The Month in Mines, December 2014Posted: January 13, 2015
2014 had many high points and low points in the world of mine action. Among the highs were the pledge by States Parties at the Third Review Conference to complete landmine clearance by 2025, the US announcements that it will no longer procure anti-personnel landmines and restrict use of existing mines to the Korean Peninsula, and the record low number of recorded casualties. Some low points included the new use of landmines in the Libyan civil war, the decline in funding for mine action and the continuing obstacles faced by landmine survivors. On the whole, the positive progress continues and there is hope as we move into a new year. Before we close the door on 2014, let’s review what happened in December:
Two stories this month, including one by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) administrator, Helen Clark, provide a lot of context to the landmine situation in Angola. Clark’s piece details the history of landmine use and mine action in the country describing the scale of landmines’ impact in the country, the number of casualties and the efforts to reduce the risk through mine-risk education and clearance. The second article describes the competition between the United States and China for access to Angola’s markets and petroleum reserves, noting how the US’s support for demining is part of America’s investment in the country. The article also reference’s the US’s past support for the rebel movement UNITA which was responsible for much of the landmine use in the country, many of which UNITA received from the United States (World Folio; World Folio).
As Helen Clark mentions, Angola is one of the most heavily mine-affected countries and the news from Angola in December shows the steady progress in the country towards changing that title. Almost 600 explosive devices, including landmines were cleared from 50 kilometers of road in Bie Province (All Africa; All Africa), while some 9,000 residents of the province participated in mine-risk awareness sessions (All Africa). 200 hectares of Kwanza Norte (All Africa) and 1.4 million square meters of Cunene province were cleared of mines (All Africa); 10 kilometers of roads in Cabinda province were cleared (All Africa); and 900 explosive devices were cleared in Zaire province (All Africa). This clearance work will increase agricultural outputs in affected areas (All Africa) and means that landmines and other explosive remnants of war are no longer the leading cause of disability, road accidents are. The Health Minister, José Van-Dúnem, opened a new rehabilitation centre in Luanda, and said “there is a gigantic effort in demining so that landmines stop being a problem and we can just focus on the need to support those who got some disability due to the war” (All Africa) which suggests that survivor assistance has not received the same prioritization as landmine clearance historically, but as more and more mines are cleared, the needs of survivors will be addressed.
Like Angola, Mozambique is polluted by landmines from its liberation war with Portugal and then a long civil war after independence. Since the end of the civil war in 1992, Mozambique has been steadily clearing the landmines and this month, Tete province on the Zimbabwean border was declared landmine-free, the eighth province to be cleared of mines. Tete had been the most mined province in the country with 85% of all landmines in Mozambique in Tete. Only five districts (out of 128 nationwide) in two provinces are still suspected of having landmines and the National Demining Institute anticipates all of Mozambique will be landmine-free by April 1, 2015 (All Africa). Two challenges will remain for Mozambique after the last mine is cleared. Thousands of Mozambicans have been disabled by landmines and many, including former soldiers, receive little or no support from the country despite the government’s obligations to its citizens (Al Jazeera). The other challenge will be to find employment for the hundreds of deminers who have been working to free their country of landmines. Some 200 deminers (out of 1,000 in total) are women, including former liberation war soldiers (like former Mozambican First Lady, Graca Machel), who have few employment alternatives once the demining is complete. Demining is skilled labor and the humanitarian demining organizations have invested a tremendous about of time training and educating the demining teams and while some have received job re-training, more will need job placement assistance very soon.
Three children from a shepherding family were killed and their mother injured by a landmine south of Burao in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland. The mine, detonated by one of the family’s animals, was likely a remnant of Somalia’s civil wars of the 1990s (Somaliland Sun).
From the ongoing campaign to eliminate Al Shabaab, a number of attacks occurred as part of the asymmetrical tactics adopted by the Islamist group. In the other semi-autonomous region of Puntland, three soldiers were killed and another four injured, two critically, by a landmine as Puntland forces drove Al Shabaab from its stronghold in the Gal-gala mountains (Somali Current). Elsewhere, landmine attacks targeted government forces in Barawe injuring five (Radio Goobjoog, no link), the Deputy Governor of Mudug region and his bodyguard were injured by a mine in Galkayo (Sabahi), and in Kismayo an unknown number of casualties were caused by a mine targeting Jubbaland forces (Kobciye).
In Sudan an estimate 50,000 people have been disabled by conflict, many due to bombings and landmines, and prosthetic services are not always available where the amputees live. In South Kordofan state, where the conflict between the government of Sudan and rebel forces is ongoing, there is only one fully functioning hospital, Mother of Mercy, and prosthetic services are provided by Ugandan doctors who travel to the hospital to take measurements and then produce the artificial limbs back in Uganda. The Ugandan doctors then bring the prosthetics to Sudan for final fittings (Voice of America).
Peacekeepers with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) suffered two landmine incidents. Both occurred near the MINUSMA base in Aguelhok in northern Mali and injured Chadian peacekeepers; three peacekeepers were injured in each incident. Two men, found in possession of small arms and landmines, were arrested after the second incident (MINUSMA; MINUSMA).
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been active in the MINUSMA mission and provided mine-risk awareness sessions for the residents of Gao. The awareness sessions focused on drivers who transport goods in and around northern Mali (MINUSMA).
Kenyan security forces arrested two men, accusing them of trying to plant bombs in the road in Mandera town near the Dadaab refugee camps on the border with Somalia (Sabahi).
Algeria’s mine action center and armed forces continue to clear the French-laid landmines from the eastern and western borders of the country. In November almost 3,500 mines were cleared (All Africa).
Boko Haram in Nigeria is the worst conflict that no one is doing anything about. According to a report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) Project, Nigeria is the second deadliest (Somalia is the most) conflict from explosives in Africa in 2014 (ACLED). Thousands of people have been killed, a mini-caliphate in northeastern Nigeria declared, hundreds of girls abducted. Nothing. Next month Nigeria will hold presidential elections and neither the incumbent seeking re-election, Goodluck Jonathan, or his opponent seem willing to address this crisis. Instead we hear the occasional report of an atrocity or receive a video from Boko Haram’s leader making threats against the government and the West. Certainly Boko Haram is well armed (and this report from the Leadership newspaper suggests that Boko Haram are using landmines to defend their territory and has been in possession of heavy weaponry) and has established a very secure stronghold in near the Cameroonian border, but the Nigerian government and military has allowed this Islamist group to fester and consolidate power. Probably a multi-national effort, including Cameroon and Chad which also borders on Boko Haram’s self-declared caliphate, will be needed to dislodge this threat. The question is: when will the Nigerian government have the will to do so?
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its travel advice for Zambia, removing any mention of landmines and instead referred to explosive remnants of war. This reflects the fact that Zambia has cleared all known landmines from its territory in compliance with the Mine Ban Treaty but some risk from unexploded ordnance might remain along Zambia’s borders with Angola, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).
Mine action teams have been active in South Sudan clearing roads and suspected hazardous areas in Unity, Upper Nile and Lakes States. Four landmines were cleared from a community just west of the capital, Juba but insecurity in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States prevents a full mobilization (Relief Web).
One soldier was killed and another injured by a landmine in the Kasserine region near the Algerian border. Islamists hiding out in the Kasserine mountains were blamed for the mine’s placement (Global Post).
There is renewed concern that the conflict between the Sahrawi people and Morocco over the Western Sahara territory could restart after nearly 25 years. In 1991, a ceasefire was brokered by the United Nations, one of the conditions of which was a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, the Sahrawi. Morocco has not allowed the referendum to take place for fear that the Sahrawis will confirm their desire for independence. Instead, Morocco has occupied the region and divided it with a wall, over a thousand kilometers long with millions of landmines to prevent Sahrawi refugees from returning to their homes from the camps in Algeria. Today, more than half the population of the camps are youths, born since the 1991 ceasefire and a growing number of these young men and women are willing to fight for their independence, rather than continue to wait for the referendum (Washington Post).
The leadership of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the nominal government-in-exile of the Sahrawi people in the Algerian camps is not reflective of its population. Mohamed Abdelaziz, SADR’s president, has been in power since 1976 and is the second-longest serving head of state (second only to Cameroon’s Paul Biya) and the only four men have served as prime minister of SADR during Abdelaziz’s rule, the latest in the post since 2003. In any other country, this situation would be viewed as a dictatorship and the willingness to return to conflict with Morocco may reflect not only the sincere desire of the refugees to return to their homeland, but also disaffection with their long-serving leaders.
Michael P. Moore
January 13, 2015
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org