The Month in Mines, February 2015

The multinational offensive against the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria has uncovered the possible extensive use of landmines (mostly in the form of victim-activated improvised explosive devices [IEDs], or “artisanal landmines” as we have referred to them in these pages) by the Islamist group.  Action on Armed Violence has tracked the damage done by IEDs over the last several years noting the increase in the use of these weapons.  Boko Haram, like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghred in Mali and Al Shabaab in Somalia and the as-yet-unnamed Islamists in Tunisia, appear to be using artisanal landmines to disrupt travel and deny entry to areas under its control.  Prior to the offensive, rumors abounded about Boko Haram’s use of landmines, but several incidents in Nigeria and neighboring countries prove the rumors true, making Nigeria join Mali and Tunisia as countries that had been free of landmines, but are no longer so.

While Boko Haram was the big story regarding landmines on the Continent, mine clearance progress continued elsewhere and several unfortunate reminders were to be found of the need for more efforts.  Landmines continue to plague more than twenty African countries and despite the pledges made at the Third Review Conference in Mozambique last June, much remains to be done.

Western Sahara

Two men were injured by an unexploded cluster bomb in the Polisario-controlled region of Western Sahara (All Africa) and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights released a report critical of Morocco’s activities in Western Sahara including reports of “unmonitored landmine blasts” (All Africa).

Angola

As amazing as this might sound, after 20 years of mine action, the government of Angola recently asked for assistance from the residents of Cunene province in identifying mine affected areas.  We agree that residents of an area are likely to have the best knowledge about the location of suspected minefields, but the government should complete all survey work to determine the extent of the landmine problem with all haste (All Africa).  Also in Cunene province, which borders Namibia, the government destroyed 130 pieces of unexploded ordnance cleared form the border region (All Africa). In Bie province, almost 600 explosive devices, including 42 landmines were detonated after clearance by the National Demining Institute (All Africa) and the HALO Trust reported clearing some 315,000 square meters of land in 2014.  In addition to mine clearance, HALO Trust also provided mine risk education to over 5,000 individuals (All Africa).  Cuanza Sul province, in central Angola, saw the clearance of 11.7 million square meters by government, NGO and private demining operators (All Africa).

All told, Angola has cleared more than 5 million pieces of explosive ordnance from an area equivalent to 500,000 football fields.  This includes almost 450,000 antipersonnel mines and roughly 45,000 anti-vehicle or anti-tank mines.  There are about 2,000 more areas suspected or confirmed to contain landmines and clearance of those areas may not be finished until 2028 (Ango Noticias).

Tunisia

The World War II minefields of El Alamein in Egypt are some of the most famous, but the landmine contamination in North Africa from World War II extends far beyond Egypt. As a reminder, a World War II mine was found in Tunisia this month during a routine security sweep (All Africa).

Rwanda

Several years ago, Rwanda declared itself landmine-free, but survivors of landmine injuries continue to live and work in the country.  Rayisi Kwizera lost his leg in 1997 when he was eleven years old.  Seven years later Kwizera received a bicycle from the Japan One Love project which works in Rwanda producing prosthetic devices and providing rehabilitation services.  Kwizera soon was biking 30 kilometers a day along the hills of Kigali, Rwanda’s capitol.  Now, Kwizera is a bicycle racer who dreams of participating in the Paralympic Games on behalf of his country.  To keep in shape, he has been riding along with the cyclists participating in the Tour of Rwanda as there are no specific races for paralympians in Rwanda (All Africa).

Nigeria

Nigeria postponed its presidential elections which were supposed to take place on February 14th as the military launched an offensive against the Boko Haram insurgency which had declared a caliphate in northeastern Nigeria, near the borders with Chad and Cameroon on the banks of Lake Chad.  Boko Haram has been operating freely in the region for years, killing and abducting people with little resistance from the government, including the abduction of over 200 school girls from the village of Chibok, an event that launched the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.  Prior to the postponement of the elections, the candidates barely mentioned Boko Haram and President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign managers had the tone-deaf idea to use #BringBackGoodluck as a campaign slogan when Jonathan had ignored the Chibok abductions for months.

Of course, once the offensive got underway, the Nigerian army has been reported to have made great progress in defeating and driving out Boko Haram.  Nigerian forces stormed Baga town and Boko Haram posts in the Sambisa forests.  The liberation of Baga was preceded by the clearance of some 1,500 landmines planted by Boko Haram around the town (Eye on Nigeria) and in Sambisa Forest, the Nigerian forces used mine-sweeping tanks to clear the mines that had previously stalled efforts in the Forest (All Africa).

The offensive against Boko Haram has been joined by troops from Niger, Chad and Cameroon.  In retaliation, Boko Haram placed mines in Niger and Cameroon.  In the Nigerien region of Diffa, near the Nigerian border, two soldiers were killed and four other wounded by a landmine placed in a roadway (Reuters).  Also in Diffa, two civilians were killed when their horse-drawn cart ran over a landmine (All Africa).  In Cameroon, an officer and an enlisted man were killed by an artisanal landmine, suspected to have been made from explosives seized from a Chinese workers’ camp in May 2014 (Reuters).  No reports of Nigerian casualties from landmines have been seen.

Somalia

One person was killed by a landmine in Mogadishu thought to be targeting Turkish workers building a road.  Turkey has been a key supporter of reconstruction in Somalia (RBC Radio).

In the semi-autonomous Puntland region, security forces have been fighting Al Shabaab members in the Galgala mountain range. Along a feeder road to the main highway in the area, a Puntland soldier was injured when a troop transport vehicle drove into a minefield laid by Al Shabaab (Garowe Online, no link).

South Sudan

A naturalized United States citizen was injured by a landmine in Upper Nile state, losing his right leg in the explosion.  The rebel group Sudan People Liberation Movement in Opposition, which the survivor had joined and is loyal to ousted South Sudan vice president Riek Machar, accused the South Sudan government of using anti-personnel landmines in and around Nasir town (Sudan Tribune).

The Development Initiative (TDI) continues to support the United Nations Mine Action Service’s program in South Sudan with survey and clearance work.  An estimate 40 clearance personnel will be dispatched to respond to the extensive landmine contamination in the world’s newest country (Devex).

Mali

A spokesperson for a Tuareg (or Azawad) coalition accused militias loyal to the government of Mali of placing landmines in northern Mali where Tuareg separatists sparked an Islamist uprising that required French forces to quell (Reuters).  Near Timbuktu, a Malian army vehicle struck a landmine that had been placed by a motorcyclist who rode a few kilometers ahead of the vehicle.  No injuries were reported and the attack was blamed on Islamists (Daily Mail).  Two weeks later, seven United Nations peacekeepers were injured, four seriously, by a landmine near Tabankort (Agence France Presse).

Algeria

In Algeria, 2,929 mines, including anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, were cleared from the border regions.  These mines were part of the French defensive operations from the Algerian liberation war of the 1950s and 1960s (Ennahar Online).

Sudan

Three herders and five camels were killed by a piece of unexploded ordnance in East Jebel Marra in Sudan’s Darfur region (Radio Dabanga).  In North Darfur, two children were killed when they picked up and played with a piece of unexploded ordnance (All Africa).

In the disputed Abyei region on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, a mine risk education campaign has been launched to ensure local residents are familiar with landmines and other explosive remnants of war and know who to contact if such items are discovered (Radio Tamazuj).

Chad

Handicap International has launched a landmine survey and clearance project in Chad.  Over the course of several days, the survey team met with residents and elders to ascertain the location of possible minefields as no records were kept of mine-laying in the southern regions of the country. Along the way, the team delivered mine risk education lessons to thousands of students.  The team also worked to educate fishermen after learning of several accidents along the rivers (Handicap International).

Handicap International’s survey team was delayed by threats made by Boko Haram to invade Chad.  Two women were arrested near the country’s capitol, N’Djamena carrying anti-personnel landmines and grenades.  The women were believed to be members of Boko Haram intending to launch suicide attacks against Chad in retaliation for Chad’s supporting the Nigerian Army’s assault against Boko Haram (Alwihda Info).

Michael P. Moore

March 12, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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