The Month in Mines, November 2013Posted: December 23, 2013
We often write about the human toll of landmines in this blog, but livestock also are routinely victims of landmine incidents. In November, we find reports from Zimbabwe, Somalia and Tunisia that describe the fate of animals and since these animals are necessary for the economic well-being of their owners, their loss can be devastating. Also in November we see continued reports of new use of mines across northern and Sahelian Africa, but there is also some promise as another couple of countries signal their support of the Mine Ban Treaty.
Thirty years after Zimbabwe started the landmine removal process, some in the demining sector are saying that another thirty years will be needed to complete the work. During the liberation war, the government of Rhodesia laid hundreds of thousands of landmines along the borders, especially the border with Mozambique, to prevent its opponents from crossing into the country. According to the HALO Trust, the border minefields are some of the densest in the world with 5,500 landmines per kilometer and the total cost of clearance is around US $100 million. Currently, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is providing training and equipment to the Zimbabwean army to increase their ability to clear the mines which have killed or injured more than 3,500 people since 1980. In addition to the human victims, thousands of livestock have been lost to the mines and the extant minefields are poorly marked due to vandals stealing the marker signs (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa).
In addition to the ICRC, the HALO Trust has also begun working on Zimbabwe’s landmine issue. HALO has deployed three demining teams to the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border, focusing first on a community in Mashonaland Central whose residents are forced to cross a minefield on a daily basis to reach drinking water, graze livestock and raise crops. As a result, several villagers and livestock from the village of 1,500 persons have been killed or injured by mines. At present an estimate 1.5 million landmines lie along the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border endangering many similar communities (Star Africa).
In the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, the town of Burao, the second-largest city in Somaliland, experienced two separate landmine incidents. Burao’s landmine contamination dates back to the Somali civil war of the early 1990s. In the first incident, a driver for a local electricity company drove over a landmine after installing some equipment. The area surrounding the blast was cordoned off to prevent further accidents (All Africa; Somaliland Sun). In the second incident, a car carrying guests from a wedding at a local hotel drove over a landmine, killing one of the passengers and injuring the driver and two other passengers. The car itself was owned by the local police chief, but he was not in the car at the time of the explosion (Somaliland Informer). In response to these blasts, a demining NGO announced it would start the process of clearing landmines from the neighborhoods and the assistance of the business community and the utility company was sought to assist the deminers (Suna Times).
Elsewhere in Somalia, security forces were able to defuse a landmine placed in the livestock market at Beled Hawo town on the Kenya Somalia Border (Radio Bar-kulan). In Galgadud, a truck transporting goods struck a landmine, killing two and possibly injuring other passengers who were riding in the vehicle (Radio Bar-kulan). In response to the explosion, the Danish Demining Group (DDG) and United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) launched a landmine clearance project to prevent further incidents in Galgadud (Radio Bar-kulan).
Also in Somalia, Al Shabaab was accused of using a landmine to try and attack an AMISOM convoy south of the capitol, Mogadishu. Fortunately for the persons in the convoy, the timing of the blast was poor and no injuries were reported among the AMISOM troops. Unfortunately for a local herder and his camels, the landmine killed 21 camels who were passing by that spot in the road (RBC Radio).
In early November, a truck serving as public transportation and carrying 38 people in the northern Gao region struck a landmine, killing four people and injuring at least eight more (Global Post). In Kidal, also in northern Mali, three French soldiers serving in the peace-making Operation Serval were injured when their truck ran over a mine. Because the French army vehicle was armored, the soldiers were injured, but their lives were not jeopardized by the mine; instead, their injuries were described as “noise trauma” from the blast and the soldiers were expected to return to active duty in a few days (Agence France Presse). In response to these incidents and dozens of others, UNMAS is leading a mine risk education campaign with the support of Handicap International and the United Nations Children’s Fund. Landmine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) clearance is also ongoing with almost 7,000 pieces of ordnance cleared so far. UNMAS is currently training Malian soldiers on clearance techniques and Handicap International is providing rehabilitation services for survivors (All Africa). Despite these efforts, the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach populations in need is continually hampered by the presence of landmines and ERW. According to Doctors without Borders, “Our biggest worry is homemade bombs [improvised landmines] on the road” (All Africa).
In Rome, the 38th International Conference of Support for the Sahrawi People launched and international campaign against the landmine-ridden berm put up by the Moroccan government to isolate the Polisario Front. With more than 7 million mines, the berm presents a constant threat to the Sahrawi people, with hundreds of people killed or injured by the mines as they try to graze livestock near the berm. The campaign was launched a week before a meeting of US President Barack Obama and Morocco’s King Muhammed VI (All Africa).
At a seminar for regional coordination for mine action in Angola, attended by deputy governors of the nation’s provinces, the director of the National Inter-Sectoral Demining and Humanitarian Assistance Commission (CNIDAH) declared that landmine clearance enables economic and infrastructural development while also calling for registration of persons with disability injured by landmines in order to better provide services for the population (All Africa; All Africa). At a subsequent meeting, the National Demining Institute announced new policies to provide better protection and insurance to the people responsible for clearing landmines while also approving the use of mine detection dogs (All Africa).
In addition to official meetings and policies, mine action continued apace with hand grenades, landmines and other explosives destroyed in Luanda (All Africa). The HALO Trust completed clearance within Catengue locality in the southern province of Benguela and acknowledged that additional landmine clearance is required in the areas surrounding Catengue (All Africa ). A sense of the scale of work completed and yet to be completed was provided during a preview of Angola’s presentation to the 13th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty which was held in Geneva in December. According to the CNIDAH preview, landmine survey has been completed in 12 of Angola’s 18 provinces, but the CNIDAH representatives expressed confidence in their ability to complete landmine clearance by the deadline of January 1, 2018 (Prensa Latina). However, until clearance is completed, the government recognizes the continuing threat and has purchased 45 Casspir landmine-resistant vehicles from South Africa’s Denel Land Systems (Defence Web).
The Jebel Chaambi area continues to be plagued with landmines from the Islamist group that uses the mountain as a base. In November, three separate blasts occurred, injuring one woman, killing several sheep and possibly killing a donkey. Earlier in the year, the mountain was the focus of Tunisian army activities to try and root out the Islamists, but November’s explosions were the first since June (Tunisia Live; Tunisia Live).
Sudan and South Sudan
The United Nations Security Council extended the mandate of the Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) until the end of May 2014. The resolution reaffirmed the Security Council’s concern “with the residual threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war in the Abyei Area, which hinders the safe return of displaced persons to their homes and safe migration” and demanded that the governments of Sudan and South Sudan allow UNMAS to operate freely in the area to mark and clear landmines (All Africa).
Egypt’s landmine contamination is severe. More than 20 million mines according to some estimates. Along the eastern coast of the Suez Canal, some 5.5 million mines remain from the October 1973 war with Israel, covering a thousand square kilometers and impeding the development of the region. In the northwest of the country, along the border with Libya, millions more mines remain from World War II. Along the Suez Canal, landmine clearance is being conducted with domestic funding, but in the northwest, support for landmine clearance is coming from the government of Italy and the European Union (EU). In addition to landmine clearance, the joint EU-Italy project will provide assistance to landmine survivors and the supporters of the Suez project have called upon the government to compensate landmine survivors with pensions similar to “martyrs of war” (Egypt Independent; European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument).
In addition to development programs, landmines have also become a feature of the recent strife between the Egyptian government and Islamist factions supportive of the ousted Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. In the Sinai, near the Suez Canal, a weapons cache consisting of landmines, mortars and ammunition was confiscated by security personnel (Masrawy).
The United States Department of State updated its travel warning for any US citizens traveling to Eritrea. Besides recommending against any travel to the country, the State Department also noted the continuing presence of landmines along “well-traveled roads in and near the Gash Barka region of western Eritrea” noting the “subsequent investigations indicated that several mines were recently laid” (Asmarino).
In Benghazi’s shopping district, an anti-tank mine was found in a bag and defused by bomb disposal experts. Had the mine been detonated, it would have caused significant damage (Libya Herald).
Also, for the first time and as a result of great advocacy work by a number of groups, Libya voted in favor of the United Nations resolution on the “Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.” Libya had in past years abstained from the vote, as do all states who are not supportive of the Mine Ban Treaty; no one active votes against the Treaty and thus, for landmines. Morocco, despite its liberal use of anti-personnel landmines in the Western Sahara berm discussed above, also voted in favor citing the humanitarian goals of the Treaty. Countries that abstained from the vote typically claim that anti-personnel landmines still retain some military utility as defensive weapons whilst acknowledging the humanitarian impact of their use (Reaching Critical Will).
Michael P. Moore
December 23, 2013