The Month in Mines, November 2014Posted: December 12, 2014
As part of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee (covering “Peace and Security”), the member states voted on a resolution, “Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction” (the Mine Ban Treaty) which was sponsored by Algeria, Mozambique and Belgium (the past, present and incoming Presidents of the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, respectively). The vote, on November 3, 2014, reflects the overwhelming support the Treaty has in the international community with 160 states voting for the Treaty and none against. However, 17 states abstained from the vote, including one African state, Egypt, and the United States which had previously indicated its interest in eventually acceding to the treaty. Libya, which is not a party to the Treaty, voted for the resolution in a show of its support for the humanitarian aims, a stance which the United States could have followed. Instead, by abstaining, the United States allowed other states, notably North Korea, to also abstain.
Enough about the “United” Nations…
In Angola, the government has identified demining as a key step in national development. In 2015 US $20 million will be spent on landmine clearance from the European Union and the funds will be used by national and international organizations. Along the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Norwegian Peoples Aid will clear some 490,000 square meters (All Africa). Elsewhere, 46,000 square meters of the central Huambo province were cleared by a national organization between September and November and the land turned over to the community for agriculture (All Africa). The focus on demining for development has allowed the construction of dams and power stations, right-of-ways for roads and fiber-optic cables, and some 185 million square meters of agricultural land to date (All Africa). However, because all land in Angola is owned by the state, land reform must accompany demining. Otherwise, some fear that heavily mined areas will be turned over to extraction industries and agricultural land will be made available to foreign corporations and not Angolan subsistence farmers. In Cuito Cuanavale, the most mined area in Angola (and that’s really saying something), the HALO Trust estimates that after a decade of work, yet another decade will be needed to clear the minefields and in the meantime, the local residents will not have access to farms. The result is food insecurity in what should be a breadbasket but the food insecurity will not be solved when then mines are cleared if the land reform issues is not also addressed (The Guardian).
Two stories show the limitations of landmine survivor assistance services in Zimbabwe. The HALO Trust has recently provided eight prosthetic limbs to landmine survivors living along the northwestern border of the country. One of the survivors was forced to fashion his own prosthetic, essentially a peg leg, because professionally-produced limbs were not available. In the rainy season, the survivor could not tend his fields as the home-made prosthetic would get stuck in the mud. Now, with a new limb made by a prosthetic center in Bulawayo, hundreds of kilometers away, the survivors will be able to plow their lands year round (HALO Trust).
The other story featured a survivor who suffered severe facial injuries as a child. After the injury, the survivor’s mother abandoned the family out of fear of stigma. The survivor persevered and met with doctors from an international organization, Operation of Hope, which provides reconstructive surgeries for cleft palates and lips. The doctors were not able to immediately help the survivor, but they raised the funds and secured the donation of services for a series of surgeries in San Diego, California. The reconstruction of the survivor’s face and jaw has taken more than two years and now the survivor is living and studying in Idaho (All Africa). For both survivors, interventions were needed on their behalf to provide the necessary services and care for the survivors to reintegrate into society after their injuries.
Kismayo, the main city in southern Somalia, saw at least one landmine explosion that was targeting local security forces. No casualties were report (Radio Goobjoog; Garowe Online). Security forces in Kismayo also arrested five suspected Al Shabaab members as they tried to plant additional landmines in the roads (All Africa; All Africa).
On November 6th, Mozambique’s National Demining Institute declared Inhambane province in the south of the country as landmine-free. Some 6.5 million square meters of land were cleared by Handicap International and commercial operators. With the announcement, seven of Mozambique’s ten provinces and 120 out 128 districts are now landmine free. Clearing Inhambane was complicated by the floods of 2000 and 2001 and in fact some 230,000 square meters of suspected minefields could not be cleared because these areas remain submerged and any landmines are at the bottom of lakes and swamps. Local police will be trained to address any landmines should the need arise (or the waters recede). The Institute is now moving clearance capacity to the remaining districts to clear the last few remaining landmines (All Africa; UNDP).
A few months ago the head of a Greek demining organization was under scrutiny for embezzling money that had been granted for landmine clearance projects in Bosnia, Lebanon and Iraq. In Sudan, the director of the Sudanese Association for Combating Mines (JASMAR), which we have profiled on this site, was accused of embezzlement and giving Land Cruisers as gifts to people “who have nothing to do with the association.” The accusations were brought by recently dismissed employees who have demanded an investigation. According to the accusers, JASMAR has not been audited in almost a decade (All Africa).
In Windsor, Canada, a former volunteer with the Advocacy Project is using a quilt to raise awareness about the plight of persons with disabilities in northern Uganda, including landmine survivors. Noting that there are only two accessible toilets serving a community of 300,000 people, Dane Macri is trying to raise awareness and funds to build more such toilets in and around Gulu, a town heavily impacted by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion in the 1990s and early 2000s (Windsor Star).
Human Rights Watch published a report showing evidence that one or more of the militias that fought over the Tripoli airport in July and August 2014 used anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines. Libya is not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, but has indicated its support for the Treaty and the National Transitional Council, the coalition of militias and political groups that overthrew the Gaddafi regime in 2011, pledged not to use landmines in April of that year, a pledge that General Khalifa Hiftar signed. Hiftar commands the Libya Dignity militia which was in control of the Tripoli airport until Misrata-based militias under the name, Libya Dawn, ousted them in August; Libya Dawn has accused Libya Dignity of placing the mines at the airport which would be a violation of Hiftar’s pledge. Libya Dawn engineers have cleared some 600 landmines since taking control of the airport on August 24th (Human Rights Watch).
Mali remains an epicenter for new landmine use on the continent. Ansar al Dine, a branch of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb under Iyad Ag Ghaly, has established a specialized unit within the group to place landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the roads around towns and United Nations peacekeeper bases in northern Mali. Ansar al Dine members, typically young men between 17 and 20, will spot a UN vehicle traveling on a road and then the members will ride on motorbikes to a place further along the road which they expect the UN vehicles will pass. They will then bury a landmine in the roadway and ride away on their motorbikes before the UN vehicle arrives. To date, at least 21 soldiers have been killed and 97 others injured by landmines and IEDs, many of which have been placed by Ansar al Dine using these methods (Sahelien).
In November, there were at least four landmine incidents in Mali, three involving UN peacekeepers. The first, near the United Nations Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) camp in Kidal, destroyed the peacekeepers’ vehicle but did not result in any injuries (MaliWeb). The second, a few days later, injured three peacekeepers near Gao. The injured soldiers were evacuated for treatment. Following up the attack, demining teams found another mine nearby (MINUSMA). At the end of the month, two peacekeepers were killed and another nine injured, four seriously, when the government minister’s convoy they were protected struck a mine near Gao. That same day, a water truck carrying two civilians struck a mine near Kidal, injuring two people (Reuters).
With the support of the United Nations Development Program, the local organization, Mine Victims Association for Development, based in the western Egyptian city of Matrouh, provided micro-loans to 58 women survivors of landmines and wives of landmine survivors. The loans, for up to 3,000 Egyptian Pounds or about US $400, are paid back in monthly installments and could be used to by “sheep, poultry, goats or sewing machines.” For most of the recipients, these were the first loans ever taken out and project is “turning jobless victims to real agents of change in our community.” The recipients have been empowered and are able to be the breadwinners for their families (UNDP).
Democratic Republic of Congo
Over the course of two decades, the army of then-Zaire dumped more than 60 tons of explosive materials on the banks of the Congo River, some 200 kilometers downstream from Kinshasa. By failing to dispose of the ordnance properly, the Zairean army allowed the explosives to spread along the river, leaving long stretches of riverbank uninhabitable. A car ferry was forced to close and fishing activities could not continue. Over the last two years, a team from Norwegian Peoples Aid has destroyed over 70,000 separate pieces of ordnance from nine different dump sites, some pieces dating back to pre-World War II colonial occupation. Soon, the local hospital will be able to re-open, the ferry will renew service and fishing will resume (The Guardian).
Another month, another 3,600 landmines cleared in Algeria. Algerian army forces have destroyed over three-quarters of a million landmines to date, including over 3,100 anti-personnel mines and 500 anti-tank mines in October 2014 (All Africa).
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs releases a weekly status report on a number of issues in South Sudan, including mine action. In a report this month, the following statement caught our eye:
The ongoing conflict has created new risks of explosive hazards particularly in the three conflict-affected states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei, including anti-tank land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). Elsewhere in the country the risks of UXOs from previous conflicts remain. These remained a direct threat to the safe delivery of humanitarian aid and to the safety of civilians and need to be cleared.
The ongoing conflict in South Sudan, one-year old as of this writing, will leave a long shadow on the country, not least from the new use of landmines by the warring parties. The people of South Sudan are owed a permanent peace and their leaders are complicit in the tragedy by not finding a resolution.
Michael P. Moore
December 12, 2014
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org