The Month in Mines, April 2015Posted: May 20, 2015
Twice a year, upon release of the annual Landmine Monitor report around December 1st and the annual celebration of International Day for Mine Action and Awareness on April 4th, countries and organizations take the opportunity to recommit themselves to mine action. Several of this month’s stories come from events commemorating Mine Action day, but entirely too many also come from the fact that landmines continue to plague Africa and the world, ten years after the first International day and almost 20 years after the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty. Landmine use appears to be on the increase, a sad way to increase awareness of the need for mine action.
Ten landmines were cleared from the road leading to Airport Road in Benghazi and a spokesperson for the army warned of the possibility of additional mines in the area from fighting earlier in the conflict (Al Wasat). In Ajdabiya, one soldier was killed and four others wounded by landmine (Al Wasat).
Despite the insecurity in the country, the United Nations Mission in Libya and the Libyan Mine Action Centre hosted an event for International Mine Action Day (UNSMIL).
Democratic Republic of Congo
The head of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, called achieving landmine-free Congo “a duty.” Kobler noted that there were almost 30 landmine casualties in the DRC and over 2,500 survivors. One-eighth of the mine-affected land in DRC was cleared in 2014 with over 15,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), including landmines, destroyed (MONUSCO). The contamination in DRC is concentrated in a few regions. According to the group, Africa for Mine Action, 40% of Ituri Province is contaminated with landmines and after years of work, only three provinces in the entire country have been declared landmine-free (Radio Okapi).
Three deminers with the South-African firm, Mechem, were kidnapped from near the eastern city of Goma. While some reports erroneously labelled the deminers as United Nations peacekeepers, the three men, two Congolese and one from abroad, were released after about a week. The kidnappings occurred as tensions between DRC and Rwanda were high with a Congolese soldier injured in an exchange with Rwandan troops and the re-emergence of the Allied Democratic Force, a rebel group committed to overthrowing the Ugandan government and responsible for brutal attacks in the 1990s and early 2000s (World Bulletin; Agence France Presse; News 24). The men were kidnapped while looking into reports of an anti-tank landmine and in total, three such mines were discovered near Goma the same week as the abductions. The mines appear to be new ones and would represent the first new usage of mines in DRC since 1999 (State Department; Radio Okapi).
Central African Republic
During an April 4th event, the head of the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) confirmed that there were “no real threats of landmines” in the country. MINUSCA teams has recovered landmines from “public places” and displacement camps, but these mines were in stockpiles and not deployed (All Africa).
During the recent conflict in the Central African Republic, Seleka rebels had attacked members of the Ba’aka ethnic group in the belief that Ba’aka members had mythical Red Mercury. The Ba’aka village is now under the fulltime protection of government soldiers (Mint Press News).
Making quick and steady progress in Bie Province, Angola and the HALO Trust announced the clearance of three minefields covering 10.5 hectares (All Africa). This clearance and other projects across the country facilitate rapid development such as the National Urbanisation and Housing Programme which seeks to build one million new houses in the country. To date, over 80,000 have been built and the Minister of Urbanisation and Housing called for more landmine clearance to allow more houses to be cleared (All Africa).
In the capitol, Mogadishu, three men were caught trying to bury a landmine in Howlwadag district. The mine was cleared and the road made safe (Warar Media).
In commemoration of International Mine Action Day, the UNAMID peacekeeping mission in Darfur and its partner The Development Initiative (TDI) hosted an awareness session. In 2014, TDI completed assessments of 217 villages, cleared 183 dangerous areas and destroyed over 3,000 pieced of unexploded ordnance. TDI and its local partners have provided mine risk education to over 600,000 people in Darfur, a necessary act in a region which has seen at least 150 ERW incidents which have killed 105 people and injured 215, many of them children (All Africa).
In South Kordofan state where the government is fighting a rebel group, a landmine detonated during the national election day killing three people and injuring another three (Radio Tamazuj).
That conflict in South Kordofan has been associated with many accusations of human rights violations and war crimes. In April, Human Rights Watch reported on confirmed evidence of cluster munitions use by the government, identifying the remnants of six cluster bombs. This is the second accusation of cluster munition use by Sudan, the first was in 2012, and monitors suspect that Sudan both stockpiles and produces the weapon. Both times, the targets of the cluster munition use appear to be civilians which would be a war crime (Sudan Tribune). Of course, the Sudanese government has rejected the reports, calling them “fabricated and baseless” and the fight against the rebels in South Kordofan “does not need such bombs” (Anadolu Agency).
The campaign against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria continued with fighting focused around Borno State and the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram is believed to be based. Boko Haram appears to have used landmines extensively to prevent any direct assault upon its position. Seven Nigerians, six soldiers and one “civilian vigilante” were injured by a landmine placed by Boko Haram near the town of Baga (All Africa). When Nigerian forces launched an attack on Sambisa Forest, one soldier and three vigilantes were killed by a mine and the Nigerian soldiers retreated to a point, just five kilometers from Boko Haram’s main camp in the forest (All Africa). After these two incidents, the Nigerian army brought out mechanized minesweepers to help clear roads and paths for further attacks against Boko Haram (All Africa). This begs the question, if Nigeria had such equipment already, why did they wait until several soldiers had been killed or injured by mines before using them? Especially since Boko Haram has long been rumored to be using landmines as part of its defense.
Eleven landmines were cleared by Tunisian forces during a recent operation on Mount Salloum in the Kasserine region on the Algerian border. A twelfth mine detonated without causing an injuries (All Africa).
Mali continues to be in the midst of a terrible landmine epidemic as a result of continuing conflict there that has shattered most of the northern region of the country. Since 2013 more than 325 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Mali (MINUSMA). Two incidents targeted peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission, MINUSMA. The first injured two peacekeepers and the second another seven; both incidents occurred as peacekeepers were escorting convoys near Kidal (Global Post; MINUSMA). Two Malian soldiers were injured by a landmine near the town of Diabaly which is the further south a landmine attack has been recorded in the course of the current conflict (Reuters). In Aguelhok, MINUSMA peacekeepers arrested three men who were accused of planting landmines (MINUSMA). Near the town of Gossi, two civilian women were killed by a mine (Defence Web), but that incident was dwarfed by one on the road from Gossi to Gao. Two men on a motorcycle placed a mine in the road and a bus carrying people to people to the weekly market hit the mine, killing at least three people and injuring another 28 (Agence France Presse; Global Post).
In an April 4th event for International Mine Action Day, the South Sudan Vice President called landmines “one of the biggest obstacles to development in the country.” At the same event, the head of the South Sudan Demining Commission accused the rebel Sudanese People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/IO) of using landmines in the current conflict (Radio Tamazuj). In response the SPLM/IO’s Mine Action Program denied using landmines and in turn accused the government of South Sudan of using mines, reporting at least 60 separate incidents of landmine use by the government (Radio Tamazuj). So the government denied the SPLM/IO’s accusations and reported discovering nine mines placed by the SPLM/IO, two of which destroyed vehicles (Citizen News).
This has been the pattern of the conflict in South Sudan since violence broke out in December 2013. The two sides have traded accusations of war crimes and treaty violations when in fact, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional body of governments of East Africa, has documented violations by both sides in roughly equal numbers. The government of South Sudan, the SPLM/IO and the many, many militias associated with each are all complicit in the continuation and escalation of the conflict. In the end, it is the people of South Sudan who are made to suffer by their leaders’ callous indifference.
The Algerian People’s National Army has cleared over 720,000 landmines from seven provinces. 72 municipalities had been contaminated by mines and 46 have been cleared so far with demining crews active in four (Ennahar).
The United States government has been increasing its investment in demining of Zimbabwe. In FY2013, the US provided $500,000, in FY 2014 $750,000 and this year, $1 million. The landmine contamination in Zimbabwe prevents agricultural development and has injured more than two thousand people since the war ended in 1980 (US Embassy in Harare). With US government support, the HALO Trust has already cleared 5,000 mines, but with an estimate 1.5 million to go, a lot of work remains (HALO Trust).
Handicap International recently sent a team to the Moyen-Chari region of Chad to conduct some initial surveys and do some community liaison activities including mine risk education. During the trip, the team found multiple areas where munitions were abandoned after the wars in the 1980s. The mines in this part of the country have impeded road works and agricultural development and injured dozens of people (Handicap International).
And last, one of the countries at the forefront of the fight against landmines and cluster munitions continues to support those affected by landmines, even after the last mine has been cleared. The government of Zambia re-affirmed its commitment to support landmine survivors. According to the Foreign Minister, Zambia will conduct a needs assessment and then come up with a suitable and sustainable victim assistance program (Daily Mail Zambia).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
May 20, 2015