The Month in Mines, July 2013, by Landmines in AfricaPosted: August 9, 2013
The collection and compilation of stories we do here at Landmines in Africa is far from a scientific process. The result is an apparent over-emphasis on a few countries at the expense of others. This is a reflection of the number of stories in English-language media and the relative attention paid by media outlets to events in certain countries, or the emphasis local media places on the landmine issue. Therefore, this month reading the round-up, you might think that the landmine situations in Angola, Somalia and Tunisia are most acute, while the contamination in Egypt, Libya, Mozambique, Senegal, South Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe is less so (and that no contamination exists at all in Western Sahara, Sudan, Chad, Algeria or elsewhere). So, please remember that this round-up reflects the news available and not the entire picture. Let’s begin in…
The holy month of Ramadan began on July 8th and in recognition, Al Shabaab launched a new offensive in Somalia with attacks in Mogadishu and Kismayo. Al Shabaab, through its Twitter account, claimed over one hundred attacks, a figure that could not be substantiated, but there definitely felt like an uptick in violence in July. Sabahi media recorded several attacks, including four separate landmine attacks (All Africa). Those landmine attacks are as follows: In Mogadishu on July 11th, at least one Somali soldier was wounded by a landmine that also destroyed the vehicle he was riding in; there were no reports of civilian casualties (AMISOM Media Monitoring). A Jubbaland soldier was killed by a mine in Kismayo on July 14th (AMISOM Media Monitoring). On July 17th, a woman was killed by a mine that targeted a Sierra Leonean contingent of AMISOM peacekeepers. Four people were wounded when the soldiers opened fire indiscriminately; no word on the number of soldiers killed. Other mines had been found in the same area (AMISOM Media Monitoring). A second attack, also against Sierra Leone peacekeepers in Kismayo occurred on the 20th, with at least five civilians killed and two others wounded (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa).
In addition to those immediately killed or wounded by the mines, two Somali journalists were shot at by members of the Raskamboni militia, which is allied with the Jubbaland administration, when they went to report on the mine attack on July 17th. According to reports, the shooter, who wounded both journalists, one severely, was not arrested despite being identified. Journalists are at increasing risk in Somalia with a number of journalists killed or injured in the last couple of years (Horseed Media; All Africa; Africa Review; eNCA).
There are also positive developments in Somalia. In the Galgadud region of southern Somalia, demining work has begun to clear the landmines that were laid along the Somalia-Ethiopia border during the Ogaden war of the 1980s. Supported by the Danish Demining Group, thirty-five Somali deminers have been trained and deployed to clear roads and lands that had been indiscriminately mined (AMISON Media Monitoring). Further assistance for demining in Galgadud has been requested from the UN Mine Action Service and the Somali Federal government. According to local officials, military bases from the Ogaden war have been re-purposed as camps for internally displaced persons, but these camps are surrounded by mines (AMISOM Media Monitoring). As a reminder of the risks, two children died and a third sickened after consuming gunpowder or other explosive materials that were removed from a mine in Balanbale district, the same district targeted for demining by the Galgadud administration and Danish Demining Group (AMISOM Media Monitoring).
Zambia will be hosting the Fourth Meeting of States Parties to the Cluster Munitions Convention in September and has launched the preparations for that event. As part of the preparations, however, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has had to acknowledge that explosive remnants of war, including landmines and cluster munitions, continue to contaminate the country in regions that are “inaccessible” along the border with Angola. The government retains an explosive ordnance disposal capacity and can respond to requests when a citizen discovers a suspicious item (Daily Mail).
There are 10 million landmines in Sudan and in July one exploded in South Kordofan state killing 9 children and wounding another five. The mine is possibly left over from recent battles between the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, a recently formed coalition of anti-Khartoum groups, and the Sudanese army; or the mine could be a remnant from the decades long civil war that concluded with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the creation of South Sudan. Either way, it is a tragedy that could be repeated many, many times over (The Nation).
The arrest of Kamel Ben Arbia, whose nom du guerre is “Abu Fida,” by Algerian authorities may have led to a reprisal attack in the Jebel Chaambi region at the end of July. Tunisian officials believed that they had cleared the mountains of the Islamist rebels after security operations (which left several Tunisian soldiers dead or wounded) in April, May and June. The attack was an ambush which began with the explosion of a landmine that had been planted along a roadway known to be used by Tunisian security forces. The explosion injured three Tunisian soldiers and prompted a medical evacuation operation. Soldiers with the evacuation team were then attacked by gunmen leading to another eight deaths. There was no additional word about the three soldiers injured by the landmine (Tunisia Live; APA; Tunisia Live; All Africa).
In the period immediately after the overthrow of the Gaddhafi regime in Libya, most Libyan hospitals were unable to treat persons injured by bullets and explosives. As a result, a number of soldiers and civilians were transported to other countries, Jordan was a popular choice, for treatment. Recently, efforts are underway to rebuild the capacity of the Libyan health sector to provide the necessary care for war trauma and part of that effort has been the training of physiotherapists in Tripoli. In early July, 20 physiotherapists (physical therapists for my fellow Americans) participated in a theoretical and practical workshop funded by ITF Enhancing Human Security (ITF), previously known as International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victim Assistance based in Slovenia (ITF).
Despite this and other assistance, mine action projects in Libya are facing an $18.5 million shortfall in 2013. The full scale of landmine contamination, which dates back to WWII and includes several conflicts between WWII and the civil war that overthrew Gaddhafi, is not known. Planned landmine clearance work may need to be delayed and the crucial survey work to determine the full scope has yet to begin. In addition to survey and clearance, hundreds if not thousands of survivors will continue to need assistance (Libya Herald). As an emergency response to this funding shortfall, the UN Mine Action Service, with support from the Swiss Government is building ammunition storage facilities to store stockpiles of ammunition and explosive ordnance safely until formal plans for disposal can be arranged. Stop-gap measures like this are important, but a long term solution, both to issues of unsecured ammunition and known and unknown minefields are needed and must be prioritized by the Libyan government (Libya Herald).
We’ve said on here before how even the rumor of landmines can shut down travel along roads or prevent the use of agricultural fields. In Mali, a rumor had spread that the Tuareg militia, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), had planted landmines around the town of Kidal. The Malian army has denied those rumors and French and United Nations officials have been forced to deny other rumors about MNLA activities which seem aimed at preventing any reconciliation or agreement between the MNLA and Malian government (RFI).
Angola’s Minister of Agriculture touted the clearance of landmines as a key input into reducing food insecurity and poverty reduction in the country (All Africa). The Minister of Social Welfare reported that 1.2 billion square meters of land has been cleared since 1996 to “ensure the free flow of people and goods and significantly contribute to Angola’s economic and social development” (All Africa). The Angolan army Chief of Staff also stated “clearance allows the rehabilitation of more roads, construction of new airports, new fields of oil exploration, mineral resources, expansion of the rail network, movement of people and goods throughout the country in its various areas” (All Africa). Sounds good, right? But all is not rosy.
Despite a commitment of US $1 million for demining from the Government of Japan (All Africa) and continued investment from the Government of Angola, national and international mine action operators are facing funding uncertainty. In the current aid climate, mine action operators fear a reduction in funding from the international community and note that international operators would need to withdraw from the country if funding dried up (Africa Review).
There has been a lot of instability in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak stepped down during the Arab Spring; instability that has only increased with the military’s dismissal of Mohamed Morsi as president last month. In addition to the demonstrations in Cairo, the Sinai Peninsula has been a flashpoint for conflict between the military and the Islamists. At least four landmines have detonated on the peninsula in July resulting in at least one injury and three deaths (Daily News; News 24; Daily News; Egypt Independent). In addition to the blasts, the Egyptian army, which was targeted by three of the mines, responded to the last mine blast with indiscriminate fire in the direction of the blast. No casualties were reported, but such a response could easily lead to civilian injuries and deaths, as it has in Somalia.
Mozambique and Zimbabwe
Between now and the end of 2014, the mine action community will be closely monitoring clearance in Mozambique as it prepares to declare itself mine-free. Becoming mine-free will require very close collaboration with the government of Zimbabwe because the majority of landmines that remain in Mozambique lie along the shared border with Zimbabwe; even though the border region represents less than a third of the area remaining to clear. To date, Mozambique has been able to classify 103 of the country’s 128 districts as mine-free and about 9.7 million square meters remain to be cleared. In 2012, Mozambique, with the assistance of domestic and international mine action operators, cleared 8.7 million square meters so the amount remaining is not insurmountable.
Part of the work that remains in Mozambique is to actually define the border with Zimbabwe since it is not currently marked. This will likely be a contentious negotiation since any mines on the Zimbabwe side of the border will need to be cleared by Zimbabwe which, because of sanctions and delays, has not been able to raise as many funds for its clearance as Mozambique. A memorandum of understanding is being negotiated between the two countries which will facilitate the movement of deminers and support staff across the border (All Africa; All Africa).
On the Zimbabwe side, most of the mines were laid by the Rhodesian government in the 1970s and since 1980 when the Rhodesian government was dissolved, 1,500 people and 120,000 animals have been killed by landmines in Zimbabwe; the number of people injured by mines is not known and may exceed the number killed. There are an estimate 2.5 million mines in Zimbabwe but whereas Mozambique is nearly complete with its landmine clearance, Zimbabwe’s priority is a survey to define the extent of contamination. Hopefully, the process of clearing the Mozambican border will help inform the survey work in Zimbabwe (The Zimbabwean).
We’ll end on a very happy note. After more than 10 weeks, nine Senegalese deminers working for South Africa’s Denel Mechem were released, unharmed and without a ransom. The deminers were abducted by a branch of the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) which had declared in March that demining should halt in the Casamance region unless included in formal peace negotiations. The International Committee of the Red Cross monitored the health of the deminers who were released into the care of an NGO in Guinea-Bissau. No word about the future of demining in the region (Defence Web; The New Age).
Michael P. Moore
August 9, 2013