawi people. The International Network for the Study of the effects of mines and walls in Western Sahara (REMMSO), called on Morocco to clear the mines from the berm and provide services to aid the rehabilitation and reintegration of those injured by the mines (Western Sahara Human Rights Watch; All Africa).
Two announcements from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) are worth repeating. First, the ICBL released its second call for proposals under the Survivor Network Project (SNP). Funded by the Norwegian government, SNP grants are intended to support campaigns for universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions led by ICBL members while also strengthening those member organizations. More information is available at http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/news/?id=4201 and the application deadline is July 1, 2013.
The second piece from ICBL is their wrap-up of the May intersessional meeting of the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty. One of the largest issues that discussed during that meeting was the reports of new use of anti-personnel landmines by Yemen, a party to the Treaty, which would represent a grievous violation of the Treaty. Other issues included the requests for extensions of the Article 5 deadlines from Mozambique, Chad and Sudan; funding for victim assistance and the special needs of child survivors of landmines; and unresolved allegations of use of anti-personnel landmines in Sudan and South Sudan. More information about the intersessional meeting is available on the Implementation Support Unit’s website and the ICBL’s full statement can be found here: http://www.icbl.org/index.php/icbl/Library/News/MBT-ISC-2013-Highs-and-Lows
Michael P. Moore
June 4, 2013