The Month in Mines, January 2014Posted: February 10, 2014
2014 will mark the twentieth anniversary of Bill Clinton’s call for the “eventual elimination” of anti-personnel landmines. In an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Clinton said:
I am proposing a first step toward the eventual elimination of a less visible but still deadly threat: the world’s 85 million antipersonnel land mines, one for every 50 people on the face of the Earth. I ask all nations to join with us and conclude an agreement to reduce the number and availability of those mines. Ridding the world of those often hidden weapons will help to save the lives of tens of thousands of men and women and innocent children in the years to come (State Department).
To date, we have seen tremendous success in reducing the “number and availability” of anti-personnel landmines, but the “elimination” of landmines has been more “eventual” than I think anyone would have expected. But a new year is a time for new optimism; let’s see where 2014 takes us.
A landmine targeting a Somali military vehicle traveling through the Yaqshid neighborhood north of Mogadishu killed a civilian woman and injured several others. A Somali soldier may also have been killed and other soldiers wounded, but no official confirmation of military casualties was made (Hiraan Online; All Africa). A few days later, a landmine detonated as an aid convoy passed on its way to Ifo 1 camp near the Dadaab refugee camp complex. Five Kenyan policemen were riding in the car that was struck and suffered minor injuries. This was the second such attack on an aid convoy in Dadaab in as many weeks (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa). On the Afgoye to Mogadishu road, two soldiers were killed and three others injured by a landmine (All Africa; Sabahi). In Galka’ayo town in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, a landmine was placed under a bridge near the local hospital. When the mine was triggered, three people were killed and another seven injured (All Africa). And in Beledweyn town in central Somalia, a site of significant conflict, two landmine blasts occurred simultaneously. No casualties were reported but some witnesses believed that the person or persons who were planting the mines may have accidentally triggered them. The blasts were immediately followed by a security sweep which arrested dozens of young men suspected of complicity in the blasts (All Africa; All Africa).
The lone bright spot in Somalia comes from the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland. Since Somaliland is not recognized as an independent state, it cannot join the Mine Ban Treaty, but the government of the region has been working with Geneva Call to draft legislation that would mirror the Mine Ban Treaty and prohibit the use, transfer and stockpiling of landmines. The legislation is under consideration by Somaliland’s House of Representatives and may come to a full vote in the very near future (Somaliland Sun).
Angola’s government issued several end of year reports on landmine clearance work in 2013, province by province:
- In Huambo province, 3.1 million square meters of land were cleared (All Africa);
- In Bie Province, the HALO Trust cleared 129 landmines (All Africa);
- 3.23 million square meters of land were cleared in Lunda Sul province (All Africa);
- 180 kilometers of road linking Lunda Sul province with Lunda Norte province (All Africa);
- 240 sappers were trained between Lunda Norte province and Cunene Province (All Africa; All Africa); and
- 5.3 million square meters of land were cleared in Cunene province (Defence Web).
In total, more than 1,500 landmines and 100,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) were cleared from Angola in 2013. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, commended Angola on its work to “free the country from landmines.” There is lingering concern, however, despite the tremendous progress made in landmine clearance that the demining program is “hamstrung by lack of funding” and the work is being scaled back in various parts of the country (Defence Web; All Africa).
Sudan, even after the partition that created South Sudan, has one of the worst landmine contamination problems in Africa. Since the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, Sudan has made significant progress to clear its known minefields with some 385 minefields consisting of 42.6 million square meters of land cleared since 2011. Local organizations like JASMAR and Friends of Development Organization have been working on mine risk education in addition to clearance and now the local communities of Sudan can report any discovered ERW (UNOCHA). As a result of these efforts, in January the government of Sudan declared several areas of East Sudan, including Togan, and that Kassala state is expected to be landmine-free in 2014. The landmines and ERW is these areas date back to World War II and continued through 2007. The states of Kassala, Red Sea and Gedaref have some 545 landmine survivors and the government has recognized landmines as “the main obstacle to comprehensive development, reconstruction, and voluntary return to affected areas.” Another 500 landmine survivors have been registered elsewhere in Sudan but efforts for survivor assistance were not highlighted in the recent announcements about landmine clearance (All Africa; All Africa).
Tunisian authorities arrested three persons, a “terrorist” and two others in the Kasserine region, and seized three landmines. Over the last several months, several landmines have detonated around Kasserine and nearby Mount Chaambi were Islamist fighters have been suspected of hiding (All Africa).
As landmine clearance expands in Zimbabwe with the support of the HALO Trust and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), mine risk education programs for school children have also begun. Some 9,300 students who live near the border minefields of Crooks Corner received mine risk education to learn how to identify and avoid anti-personnel landmines (Relief Web).
A year ago, six people were killed when a traditional healer tried to extract red mercury from what was later identified as an anti-vehicle landmine. Three houses were completely destroyed and a dozen others damaged. To date, the survivors of the blast continue to struggle in temporary housing (All Africa). I bring up this story because a soldier stationed at the Zimbabwe Nation Army ammunitions depot in Mashonaland West Province was arrested and convicted in January for conspiring to sell landmines and grenades in order to extract the red mercury they believed was inside (Bulawayo 24). So let’s all repeat:
- There is no such thing as red mercury.
- Tampering with landmines is extremely dangerous.
- Enough people are killed and injured by landmines.
The Boko Haram conflict in northern Nigeria is one of the bloodiest in Africa. Characterized as an insurgency or coordinated series of terrorist attacks, I think it’s rapidly developing into a civil war. I am skeptical of most reporting on the Boko Haram conflict, but there is the possibility that the group has started to use victim-activated landmines in addition to other improvised explosive devices. According to one report, more than 50 people were killed in Borno State and 300 houses destroyed on the last weekend of January. A security source said “The [Boko Haram] attackers used several improvised explosive devices and planted several improvised explosive devices around the village as they were leaving. Two improved explosives went off this morning, narrowly missing our security personnel going there to evacuate corpses.” Referring to the planted bombs as “landmines,” as the paper, “Leadership,” has done may be an accurate portrayal of Boko Haram’s devices. The fact that the bombs went off many hours after the attack and appear to have been used as booby-traps for persons clearing the bodies of those killed is suggestive of a victim-activated device (All Africa).
The majority of the coverage of South Sudan lately has been rightly focused on the half million people displaced and 10,000 killed in violence between factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and ousted Vice President Riek Machar. While a Cessation of Hostilities agreement was signed by the two sides, violence continues as does displacement both within South Sudan and in refugee camps in neighboring countries. Displaced persons are at a high risk of landmine injury due to the fact that they are traveling through unfamiliar territory, quickly and with little or no support from official sources. That risk was made evident when two people were killed and another 14 injured as the Land Cruiser they were riding in drove over a landmine in Upper Nile State. The Land Cruiser was being used a form of public transportation and served the needs of people who were displaced (Radio Tamazuj). I am certain there have been other landmine injuries during the weeks of violence, but this was the only confirmable report I have seen.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Handicap International (HI) has launched a new demining program in Orientale and Maniema provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Some 30,000 square meters of land near the city of Kisangani will be cleared using a combination of mechanical methods and manual methods. Between a 36-ton MineWolf and a team of mine-sniffing German Shepherd dogs, HI’s deminers in DRC hope to make rapid progress. Similar combinations of techniques have cleared more than 12 million square meters of land in Mozambique (Handicap International).
Speaking of Mozambique, the Belgian organization APOPO will be deploying a “small army” of its specially trained rats to help the country meet its mine clearance deadline of December 31, 2014. In a perfect description of humanitarian demining, APOPO’s Mozambique program manager, Tess Tewelde, said, “The target is not the number of landmines, rather it is to clear the contaminated area and give back to the people. Whether [landmines] are few or many, the threat is the same” (The Guardian).
Five United Nations peacekeepers were slightly injured when their vehicle ran over a landmine some 20 miles from the northern town of Kidal. Kidal had been held by Islamists prior to the French military’s intervention in the country and still has some rebel elements active in the region. The identity of the peacekeepers is unknown, but most of the troops are from other African countries with some French and Chinese soldiers participating in the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) (The Telegraph).
Michael P. Moore
February 10, 2014