SPLA Officer Claims South Sudan used Banned Anti-Personnel Landmines

(updated 3/30/15, 12:15 pm EST)

On March 12, 2015, an officer in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the Army of the Republic of South Sudan, admitted that the SPLA violated the Mine Ban Treaty when he “stated clearly that anti-personnel mines has been deployed in the area around Nassir,” in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.  The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is tasked with monitoring the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed by the Republic of South Sudan and the rebel movement known as the SPLA In Opposition (SPLA / IO) and loyal to South Sudan’s ousted vice president, Riek Machar, documented this admission and has reported it to the Peace and Security Department of the African Union (IGAD).  This admission by the SPLA corroborates claims made by the SPLA / IO in February (Sudan Tribune) and early this month (Nyamilepedia) that the SPLA has been using anti-personnel landmines around Nassir (also spelled Nasir and Nasser).

Political Map of South Sudan showing States. Upper Nile is the northeastern-most state, and Nassir is in the south of Upper Nile State.

Political Map of South Sudan showing States. Upper Nile is the northeastern-most state, and Nassir is in the south of Upper Nile State.

IGAD has called on the government of South Sudan to clarify the claims of anti-personnel landmine use and asked the Special Envoys to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement to “issue a strong statement against the use of any sort of landmines by the Parties to the present conflict” (IGAD).

In response, the SPLA’s spokesperson, Army information director Malaak Ayuen, denied any use of banned weapons saying that only barbed wire is being used.  Ayuen also invited IGAD officials to travel to Nassir to verify for themselves (Bloomberg).

This admission is not the first suspected violation of the Mine Ban Treaty by the Republic of South Sudan.  In the course of the current conflict between South Sudan and the SPLA / IO, the use of anti-tank landmines and cluster munitions have been documented, but South Sudan has denied the claims, blaming rebel forces for their use (AP Mine Ban Convention; The Monitor) and falsely accused the United Nations peacekeeping mission of using landmines (Landmines in Africa).  On March 16th, Machar wrote to the United Nations headquarters to request a verification mission alleging more than 80 landmine and cluster munition related incidents; 20 of which have caused human casualties (Bloomberg).

If the SPLA has used banned anti-personnel landmines, there is the question of where the mines would have come from.  The SPLA renounced the use of anti-personnel landmines in 2001 when it signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment, more than four years before the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended decades of civil war in Sudan and allowed for the creation of South Sudan as an independent country (Geneva Call).  South Sudan acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty within five months of becoming an independent state in 2011 and shortly thereafter declared that all known stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines had been destroyed (The Monitor).  The destruction of all anti-personnel landmines in South Sudan has been re-confirmed several times.  Therefore, if anti-personnel landmines were used by the SPLA in Nassir, the mines would have either been newly imported, or from previously unreported stockpiles.

Also, Nassir has previously been identified as a suspected hazardous area likely contaminated with anti-personnel landmines (AP Mine Ban Convention).

Known areas of anti-personnel landmine contamination in 2013. From the South Sudan Mine Action Strategy, 2012 - 2016.

Known areas of anti-personnel landmine contamination in 2013. From the South Sudan Mine Action Strategy, 2012 – 2016.

It is possible that the earlier landmine contamination would cause the injuries reported in February, which also injured a naturalized US citizen fighting with the SPLA / IO, but would not explain why an officer of the SPLA would admit to new usage.

The Republic of South Sudan needs to respond to the claims of its officers.  If the claim cannot or is not repudiated, then a verification mission should travel to the site of admitted use and document what mines, if any were used.  If banned anti-personnel landmines were used by the SPLA, the origin of those mines must be determined.  At this point, it is up the Republic of South Sudan to prove its innocence after the admission of its officer on March 12.  This week marks the annual observation of International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action (Saturday, April 4th); it would be very poor form of the Republic of South Sudan to raise awareness of landmines by actually using them.

Michael P. Moore

March 30, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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