Landmines and the Crisis in South SudanPosted: January 27, 2014
This blog was inspired by a snippet of a news story in the Washington Post. On June 5, 2011, the following appeared, buried at the bottom of a page:
A month later, South Sudan was the newest country in the world. Since independence, reports of new landmine use have appeared in Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity States in South Sudan (to be fair, new use has also been reported in Sudan). Last month’s eruption of violence in Sudan, between groups loyal to South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, and the ousted Vice President, Riek Machar, have killed thousands of people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes. I have been monitoring the news stories for reports of landmine use and have thankfully seen none to date. However, the mass displacement we are currently seeing in South Sudan will result in some landmine casualties.
People who are displaced, either internally or as refugees, are among the highest risk populations for landmine injuries. The most mine-affected states in South Sudan are Central Equatoria (where the capitol, Juba, is), Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei and Upper Nile. All four states have seen violence in recent weeks, with the largest number of displaced persons in Jonglei state. The movement of people is in both directions; for example, some people are fleeing violence in Jonglei while others are going there for refuge. Some people are relying on United Nations bases in Bentiu (Unity State), Malakal (Upper Nile State), Bor (Jonglei State) and Juba (Central Equatoria State) for security.
More than 600,000 people have been displaced, either internally or as refugees in neighboring countries, and as the displaced move to seek safety and security, they are exposing themselves to the very immediate risks of landmines. Last week, Radio Tamazuj reported that two people had been killed and 14 others had been wounded by a landmine blast in Manyo Country of Upper Nile State. Those killed and wounded had been riding in a vehicle that “was serving people who were displaced to different areas of the county by insecurity when it was hit by the land mine.” The mine was not believed to be newly laid, but a remnant from earlier conflicts (Radio Tamazuj). Some 10,000 people have been killed and while the vast majority of those casualties are the results of gunshots or violent attacks, I would expect the number killed by landmines to be greater than the two reported so far. In 2012, the number of landmine victims in South Sudan dropped from more than 200 to just 22 (The Monitor), but this spate of extreme violence will likely be accompanied by a dramatic increase in the number of casualties, yet another issue for the world’s newest state to grapple with as it tries to achieve a lasting peace.
Now that a cessation of hostilities agreement has been signed (Lesley on Africa), some of the displaced may be on the move to their home villages and towns and again exposing themselves to dangers. The authorities need to ensure that minefield markers are current and that any persons in refugee or displacement camps are provided with mine-risk education so they are aware of the risks during travel.
Michael P. Moore
January 27, 2014