The Month in Mines, March 2015Posted: April 28, 2015
Since this blog started almost four years ago, we’ve documented possible new use of landmines in Tunisia, Mali and Libya. This month there are allegations of new use of mines in Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan and cluster munition use in Libya. Sadly, these allegations are probably true and more reflective of the fact that conflict appears to be increasing on the continent. Across north Africa and the Sahel, conflicts are becoming more entrenched as the Arab Spring revolutions spark counter-revolutions. This blog, by the very nature of its subject, tends toward a “heart of darkness” narrative for the continent, but don’t let that dissuade you. We are eternal optimists here. Despite the Boko Haram rebellion in Nigeria, March witnessed a peaceful and democratic transition of power. Tunisia continues to strengthen the institutions of democracy. In Somalia, there are calls for the hosting of international football matches and demands by the national football association that peacekeeping forces vacate the national stadium in Mogadishu to allow this. There is much more good news coming from the continent than bad, but the landmine story is one of positives and negatives, as this month’s reports show.
The Nigerian armed forces, along with those of Cameroon, Niger and Chad, have moved against the Boko Haram insurgency which is based in the northwest of the country, near Nigeria’s borders with the other countries in the coalition. The military actions have sparked massive displacement of civilians from the region. 50,000 people in Niger have been displaced, including the majority of the population of the town of Bosso, who remain displaced due to the presence of landmines in the town (All Africa). In the town of Diffa, two Nigerien soldiers were killed and a third injured by a Boko Haram-placed landmine (Reuters). In Kolofata in Cameroon, Boko Haram has been placing landmines in the roadways to prevent movement by Cameroonian forces. Cameroon’s military possesses mine detection gear and training obtained from both the United States and Russia, but that has not prevented some landmine casualties to date (Voice of America).
In Nigeria itself, the displaced of Borno state are being advised against returning to their homes. Authorities have accused Boko Haram of planting landmines in public places and poisoning water sources and those authorities have called for clearing of mines and testing of water sources to ensure safety before the displaced are allowed to return (This Day Live; All Africa). This process will take some months, long after the elections which were delayed in order for the Nigerian military to take the offensive. To participate in the national elections, the state governments would need to open polling at the displacement camps, some of which are in Niger (All Africa).
In Angola’s Cunene province, 95 explosive devices, including landmines were cleared between September 2014 and February 2015. The clearance organization also called for more survey work to determine the scale of contamination (All Africa). This work was part of the 5.3 million square meters of Cunene cleared of landmines in 2014; an activity the government calls crucial for agriculture and development (All Africa). And just as demining is crucial for agriculture, peace is crucial for demining and in 2015, the continued peace in Cunene province will allow an estimated 18.9 million square meters to be cleared of mines (All Africa). In Bie province, the end of the rainy season signals the start of the demining season, which allows for infrastructure development (All Africa). In Cuando Cubango province, the HALO Trust reflected upon more than a dozen years of work and celebrated the 27th anniversary of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, one of the largest and last conventional battles fought in sub-Saharan Africa. In the course of their labors in the province, the HALO Trust has cleared more than 31,000 anti-personnel landmines and 13,000 anti-tank landmines (All Africa).
A few months ago, we reported on the confirmed new use of landmines in Libya (Landmines in Africa). In March, Human Rights Watch reported on the evidence that cluster munitions have also been used on at least two occasions in Libya since the start of the current conflict. The munitions were discovered by militias associated with the Libya Dawn alliance which is fighting against the Libya Dignity alliance led by General Haftar. Haftar and Libya Dignity are associated with the officially recognized government of Libya and have received support in the form of airstrikes from Egyptian forces. Libya Dawn accused the Libyan air force of using cluster munitions, but, of course, the Libyan air force has denied possessing the weapons (All Africa).
In the desert on the western (liberated) side of the berm in Western Sahara, a shepherd was killed by a cluster munition when it detonated (Sahara Press Service). This was just one of the 2,500 landmines and UXO casualties in Western Sahara over the last 40 years. In partial response, the Polisario Front, which is the official government of the Sahrawi people, destroyed a stockpile of anti-personnel landmines in March in accordance with its pledges under the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment. Over the last decade, the Polisario Front has destroyed more than 10,000 stockpiled mines (Geneva Call).
In North Darfur, four children were killed and another five injured as they played with and attempted to set fire to a piece of unexploded ordnance they found. In the disputed province of Abyei, four more children were killed by a landmine while they were out hunting (Radio Dabanga). Also in Darfur, five militia men aligned with the government in Khartoum were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine near Jebel Marra (All Africa).
Zambian forces will be contributing peacekeepers to the UN mission in the Central African Republic and have received a donation of landmine detection and clearance equipment from the United States (All Africa).
Near the Libyan border, Tunisian forces seized an arms cache that included machine guns, rockets and landmines (Al Arabiya). Along the Algerian border, where the government has been fighting Islamists for many months, one Tunisian soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine. The landmine was attributed to those same Islamists who have also been responsible for many similar incidents (Reuters).
The government of Japan is one of the largest donors to mine action and in March announced a US $3 million contribution for work in Somalia to include clearance, capacity building for the Somali Explosive Management Authority and a survey of hazards along the Somalia-Ethiopia border (Mareeg). In the coastal town of Marca, the African Union peacekeeping force was targeted by a landmine which killed at least two civilians. In the aftermath of the blast, peacekeepers also fired indiscriminately on persons in the area, likely causing further casualties (All Africa). In Bay region, five Al Shabaab members died when the landmine they were attempting to plant in the roadway detonated (Wacaal Media).
In the Sinai peninsula, three Egyptian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine placed in the road (News 24).
Seven people were killed and a child injured when an unsecured stockpile of munitions detonated in Unity State. Doctors without Borders warned of other stockpiles in the region from fighting between the government and rebels in 2014 (New York Times).
A spokesperson for the rebels, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO), Col. Ngundeng, accused the South Sudan government and its army of using landmines supplied by Uganda. The accusations, which state that the South Sudan army is using anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines, would represent a significant violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and Col. Ngundeng noted that several civilians have been injured by the weapons (Nyamilepedia). The accusations were given credibility when the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which is tasked with monitoring the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed between the rebels and the government, quoted an officer from the South Sudan army as saying that South Sudan has used anti-personnel landmines around Nassir town in Upper Nile State. The government refuted the statement by the soldier, and called for external observers but the security situation does not allow for such a mission at this time (Bloomberg).
Vermont National Guard members helped build a training facility for landmine clearance in Senegal as part of a continuing partnership between the Vermont Guard and the Senegalese army (US Army).
Three members of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist movement in Mali, were killed by a landmine near Kidal (Reuters). Also in northern Mali, two French soldiers were injured when their vehicle struck a mine (All Africa). In the Malian capitol, Bamako, deminers working for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali were killed when a gunman opened fire on a nightclub, killing five people and injuring at least eight. The attack targeted foreigners in the country with French, Belgian and Swiss among the casualties (News 24).
Landmine survivors in northern Uganda have been offered vocational training to enable them to provide for themselves. The Uganda Landmine Survivors Association, with support from Britain’s Department for International Development, offered training in hair dressing, knitting and metal fabrication, the result of which has been that at least four survivors now have the capacity to support themselves and their families (Acholi Times).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
April 28, 2015