The Month in Mines, September 2014Posted: October 9, 2014
Possible new use of landmines accompany the continuing conflicts in Mali, Libya and Somalia. Elsewhere on the continent, landmines claimed lives in Egypt, Western Sahara and Guinea-Bissau. Landmine survivors in Uganda are participating in economic development programs while Zimbabwe confesses to insufficient funds to aid its survivors. Plus ça change…
North Sinai is, for one of the most restive areas in the world, surprisingly absent from conversations about current conflicts. According to the Egyptian government, almost one thousand people have been killed in “terrorism acts” in Egypt since 2011 with a significant number of those deaths occurring in the Sinai Peninsula. Used as a smuggling route and training ground for Islamist groups, Sinai is relatively lawless except for a few government controlled posts and the border region with Israel and the Gaza Strip. In September, a landmine killed eleven Egyptian soldiers and wounded two others. Blaming Islamists for the attack, Egyptian security forces struck back killing, injuring and arresting “extremists” in a series of retaliatory raids (All Africa; All Africa).
In some very unwelcome news, Angola announced the discovery of 42 new suspected minefields in the eastern areas of the country (All Africa). That announcement offset the positive news that demining is progressing in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area which will boost tourism (All Africa); the destruction of almost 3 million pieces of ordnance including landmines since the start of calendar year (All Africa); and a 20 million euro grant grant from the European Union to support landmine clearance in 11 provinces (All Africa).
According to the Ministry of Defence, lack of policy prevents the government from providing compensation to victims of landmines from the liberation war. The Defence Minister stated that most funding for landmine issues are “earmarked for clearing” and that a “policy decision” would be required to set the amounts of compensation depending upon the severity of the injury (Southern Eye). Neither the Defence Minister, nor the Senator who raised the question, addressed the fact that even if a policy on compensation existed, there is absolutely no funding for such a program.
Mali witnessed multiple landmine attacks in September. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb exploited the confusion surrounding the military coup and Tuareg uprising in northern Mali in 2012 to establish a harsh Islamic rule. French soldiers ousted the Islamists and a United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, was established to consolidate the peace and return security to the region. Since the start of the conflict over 170 people have been killed or injured by landmines.
On September 1st, four civilian contractors were injured when their vehicle drove over a landmine. On the 2nd, four peacekeepers were killed and another 15 injured from the Chadian contingent when they struck a mine shortly after leaving their base in Aguelhok (which had been subject to mortar fire the day before) (BBC; The Star). On September 6th, again near Aguelhok, a landmine killed one civilian and injured several others (Star Africa). A week later, on the 14th and again near Aguelhok, another Chadian peacekeeper was killed and four more injured. The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack but a Malian official noted that the Islamic insurgents “have a whole supply line of mines and they find out which roads the MINUSMA vehicles use” in order to deliberately attack the peacekeepers (Naharnet). The Security Council’s condemnation was ineffective as four days later, another MINUSMA vehicle struck a landmine near Aguelhok killing five more Chadian peacekeepers and injuring three (All Africa). This incident led the Chadian government to threaten to withdraw its support for MINUSMA – Chad has the third-largest contingent of peacekeepers in Mali with over 1,000 soldiers – prompting the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to call Idriss Deby, President of Chad, and express gratitude to Chad for the work of its peacekeepers. Ban and Deby also discussed ways to better protect the peacekeepers (Swiss Info). That conversation led to the delivery of a fleet of mine-resistant vehicles in Mali for MINUSMA and mine risk education sessions for peacekeepers. The efforts to protect peacekeepers did not extend to civilians and the day after Ban and Deby’s call, two shepherds were killed by a mine near Aguelhok (Ahram). That makes a total of 13 killed and at least 29 injured in September alone.
According to one report, the landmines are being laid in northern Mali by the Al Qaeda-linked group, Ansar Dine led by Iyad Ag Gahly, which has created a special unit to mine the roads of the region. Children and young men are trained to disguise the presence of the mines and have been using motorcycles to quickly place mines in the roadway ahead of vehicles (Sahelian).
Zambia re-affirmed its status as a landmine-free country, reporting that no new cases of landmine incidents had been reported in five years. However, the declarations are a little worrying, saying that “on-the-spot” destruction of mines continues and “most of the areas of Zambia are now free of landmines” and “several reports” of landmines have been received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Zambia’s Foreign Minister, Harry Kalaba, asked Zambians to “go about their daily lives normally byt with caution.” Mine risk education programs continue in the country and Mr. Kalaba said the “Government would work tireless [sic] to ensure that [landmine survivors] were reintegrated in society” (Lusaka Voice).
A Sahrawi border guard patrol stuck one of the 7 million landmines in Western Sahara near the Bukerba area. One of the guards was killed and four others injured and sent to an Algerian hospital in Tindouf for treatment (All Africa http://allafrica.com/stories/201409210033.html).
The Somalia National Army (SNA) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) launched an offensive to oust the remnants of Al Shabaab from the country. Considering the fact that Al Shabaab controls more than half of the country, the campaign will take some time but Somalia’s president has pledged to eradicate Al Shabaab by the end of 2015. In Lower Shabelle, SNA and AMISOM soldiers secured Kunturwaarey town without a fight as Al Shabaab withdrew before the allied forces arrived. Kunturwaarey is the fourth town liberated in the current campaign. Allied forces began demining exercises in the town in expectation of finding landmines and booby traps left by Al Shabaab (Mareeg).
In Kismayo, AMISOM soldiers traveling in a convoy struck a landmine. While the Burundian soldiers escaped harm, at least eight bystanders were injured in the explosion (Garowe Online).
To respond to the landmine threat in Somalia, a number of initiatives are underway. The German government donated US $1.9 million to the HALO Trust to clear landmines in northern Somalia and to survey minefields along the border with Ethiopia (Sabahi). The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has deployed 20 mine risk education teams across the south and central Somalia to provide training and support to the areas liberated by the current offensive against Al Shabaab (Shanghai Daily). The National Union of Somali Journalists has incorporated landmine risk awareness into its training for local journalists who have been operating in one of the most dangerous countries for journalists (Somali Current).
At the foot of the Ruwenzori Mountains, Uganda’s Kasese District was the site of several attacks from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF, which were neither Allied, nor Democratic). The ADF used landmines and dozens of Ugandans were injured over the years. The survivors joined together and created the Kasese Landmine Survivors Association which has created a cooperative business to produce rope from the ubiquitous banana plant. Bananas, one of Uganda’s staple crops using an eighth of the country arable land, also produce fibers that the survivors turn into rope for sale to customers like furniture makers. To date, 136 survivors are affiliated with the cooperative and as the coordinator of the Anti-Mines Network reports, the survivors are able to provide each other with peer support in the process of earning an income (CNN).
During the liberation war of the 1970s and internal conflicts of the 1990s, landmines were spread throughout Guinea-Bissau, killing and injuring hundreds. In 2012, the government of Guinea-Bissau declared that all anti-personnel landmines had been cleared from the country. Unfortunately, anti-vehicle mines remain in the country and a minibus traveling to a funeral struck one such mine, tearing the vehicle in two and rendering most of the victims unrecognizable. 19 people were killed instantly, three others died shortly afterwards (BBC; ABC News).
Nigeria’s Army Chief of Staff, Lt. General KTJ Minimah has resisted pressure to move against suspected Boko Haram bases in the Sambisa forest for lack of mine-resistant vehicles. The Nigerian army believes that Boko Haram has mined the forest and any approach on the forest without mine-resistant vehicles “would be suicidal.” The army has also requested tanks, artillery and surface-to-air weaponry. Think about that last one. Why on earth does the Nigerian army need surface-to-air missiles to take on an insurgent force that has zero flight capacity? (All Africa).
The Senegalese Association of Victims of Mines (ASVM) and Handicap International (HI) have launched a joint campaign to education school children and others at risk in the Casamance region of the dangers of landmines (Scoops de Ziguinchor).
The conflict between the Government of Sudan and rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states has hindered any mine action programming there. As the conflict abates in some parts of the region, refugees and displaced persons return to their homes, but as much of the region is contaminated with landmines and other explosive remnants of war, those returns are accompanied by severe risk. No mine clearance has taken place in South Kordofan since 2011 and only limited mine risk education has been implemented since 2013; “school children, farmers and aid workers continue to be exposed to very preventable risks as they go about their daily lives.” Humanitarian assistance cannot be provided until the combatants, the government and the rebels, come to an agreement about allowing delivery of assistance. As many as one million people might be in need of such assistance (UNOCHA).
Officials in Leer County in South Sudan’s Unity State have warned residents to be aware of landmines, especially as residents burn grass in preparation of planting for crops. Leer County has been affected by the conflict between the government of South Sudan and the rebel groups loyal to former vice president, Riek Machar, but Leer County lacks the equipment to conduct landmine clearance (Eye Radio).
In most of the countries covered by this news round-up, I rely on official media outlets for coverage. In Libya, the only formal documentation regarding landmine use came from the United Nations Mission in Libya report (UNSMIL) which noted “Land mines reportedly used in the [Tripoli] airport area and unexploded ordnance are now a major hazard for civilians, especially children.” On social media I saw many photos of landmine and UXO clearance work conducted by militias in and around the Tripoli airport, but no photos of landmines, only UXO. I am fairly certain that landmines were placed by militias (please see my earlier post here), but do not have verifiable details to share here. As demining and mine action organizations are able to re-launch their programs, the situation in Libya will merit close observation.
Michael P. Moore
October 9, 2014