The Month in Mines, July 2015Posted: August 29, 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.
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’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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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