The Month in Mines, December 2013

As we move into a new year, one that will witness the five-year review conference for the Mine Ban Treaty in June in Mozambique, we should also pause and think about the significant events of the past year.  For all of the positive news from so much of the continent, the emerging conflict in South Sudan is a sad reminder that past violence is the best predictor of future violence.  Conflict in the Central African Republic has origins in recent conflicts there, as do conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (both the eastern regions of the country and Kinshasa), Egypt and Libya.  The wounds of a nation never really heal, the scars remain.  For some countries, the scars may fade and become less prominent; we are able to forgive our transgressors whilst never quite forgetting the pain they caused.  And as we mourn the loss of one of the continent’s greatest sons, we must not ignore the loss of any of the continent’s sons and daughters.  We may long remember the name Mandela, but if we are to honor his life, we must do so by honoring every life and mourning every passing.  We start this New Year together; let’s go to work.

Tunisia

An engineer in Tunisia’s army tried to defuse a landmine found on Mount Chaambi in the volatile Kasserine region near the Algerian border.  Throughout 2013, landmines, attributed to the banned Islamist group Ansar Al-Sharia, have been found on Mount Chaambi, killing and wounding soldiers and civilians.  The mine exploded during the engineer’s attempts, killing him and wounding another soldier nearby (All Africa; Defence Web).

Somalia

Numerous explosions in Somalia killed and injured several people.  In southern Somalia’s El Waq town, two landmine explosions killed three people and injured seven others.  Among the casualties were soldiers and civilians (All Africa).  In Beledweyne, a Djiboutian soldier serving in the mine action team of the AMISOM peacekeeping force was killed and three others injured when a rocket-propelled grenade they were clearing detonated (Garowe Online).  In the city of Kismayo, 200 explosive devices, including landmines and grenades, were recovered during a security sweep (All Africa).  Later in the month, also in Kismayo, a woman was killed when Jubba Administration security forces opened fire.  The security forces were part of an AMISOM convoy that struck a landmine.  After the blast, from which no casualties were reported, the soldiers fired indiscriminately anticipating an ambush and killed the woman who simply happened to be in the area (Suna Times).  In the Daynille district of the Banadir region, a landmine explosion in the Bangala suburbs caused several casualties while a teashop in the same district was targeted by an explosive device, possibly a remote-controlled landmine (All Africa; All Africa).  At the end of the month, a convoy from the CARE International was targeted outside the Dagahaley area of the Dadaab refugee camp.  Four Kenyan police officers were providing security for the convoy when their vehicle struck a landmine, badly damaging the vehicle.  Reports differs, one said the officers were unhurt, another said all four sustained injuries, a third said the blast killed one officer and injured the other three.  The blast was blamed on Al Shabaab (All Africa; All Africa; Standard Media).

Western Sahara

The Foreign Minister of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Mr. Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, called on the participants at the 13th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty to force the government of Morocco to clear the anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines from the 3 meter high berm splitting the province of Western Sahara.  Calling it “the wall of shame,” Ould Salek pointed out that five people were killed in November by some of the 5 million landmines placed by the Moroccan army. Morocco is not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty and is therefore not subject to the obligations of the Mine Ban Treaty.  The SADR is the recognized as the official government of Western Sahara by some 50 African and Latin American states (All Africa; All Africa).

Angola

As part of its annual reporting, Angola’s Ministry of Social Welfare reported that some 3.7 million Angolans received support from the Ministry, including 15,500 persons with disability who received mobility aids and all persons residing in areas cleared of landmines (All Africa).  Some 1,753 kilometers of road were cleared of almost 80,000 explosive devices, of which 1,600 were landmines.  Over 60,000 people benefited from mine risk education and the Ministry plans to “intensify” its efforts in 2014 (All Africa).  In Cunene province, 5.3 million square meters of land were cleared of landmines (All Africa) and another 67,000 square meters were cleared in Kwanza Sul province (All Africa).

Mozambique

Earlier this year, the National Resistance Movement (RENAMO), forsook its role as a political party and declared its return to the “bush” as a rebel force.  The “bush” is centered around Sofala province where RENAMO’s leader, and perennial presidential election loser, Alfonso Dhlakama is from and so when RENAMO started a campaign of kidnapping and banditry, it did so in Sofala province.  Handicap International (HI), the international demining and humanitarian organization, has been tasked with landmine clearance in Sofala province by the national mine action authority and in the course of their work, HI deminers have come under threat from RENAMO members.  Two HI employees were shot by RENAMO members whilst traveling on a main road and had to be taken to the capitol for treatment.  In response, HI withdrew its demining teams and focused efforts elsewhere.  Despite the tension and violence, HI was still able to clear 1.5 million square meters in Sofala province, but another 1.8 million square meters have yet to be cleared.  HI’s demining coordinator, Aderito Ismael, did say that while RENAMO may have some landmines at its disposal, he felt it was unlikely that the current troubles would lead to laying of new minefields (All Africa).

In Matunuine district, three young men tried to dismantle an old mortar shell in the false belief that they would be able to extract red mercury from the bomb.  Red mercury is a hoax, it does not exist; but still the fairy tale persists with lethal consequences.  Matunuine district is targeted for completion of demining in January 2014 which would also eliminate most unexploded ordnance, like mortar shells, and hopefully protect future lives (All Africa).

In positive news from Mozambique, the British government, through the Department for International Development (DfID), is supporting APOPO and its landmine-sniffing rats as part of a program to clear the remaining minefields in the country.  If RENAMO can be kept from interrupting the process, Mozambique will be able to declare itself mine-free later this year, after it has hosted the Third Review Conference in June (Daily Mirror).

Sudan

In part of Sudan’s Blue Nile State, a conflict between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) and the state rages.  But in another part of the state, in Ed Damazin, peace is taking hold between the former combatants.  Income generation projects and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs are creating communities that might be able resist a return to violence.  One of the projects features disabled veterans, working together on crutches and prosthetic limbs, to build a center that will provide assistance to landmine survivors (Malay Mail).  Just 30 kilometers to the south, the war is raging and the SPLA-N claimed to have killed the local commander of the local Sudanese Armed Forces unit and captured ammunition and equipment, including a landmine detector (All Africa).

South Sudan

In South Sudan, the world’s newest country has fallen into conflict.  A thousand people have been killed in less than a month and thousands have been displaced by what appears to be an eruption in the long-simmering rivalry between the president, Salva Kiir, and his vice president, Riek Machar.  During the war with Khartoum that ended in 2005, the two men were at times allies and at other times armed opponents.  The two men are of different ethnicities, Kiir is Dinka and Machar is Nuer, but this is about power and money and control of sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves, not ethnicity.  South Sudan has received significant support from the United States and the international community for landmine clearance and while there have been no specific reports of casualties from landmines during this outbreak of violence, displaced persons fleeing conflict are one of the most at-risk populations for landmine injuries (International Business Times).

Libya

Coordinated by the United Nations Mine Action Service, the Libyan Mine Action Centre, Handicap International, Mine Advisory Group and Danish Church Aid collected and destroyed 50 metric tonnes of explosives in Misrata, Libya.  While that represents only a portion of the unexploded ordnance and abandoned ordnance littering Libya, it is a lot of explosive material that cannot be trafficked to other conflicts or injure passersby or tempt little children.  It must have been a very loud boom (Tripoli Post).

The Rest of the World

Soccer legend Sir Bobby Charlton has raised a lot of money to fund research into new methods of landmine detection through his charity, Find a Better Way.  In December, £1 million in grants were made to University College of London and Cranfield University to develop a portable ground penetrating radar system and to King’s College for an acoustic detection system. The projects have up to three years to present their results.  Personally, I was impressed to see an article about Find a Better Way that focused on the science and less on Sir Bobby (Engineering and Technology Magazine).

The Syrian civil war, now in its third year and having already claimed more than 100,000 lives, is also creating demand for prosthetic and rehabilitation services.  A clinic in Reyhanli, Turkey has provided more than 300 artificial limbs and has a waiting list of 600 and these are just the people who are at the refugee camps near the clinic.  The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates half a million Syrians have been injured in the conflict.  In a strange confluence of globalization, Syrian landmine victims, injured by mines produced in Russia or China, are receiving care in Turkey from Jordanian prosthetists who are modifying a prosthetic design from India with funding from the United Kingdom (National Public Radio).

In Geneva, representatives from over 100 countries met at the 13th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (13MSP).  During the meeting, extension requests from Chad, Mozambique, Niger and Sudan were approved, giving each country additional time to clear the known landmines from their territory.  The dates and location (June 23 – 27, 2014 in Maputo, Mozambique) of the Third Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty were confirmed (AP Mine Ban Convention).

On December 5th, the last day of the 13MSP, US Senator Patrick Leahy, one of the strongest champions of banning landmines anywhere but especially in the United States, gave a keynote address during the Human Rights First 2013 Summit.  During his speech Senator Leahy discussed the failure of the US government to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and the tragic use of torture by the intelligence agencies after September 11th.  Senator Leahy also called for the revisiting of the Mine Ban Treaty saying simply, “We ought to just sign it.”  He recounted the fact that the US is the largest support of humanitarian mine action, his own efforts to help landmine survivors through the Leahy War Victims Fund and the fact that the United States is the only member of NATO that is not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty.  He called on the government to “show the courage” and end the isolation of the United States (The Raw Story).

Michael P. Moore

January 6, 2014



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