The Month in Mines, February 2014Posted: March 6, 2014
Unfortunately, the shortest month of the year did not bring less news about landmines on the Continent. In addition to the stories below, there has been a renewed push for the United States to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty with a symposium in Washington, DC at which the Mozambican Ambassador to the United States, Her Excellency Amélia Matos Sumbana, invited the United States to join the Mine Ban Treaty and send an official representative to the Third Review Conference in Maputo in June.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The Congolese militia leader, Bosco Ntaganda, appeared in the International Criminal Court at The Hague for an evidentiary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to prosecute him for war crimes committed in Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ntaganda, popularly known as “the Terminator” and associated with the M23 militia recently defeated in DRC, faces 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity. While the official charges include rape, murder and recruitment of child soldiers, the ICC prosecutors included Ntaganda’s use of landmines as evidence of his attacks on civilians. Militias under Ntaganda’s command would place landmines in villages rendering those places unsafe for return after looting (All Africa).
In February, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and National Mine Action Centre of DRC announced the completion and results of the national landmine contamination survey. The survey identified 130 suspected minefields in eight of DRC’s 11 provinces; the total contaminated area is equivalent to 250 football fields which makes the scale of contamination relatively small. However, almost all of the minefields block access to agricultural lands, depriving local communities of their livelihoods.
To date, 8 million square meters of land has been cleared of mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) and now, just 1.5 million square meters remain. Based upon the survey results, DRC could be “mine impact free” by 2019 if some US $20 million were to be allocated for the effort. There have been 2,500 landmine casualties in DRC and with this information, future victims can be spared (Relief Web).
Five people, including a volunteer with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, were killed and another 19 injured, six of whom were also volunteers with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, when their vehicle ran over a landmine in Sudan’s South Khordofan State. In a bitterly ironic twist, the volunteers were on their way to provide medical treatment to civilians injured by gunmen in an attack on the town of Karida. In South Khordofan, some one million Sudanese are isolated by conflict and unable to access humanitarian aid and the landmine blast occurred just as rebels in southern Sudan and the government in Khartoum began a new round of peace talks, the first in about a year. The landmine also highlighted the fact that Sudan has one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in Africa and that with the blockades of humanitarian aid to South Khordofan, many other landmine survivors may not be able to access the rehabilitation services they need in the aftermath of their injuries (All Africa; Ahram; International Committee of the Red Cross; All Africa).
In a model of South-South collaboration, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) and Angola’s National Institute of Demining (INAD), with support from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), signed a cooperation agreement on the removal of landmines. Cambodian and Angolan deminers will share experiences to better serve their respective populations (All Africa). The agreement came as INAD announced plans to demine over 20 million square meters of land in Cunene province, focusing on secondary and tertiary roads and land designated for housing project (All Africa). INAD also described its efforts to clear landmines from the transborder conservation area of Okavango-Zambia, with seven demining brigades deployed to Cuando Cubango province which is part of the conservation area (All Africa).
The Coordinator of the International Campaign against the Moroccan Wall in Western Sahara, Dr. Sidi Mohamed Omar, traveled to Austria to meet with the Austrian Parliament and supporters of Western Sahara’s independence. Austrian members of Parliament were “shocked” by the presence of the wall and the millions of landmines that divide Western Sahara; others called it “shameful” (All Africa).
In an update on the demining progress in Mozambique, the National Demining Institute’s (IND) head of operations declared that 500 suspected hazardous areas across 19 districts remain. Five of Mozambique’s 11 provinces have been completely cleared and 5.6 million square meters are all that remains to be cleared; in 2013, Mozambique cleared over 9 million square meters. The occasion for the remarks was a seminar to develop a national victim assistance plan for the almost 2,500 landmine survivors in the country who will continue to need support after the demining tasks are finished, hopefully this year (All Africa).
In addition to the Cambodians participating in exchanges with Angola, 328 members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) have joined the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali where they will be responsible for demining, ordnance disposal and airport maintenance (Phnom Penh Post).
Unfortunately, the Cambodian team was not in place in time to prevent the landmine incident that took place near the Kidal airport in northern Mali. Two Malian employees of the organization Medecins du Monde were injured after their vehicle struck the mine. The injured were transported to Bamako for treatment (Reuters).
Another landmine detonated on Tunisia’s Mount Chaambi in the Kasserine region by the Algerian border. No injuries or casualties were reported from the blast which occurred as an armored military vehicle passed by the mine. The mine was not believed to have been newly laid (Tunisia Live).
A six year old boy was killed by a piece of unexploded ordnance, described as a landmine, he stepped on at the military training ground in Baringo County. It is not clear if the boy accessed a prohibited site (and if so, how) or if the explosive had been found outside the training grounds (Standard Media).
Five people were killed and another 15 injured when the nine vehicles they were riding in drove into a minefield. The anti-personnel mines in the field were powerful enough to damage the first two vehicles, but not to severely injure those inside. But, when the passengers got out of the vehicles to inspect the damage, they realized only too late the extent of their danger. Terrified to move after their fellow travelers were killed or injured, one person was able to call Chad’s National Demining Center (NDC) for help. An emergency response team from the NDC and Mines Advisory Group set off with some 400 liters of water for the ten-hour journey to the minefield. The response team, with medics drove through the night to reach the survivors.
Stop and think about that. Fifteen people injured by mines, four killed (the fifth would succumb after the response team arrived), and an unknown number of others spent the night in an active minefield, waiting for rescue.
Upon arrival, the response team provided first aid and then helped to transport the wounded get into ambulances for a two hour drive to the clinic. The next day, the government of Chad provided a plane to carry the injured to hospitals in the capitol, Ndjamena. The response team completed the task of marking the minefield for future clearance and removed the two damaged vehicles (Trust).
The Algerian army reported clearing almost 3,700 landmines in January placed by the French army during the liberation struggle in the 1950s and 1960s. The mines were removed from minefields along the eastern and western borders of the country (Ennaha).
A parliamentary report on the financial situation of Zimbabwe’s police and military shows massive underfunding of priority projects. In addition to soldiers losing healthcare coverage due to failure of the army to pay debts, only a quarter of the requested US $2 million budget for demining was allocated. With such a reduced budget, Zimbabwe will fail to meet its Article 5 landmine clearance deadlines under the Mine Ban Treaty. Without the support of the ICRC, Norwegian People’s Aid and the HALO Trust, the country would be even further behind in its mine clearance obligations. The poor financial situation is the result of sanctions against the Zimbabwe government in response to election violence and land seizures and a dwindling tax base and the national economy has faltered (Mail and Guardian). Of course, the government was able to find US $1 million to pay for Robert Mugabe’s 90th birthday party (Voice of America).
A landmine blast in Beledhawo town killed three people and injured many more. The mine appeared to be targeting government troops and may have been detonated remotely (All Africa). In Kismayo, four civilians were injured by a landmine near one of the city’s mosques (Hiiraan Online).
In a ray of hope, the disabled community, including landmine survivors, is organizing as civil society in Somalia emerges. The Institute of Education for Disabled People in Somalia, an organization founded in 1993 which has survived two conflict-ridden decades, called on the government to include disability on the development agenda for Somalia and provide reintegration services for all persons with disability. As an example, the African Education Trust provided vocational training to 115 disabled Somalis, all of whom were able to find work after the conclusion of the training program. The Somali government needs to also address physical accessibility of official buildings (All Africa).
Normally we don’t cover cluster munitions or other weapons, just landmines, but a recent turn of events in South Sudan requires some discussion. This month, UNMAS confirmed the presence of cluster bombs on the Juba – Bor road in Jonglei state. The bombs in question are air-dropped cluster bomblets which could have been dropped by either a plane or a helicopter. South Sudan has reported in the past that it does not possess any cluster munitions and the rebel groups in Jonglei state lack the aircraft to have used the bombs. The South Sudan army’s spokesperson declared “We (do not) have the capacity to deliver these weapons. We have no capacity to use them, transport them or even stockpile these weapons.”
There were credible reports of Ugandan helicopters in the area two months before the cluster bombs were discovered and UNMAS confirmed that the bombs were dropped less than two months before their discovery. Uganda has made conflicting claims about the possession of a cluster munitions stockpile, but Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Development Programme has evidence that air-dropped cluster munitions of the same type found in South Sudan were used in Northern Uganda during the conflict with the LRA. Now, here’s why I want to highlight this story: “Uganda denied that its armed forces ever used cluster munitions and said the LRA was responsible.” The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has never, ever had the ability to use cluster munitions. The LRA did use landmines, but never had any aircraft or artillery to deliver cluster munitions (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; ENCA; All Africa). The Ugandan army and government often use the LRA as a bogeyman or cover for all kinds of illegal activities, including smuggling and human rights abuses. Whenever the Ugandan government faces questions from outside about its military activities, Uganda would bring up the LRA as an excuse. That won’t fly here. The cluster bombs were probably dropped by the Ugandan air force on South Sudanese rebels in violation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions which Uganda has signed (but not yet ratified). There were accusations that in 1998 Uganda used landmines during its invasion of DRC when Ugandan and Rwandan soldiers fought for possession of the city of Kisangani (which was part of the survey mentioned above…). No concrete evidence was ever found, but Uganda’s denials then were as hollow as their denials of cluster munitions use are now.
Michael P. Moore
March 6, 2014