The Month in Mines, July 2015

Mine action, including landmine clearance, victim assistance and information collection is an obligation of States that have signed the Mine Ban Treaty.  All too often, countries will ignore one or more of those obligations and this month is no different.  In Senegal, the government has dithered and almost willfully ignored its landmine clearance duties; in Uganda, the government, despite massive donations for reconstruction of the north after the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion, has ignored the basic needs of landmine survivors; and in Angola the government still lacks a precise understanding of its contamination despite a dozen years of data and information gathering.  Interestingly, efforts are underway in each of those countries to try and hold the governments accountable, whether by external actors, the landmine survivors themselves or the national agencies tasked with mine action.  Read on for a few silver linings.

Libya

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees warned about the dangers of landmines and explosive remnants of war, highlighting their threat to internally displaced persons, the number of whom has doubled since September (All Africa).  In Benghazi, two Libyan soldiers were killed and three others injured by a landmine as the official Libyan army battled elements of the Ansar al-Sharia group (World Bulletin).

Nigeria

Nigeria’s vice president, Yemi Osinbaio, visited the northwestern regions of the country affected by the conflict with Boko Haram.  Osinbaio pledged the government would “sweep off” the landmines laid by Boko Haram and demining would receive the “utmost priority” (All Africa).  Not long after Osinbaio’s visit, the army re-opened the road between the capital of Yobe state, Damaturu, and a major commercial centre in Borno state, Biu after clearing four artisanal landmines from the road (Daily Mail).

Kenya

Three people were killed and six more injured when a landmine exploded as a Kenyan police vehicle passed by. The blast, which occurred on the Lamu to Garissa road, was blamed on Al Shabaab and may have been triggered remotely (All Africa).

Angola

The government of Angola is committed to halving the poverty rate and has identified landmine clearance as a key enabler for boosting the agricultural sector (All Africa).  As part of this effort, the National Inter-sectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Aid (CNIDAH) is updating its database of mine-affected areas and areas that have already been cleared of mines.  Angola is half-way through a five-year strategic plan for landmine clearance and is seeking ways to strengthen that plan (All Africa).  To date, some 1.6 billion square meters of land and 619 kilometers of road in northern Angola has been cleared of landmines (All Africa) including 83 of 125 mine-affected areas in Cuanza Norte province (All Africa) and almost 100 kilometers of road in Lunda Sul province just this year (All Africa).

The US Army Research Office has been testing elephants’ ability to detect explosive residue by scent.  During Angola’s civil wars and immediately after, many elephants were injured by landmines, but in the years since, elephants have demonstrated an understanding of where the minefields are and are communicating to each other about where the mines are (NPR).

Egypt

In the Sinai peninsula, Egyptian soldiers were clearing landmines in and around the town of Rafah where Islamist rebels had laid booby traps and mines near the Sheikh Zuwaid police station (New York Times).  In response, the rebels launched an attack on the station and other military posts in the region using more mines and mortar shells (All Africa).  Official estimates of military and rebel casualties from the battles in Sinai are published by the government, but thousands of civilians have also been caught up in the conflict and an unknown number have been killed or injured by mines and other weapons (All Africa).

Sudan

The continuing conflict in southern Sudan has prevented landmine clearance and humanitarian assistance in the region.  The rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) has pledged to destroy its stocks of landmines in accordance with Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment (Sudan Tribune). To underscore the issue and the necessity for mine action in the region, five people were killed and 11 more injured when a truck struck a landmine in Sudan’s Blue Nile State (All Africa).

Uganda

A landmine survivors association in Northern Uganda has called upon the Ministry of Health and donor community to increase funding to the referral hospital in Gulu to strengthen the orthopedic department.  The hospital currently lacks the ability to manufacture or repair prosthetic devices for the more than 800 landmine survivors living in the vicinity (All Africa).  The poor quality of existing artificial limbs and the continuing negligence of the government towards landmine survivors and other persons with disability has led the survivors association to pursue legal action and a lawsuit against the government to demand better services and more accountability (Daily Monitor).

Namibia

The United States Navy is working with the Namibian Defence Force to increase Namibia’s capacity to clear explosive remnants of war.  Since 1995, the United States has support landmine clearance and EOD capacity building in Namibia and this month, the United States ambassador handed over $126,000 worth of materials to the Namibian Defence Force (All Africa).

Zimbabwe

Burma Valley, once a densely-mined region on Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique has now been cleared of all landmines by Norwegian Peoples Aid with support from the US and Norwegian governments. While Burma Valley represents only a small portion of the border minefields, it was seen as a priority clearance task due to the high volume of cross-border traffic that passed through the area (News Day).

Senegal

Thousands of landmines remain in Senegal’s Casamance region and while landmine clearance could be completed in six months, the government of Senegal lacks the political will to do so.  Many of the mines in the Casamance were not planted by the rebels as had previously been thought; instead most of the mines were laid by the Senegalese army around military outposts.  The national mine action authority, CNAMS, has been one of the biggest obstructions to mine clearance, preventing humanitarian demining organizations, like Norwegian Peoples Aid from contacting either the army or the rebels to try and determine the location of known minefields.  After a dozen Mechem deminers were kidnapped by one of the rebel factions, CNAMS halted all mine clearance work, except for the re-survey of a road construction project that had already been certified as landmine-free.  In frustration, Norwegian Peoples Aid, one of the leading demining organizations in the world, withdrew from Senegal which prompted the European Union to halt future funding of landmine clearance in Senegal (IRIN News).

South Sudan

Local rhythm and blues favorites, the Jay Family, have agreed to record a song about the dangers of landmines in South Sudan as part of the mine risk education programs of the United Nations and Danish Church Aid (Corporate Weekly).  As part of the victim assistance programming in the country, UNMAS and Handicap International hosted a training on bicycle and small motor repair for landmine survivors through the Yei Vocational Training Centre.  Trainees who developed promising business plans also received some start-up capital (Relief Web).

Mali

Cambodia has contributed a demining team to the United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, in northern Mali. The team conducts landmine clearance of known and suspected hazardous areas and is responsible for clearing suspicious items found on the roadways of the region.  Since its inception, MINUSMA has been targeted many times with landmines deliberately placed in the paths of convoys (MINUSMA).  One such attack occurred near the town of Kidal, injuring several French soldiers (Lignes Defense).

Tunisia

Three Tunisian soldiers were wounded by a landmine in the Kasserine region on the border with Algeria.  This region has seen many similar landmine explosions over the last couple of years (All Africa).

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

August 29, 2015

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The Month in Mines, June 2015

Demining progress continued in Zimbabwe, Algeria and Angola while obstacles to landmine clearance remain in Nigeria, Sudan and Senegal.  Islamist rebels in Tunisia, Libya and Somalia continue to wreak havoc with mines and victim-activated IEDs.  Victim assistance continues to be a missing link.  After four years of writing this blog, the story repeats itself.  Apologies for the delay in posting this edition of the Month in Mines; I’ll try to get the July edition out sooner.

Zimbabwe

The HALO Trust completed clearance of 180,000 square meters in Mukumbura district, removing and destroying over 6,000 anti-personnel landmines in the process. Supported by the Japanese government, among other donors, HALO Trust is tackling a landmine problem that has lingered since the liberation war ended more than 35 years ago (All Africa).

To help speed up the clearance in Zimbabwe, the National Mine Action Authority and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces are planning to create a second demining squadron within the Engineering Corps of the army.  Recognizing the shortage of manpower for the task, the Zimbabwe Mine Action Center (ZIMAC) and its supporters are seeking an increase in the government’s allocation to landmine clearance which is currently US $500,000 per year.  “Millions of dollars” are required to clear Zimbabwe’s landmines according to the director of ZIMAC and even with significant increases in funding, Zimbabwe’s mines would not be cleared by the current deadline of 2018.  Defense attaches from southern Africa, the United States and China have observed the landmine clearance and Botswana’s attache has called upon other countries to contribute (All Africa; Bloomberg News ).

ZIMAC recognizes the needs of landmine survivors who “require social support in form of medical treatment, rehabilitation and compensation. Although the government has provided for this, more still needs to be done with regards to mine victims’ assistance.”  According to ZIMAC’s records ,there are over 2,000 landmine survivors in Zimbabwe and over 1,650 people have been killed by mines (News Day).

Nigeria

One and a half million Nigerians have been displaced by the Boko Haram conflict in the northwest region of the country.  According to the International Organization for Migration, landmines are one of the reasons people are unable to return to their homes (All Africa).  The Bring Back Our Girls movement has also highlighted the risks to returning people from landmines and called upon the government to clear areas reclaimed from Boko Haram of landmines to allow the safe return of residents (All Africa).  These warnings were confirmed when two soldiers and a policeman were killed by a landmine about 35 kilometers from Maiduguri where over half a million displaced persons have sought refuge (Channels Television).

Angola

Angola’s government issued several reports highlighting the progress in the country on mine action operations.  In the Mananje community, over 1,600 explosive remnants of war (ERW) including anti-personnel and anti-tank mines were cleared (All Africa).  In Cabinda Province, 132 square kilometers have been cleared of landmines (All Africa).  In Bie Province, almost 800,000 people have benefited from mine risk education (All Africa).  The central province of Huambo has been opened up for tourism after some 38.5 million square meters of land was cleared (All Africa) and across the country over 47,000 kilometers of roads have been cleared since demining activities began (All Africa).

At the same time, the Angolan government raised concerns about several landmine issues.  In Cuando Cubango province alone, there are 240 suspected minefields that still need to be cleared (All Africa).  In Cunene province, many suspected minefields are not adequately marked and at least one person was injured when a resident entered a minefield without knowing that it was there (All Africa).  And in Huila province, the national demining authority does not have maps of the minefields which would facilitate marking and clearing (All Africa).

Algeria

Almost 4,000 landmines dating from the French colonial period and the liberation war have been cleared by Algerian armed forces in May (All Africa).

Sudan

A ten-year old boy was killed by an ERW in Darfur’s East Jebel Marra while herding sheep (Radio Dabanga).  In the Nuba Mountains of southern Sudan, the Sudan Armed Forces have been accused of using cluster munitions against populated areas in its fight against the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) (All Africa).

Somalia

A convoy carrying Kenyan soldiers struck a landmine in Lamu country injuring three (All Africa).

Libya

Libyan army engineers defused landmines in the Ras al Helal forest that were planted by rebels (Arab Today).  The United Nations Mission in Libya trained 19 deminers to increase the capacity for humanitarian demining in the country (LANA News).

In the Sabri district of Benghazi, a famous handball player, Haitham al-Maliki, stepped on a mine and was killed (Al Wasat).  The landmine that killed al-Maliki is one of many threatening the lives of Libyans in Benghazi and preventing the safe return of internally displaced persons (All Africa).

South Sudan

In South Sudan’s Northern Bahr al Ghazal State, the Aweil West County Commissioner accused the rebels active in the region of placing landmines in Achana and Nyinbuoli areas (Radio Tamazuj).  This part of a long string of accusations and counter-accusations of landmine use in the current conflict in South Sudan.

Senegal

Women in the Casamance region of Senegal called upon the government and the rebels, the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), to set aside their differences and return to the negotiating table and conclude the decades-long conflict.  Also, the women called for immediate landmine clearance, calling the landmine problem an “emergency” and seeking to prevent any new mine laying (Senegal 360). The call for demining is important as all humanitarian landmine clearance activities in Senegal have been halted since May 2013 when a dozen deminers from the South African company Mechem were kidnapped by one of the MFDC factions; the deminers were released many weeks later. Earlier this year, demining was rumored to be resuming, but an April confrontation between the Senegalese army and the MFDC eliminated that opportunity. The national mine action authority, CNAMS, claims to be doing some limited survey work but its efforts are limited by the need to pursue peace and not violate any agreements with the MFDC.  A representative of the Senegalese Association of Mine Victims (ASVM) disputes CNAMS’s claims and calls for the government to prioritize demining to allow displaced persons to return to their homes and resume productive lives.  Even one of the kidnapped deminers now calls of the government to resume demining to provide him with employment (Enquete Plus).

Tunisia

A landmine exploded as a military vehicle passed it in the western Kasserine region where rebel Islamist groups have been using landmines to protect their bases from the government.  No injuries were reported (QNA).

Michael P. Moore

August 11, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org