The Month in Mines, September 2013

Some months, we’ll see many landmine incidents and reports from a handful of countries (e.g., Somalia, Angola and the Sudans) and then there are months like September where we saw one or two incidents or reports from many countries.  Months like September, with stories from 10 countries, are a reminder that landmines are a continent-wide problem and not limited to just a handful of countries that make the news repeatedly.  As always, we see good news and bad in the stories from the continent.  Of global note, Zambia hosted the Fourth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions which we won’t cover below, but if you are so inclined, you should visit the dedicated website for the Meeting here: http://www.clusterconvention.org/meetings/msp/4msp/

 

Western Sahara (Morocco)

A Saharawi man was injured by a landmine some 350 km south of the city of Dahkla.  He was transferred to a civilian hospital in Dahkla after being discharged from a Moroccan military hospital despite being in “serious condition.”  The landmine was just one of the millions that Morocco uses to divide the Western Sahara territory (All Africa).

 

Somalia

Somalia National Army and AMISOM forces foiled a planned landmine attack in Beledweyne city early in the month.  A suspected Al Shabaab member sought to plant the landmine on a main road, but was caught in the act (All Voices).

In Mogadishu, an immigration department official was killed by a landmine that detonated when he drove past it (All Africa).

Also at the start of the month, Al Shabaab claimed an attack on Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s convoy as it drove to through the Lower Shabelle region of the country.  The government denied the attack, but person’s in the vicinity reported hearing a landmine explosion (All Africa).

Other landmine attacks targeted AMISOM troops traveling in a convoy in Mogadishu (All Africa) and government forces in Afgoye Town in Lower Shabelle (Shabelle Media).  Casualties in Mogadishu were unknown but the AMISOM troops opened fire immediately after the blast, endangering civilians.  In Afgoye, as many as six soldiers were taken to hospitals for treatment.

The constant barrage of landmine and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks has spurred the US Africa Command to provide explosive ordnance training to AMISOM forces.  US Navy ordnance specialists spent three weeks training soldiers from Burundi in reconnaissance, demining and disposal procedures for explosive devices in advance of the Burundians deployment to Somalia as part of the AMISOM contingent (UXO Info).

 

Egypt

Following the military coup that toppled Mohamed Morsi’s government in Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula has become increasingly restive.  Long a home to Islamists supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s ouster seems to have given new life to elements fighting against the current regime.  Egypt’s state television aired a report claiming that Hamas, the Islamist group in charge of Palestine’s Gaza Strip and itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, provided 400 landmines and training in bomb-making to militant Islamists in the Sinai.  Hamas has denied the charge (Jerusalem Post).   Landmines, whether from Hamas or from Egypt’s own stockpile of landmines, are being planted along the roads in Sinai and one blast injured at least nine people including soldiers, police and civilians.  After the blast, the Egyptian soldiers chased attackers (All Africa; Bloomberg).

 

Zambia

Zambia’s hosting of the Fourth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Lusaka led to some articles in the local newspapers about landmine and cluster munitions survivors.  One story, profiling some of the African survivor advocates in attendance at the meeting was very positive, demonstrating the resilience and strength possessed by some survivors (All Africa).  Another story was much less so, describing the lives of two survivors, one a former soldier in the Zambian army and the other government civil servant, whose injuries had dramatically changed their lives for the worse.  The former soldier has had to rely on support from his local church to receive a prosthetic limb and the civil servant is unable to pay his children’s school fees despite working as a carpenter.  Both men complained about a lack of support from the Zambian government.  Their experiences are confirmed by Yona Phiri, the executive director of the Zambia Foundation for Landmine Survivors, whose organization has only been able to support 16 survivors from across the country thanks to funds from the Norwegian government.  Despite an allocation for survivor assistance in the Zambian government’s budget, “the funds are not being utilized” and Mr. Phiri called on the Cluster Munitions Coalition, the civil society organization mobilized around a ban on cluster munitions, to urge the Zambian government to support landmine and cluster munitions survivors (All Africa).

 

Angola

Every month, and I do mean *every month*, there is a story about capacity building for Angola’s deminers and armed forces.  This month, 59 officers received training on the supervision and quality control of demining programs.  The participants represented 16 different provinces of the country (All Africa).  One question I would have about these trainings is how well they mesh with similar trainings hosted by international mine action operators and whether the skill sets of Angolan government deminers are the same as those of the internationals.  They should be and I would hope that at some level, probably the national mine action center, lessons are shared and standards harmonized.

 

Niger

As Mali faces the prospects of demining in the northern regions after the ouster of the Islamist militias there, neighboring Niger offers a model for how mine action can be a tool for peacebuilding.  In the wake of its own Tuareg uprisings in the 1990s and 2000s, Niger launched a humanitarian demining program that government soldiers and former rebels together to form demining brigades.  Encouraged by the efforts of Geneva Call which had reached out to the rebels about the humanitarian impact of landmines, the Nigerien government was able to create the National Commission for the Collection and Control of Illicit Weapons (CNCCAI) which disarmed the rebels and provided jobs in the form of demining and mine risk education to former rebels.  Geneva Call served as a mediator and broker for the CNCCAI.  The rebels brought their knowledge of the mine-affected regions and the government brought the resources.  To date, some 744 kilometers of roads and over a million square meters of land have been cleared of mines (All Africa).

 

Libya

In Misrata, the heart of the revolution that overthrew the Gaddhafi regime, one can find the “Martyrs’ Museum,” dedicated to the fighting that took place in the city in 2011.  The Museum displays arms and weapons used by the regime against the people of Misrata and receives 1,500 visitors each week.  However, many of the items on display posed an enormous risk to the museum’s visitors and host.  Live ammunition, rockets, missiles and a 400 kilogram bomb were among the 363 items identified as dangerous by a team from Mines Advisory Group.  Fortunately no one was injured, but the presence of these items in a museum is a reminder to all not to tamper with explosive items, no matter how inert they may seem (All Africa).

 

Sudan

Since South Sudan’s emergence in July 2011 as the world’s newest nation, a civil war has been brewing in Sudan’s now southernmost states of Blue Nile and South Khordofan (and possibly the states of Darfur).  The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), a rebel group fighting against Khartoum, was once part of the movement that now rules South Sudan, but the partition between the Sudan’s isolated the SPLM-N.  Khartoum insists that South Sudan continues to support the SPLM-N whilst engaging in regular bombing raids against populated areas in Blue Nile and South Khordofan.  Under this backdrop, the SPLM-N has been trying to raise its profile internationally and has signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment, committing itself to a ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines and to assist in the clearance of mines in areas under its control.  According to the SPLM-N, what few anti-personnel landmines it has were captured from Sudanese forces.  The reports about the SPLM-N don’t ask the question, but where would Sudan’s army have gotten anti-personnel landmines from since Sudan supposedly destroyed its stockpiles in 2007 and 2008?  To meet its obligations under the Deed of Commitment, the SPLM-N will create an organization to clear landmines and provide survivor assistance.  Geneva Call and the SPLM-N will continue to work together to develop and implement a child protection program and the SPLM-N will work with the International Committee of the Red Cross to arrange for the release of prisoners of war.  These steps are helping to legitimate the SPLM-N and build confidence in the organization for possible future peace negotiations with international mediation (Radio Dabanga; Radio Dabanga).

Outside of Blue Nile and South Khordofan landmines continue to threaten the lives of Sudanese people.  The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has cleared thousands of landmines from Sudan, but mine-contaminated areas remain in Kassala, Gedaref, Blue Nile, the three Darfur states and Blue Nile and South Khordofan.  The fighting in Blue Nile and South Khordofan led to higher numbers of landmine casualties in 2011 compared to the years since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.  Despite the thousands of survivors living in Sudan, only two thousand have received support from survivor assistance programs (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

 

Mozambique

As Mozambique makes its final push to clear all anti-personnel landmines within its territory, the donor community has stepped up to provide assistance.  The Government of Sweden provided a  Mini Minewolf landmine clearance vehicle along with a year’s worth of spare parts and training for the MineWolf operator.  Mozambique’s National Demining Institute plans to deploy the MineWolf to Sofala Province, the most heavily-mined in the country (Defence Web).  The Norwegian government provides funding for mine clearance in Mozambique and a representative from the embassy, Clarisse Barbosa Fernandes, visited the Norwegian People’s Aid field site where she met a female demining team of nine Mozambican women from Tete Province (Norwegian People’s Aid).  In the coming months, after the interior of the country is cleared, mine clearance assets and personnel will transfer to the border with Zimbabwe to finish the mine clearance work by the end of 2014.

 

Algeria

The government of Algeria is working to clear all of the landmines planted during the French colonial period and the conflicts of the 1960s and 1990s.  In August, over 4,000 mines were cleared mine the national army for a total of almost 700,000 cleared to date (Algerie Soir).

 

Michael P. Moore

October 24, 2013

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