The Month in Mines, August 2015

Unfortunately, August was not the listless dog days of summer when it came to mine action. The continuing conflicts along the Sahel and in North Africa led to several landmine incidents and casualties.  Interestingly, in Uganda and in Egypt, we are seeing mine affected communities turn to court to compel governments to act to address their mine clearance obligations and ensure the rights of survivors.  It is a shame that such efforts are necessary, but if they are successful, Senegal, Western Sahara and other countries might be ripe for similar legal actions.

Western Sahara

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights released a report documenting human rights abuses committed against the people of Western Sahara by the government of Morocco which has claimed the territory.  The report, covering the first half of 2015, noted several deaths due to landmines used by the Moroccan government in the berm which splits the territory (All Africa).  Landmines are also present within Morocco’s recognized borders and in August, a young Saharawi was injured by a mine near Tantan city in southern Morocco.  The mine was one of thousands laid by the Polisario Front prior to the Front’s renouncing the use of the weapon (All Africa).

Angola

In Benguela Province, more than 2,000 landmines have been cleared from over 150 million square meters of land since the end of the conflict in 2002 (All Africa).  In Bie Province, mine risk education reached 7,544 people in the first half of 2015 (All Africa) and the HALO Trust cleared a quarter million square meters of land (All Africa).  Over a hundred pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) have been cleared from Malanje city to make room for the planned broadcasting center for Public Television Angola (All Africa).  The local organization, APACOMINAS, cleared 30,000 square meters of landmines from Pedra Cuca in Huambo province (All Africa).

As part of the broader effort against landmines in Angola, CNIDAH (the National Intersectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Aid) hosted a working meeting to approve the 2015 – 2016 operational plan for mine action in Cunene province (All Africa).

At a General Meeting of members, the Centro de Vida Independente de Angola approved a four year strategic plan to provide landmine survivor assistance and reintegration support for disabled former soldiers (All Africa).

South Sudan

The civil war in South Sudan has displaced hundreds of thousands of children who cannot attend school.  Humanitarian organizations in South Sudan report that students prioritized returning to school because of the safety they felt in schools and because student learn about the dangers of landmines (All Africa).

The United Nations Mine Action Service and Handicap International hosted a training for landmine survivors in South Sudan and provided small business assistance to enable survivors to be economically independent (ReliefWeb).

Uganda

Victim assistance services in Uganda are woefully lacking.  According to reports, medical care available at public facilities does not include the costs of medicines and prescriptions which patients must obtain from external pharmacies at cost.  In 2011, a landmine victim died at the Mulago hospital in the capitol of Kampala when the drugs needed for surgery were unavailable (All Africa). In northern Uganda, landmine survivors have been forced to take the government to court to receive the same treatment as other groups of victims, but even if they are successful in their case, much of the compensation may be claimed in legal fees (All Africa).

Along the Ugandan boder with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has re-emerged.  In the 1990s, the ADF was responsible for laying landmines in Kasese district and other western Ugandan districts injuring dozens of people.  Some of the survivors of those mines remain isolated and traumatized from their injuries despite the support of groups like the Anti-Mines Network – Rwenzori (All Africa).

Zimbabwe

At a ceremony to provide seven survivors with artificial limbs, the Zimbabwean Defence Minister said the government was looking to add a second demining team to the army and that the government was committed to the global goal of clearing all landmines by 2025 (All Africa).  To boost clearance capacity in Zimbabwe, APOPO and its landmine-detecting rats will soon begin to work in Zimbabwe, joining Norwegian Peoples Aid and the HALO Trust as another humanitarian demining partner (All Africa).

Somalia

To address the country’s widespread contamination by landmines and other explosive remnants of war, Somalia has created its first explosive ordnance disposal and landmine clearance team.  The full scale of contamination is not known, but Security Minister called the team “a big hope for Somalia” (Hiiraan Online, no link).

In Bardere, Somalia security forces seized a cache of weapons from a suspected Al Shabaab member’s house.  The cache included automatic weapons and landmines (Wacaal Media, no link).

In Lamu, Kenya, Al Shabaab fighters briefly seized control of a village and lectured the residents, telling the residents that Al Shabaab would continue to use landmines to fight the Kenyan security forces.  Fear of landmines hindered the local Red Cross’s ability to reach the villagers after Al Shabaab departed (All Africa; All Africa).  In an earlier incident, Al Shabaab killed witnesses who reported a landmine attack that targeted police forces (All Africa).

Al Shabaab’s use of landmines against security forces in Kenya and Somalia has been part of a deliberate asymmetrical campaign that began as the peacekeeping force of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and allied forces from the national government of Somalia, the Kenyan army and the Ethiopian army, drove the Islamists from their safe havens in Somalia.  In earlier posts we’ve written about reports of AMISOM and Somali army units firing indiscriminately into crowds after their vehicles have struck landmines.  This month, AMISOM troops were accused of deliberately entering a home and shooting civilians after their convoy struck a mine in the town of Merka.  At the time, the residents of the home were celebrating a wedding and witnesses accused AMISOM fighters of killing six civilians.  Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation of the incident as AMISOM conducted its own investigation. AMISOM’s investigation led to indictments of the soldiers involved and an apology from AMISOM to the family (Horseed Media; Horseed Media; Horseed Media).

Tunisia

Two soldiers died from their wounds and two others were injured but survived after an engineering unit tried to clear a landmine found between Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine (All Africa).

Nigeria

Nigeria’s vice president, Yemi Osinbaio, committed his government to demining the farms and regions that have been liberated from Boko Haram (All Africa). At the same time, an army spokesperson announced that the engineering division was surveying roads and clearing landmines in Borno State (All Africa). Two soldiers were killed and two others seriously wounded during landmine clearance activities in Gudumbali town (The Cable).

Mali

Three Malian soldiers were killed and three others wounded when their vehicle struck a mine near the town of Diafarabe in central Mali (Reuters). Two Cambodian peacekeepers assigned to a landmine clearance unit with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) were injured when their vehicle struck a mine near Ansogo in northern Mali (All Africa; Khmer Times).

Sudan

South Sudanese fleeing the civil war in their country have arrived in the disputed region of Abyei as refugees.  The camp used by the refugees is within suspected minefields that have not yet been cleared and the refugees risk danger as they forage for food, water and firewood.  In central Darfur’s Nierteti region, residents have called for landmine and ERW awareness and survey.  According to residents, ERW presents a significant risk in the area and no mine action activities have taken place in over a year (All Africa).

To date, 95 square kilometers in Sudan have been cleared of landmines, but another 30 kilometers remain and much of the remaining landmine to be cleared is in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States (UNMAS).  In Blue Nile state, a truck with several passengers struck a landmine near Jebel Gilda Mol killing five people and injuring five more (Relief Web).

Egypt

Millions of landmines remain in Egypt’s Western Desert dating back from World War II.  The mines, laid by British and German forces, have been a source of contention between the modern day governments with Egypt calling for Britain, especially, to clear the mines laid by its forces.  To force action, a lawsuit has been filed by an individual and Egypt’s Administrative Court has ruled in his favor and ordered Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call on the British government to take responsibility for the mines and their removal.  The Ministry and the British government are reviewing the court’s order and lawsuit to decide a response (Daily News Egypt).

In addition to the minefields of the Western Desert, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is also heavily contaminated by landmines.  Two members of Egypt’s anti-terrorism unit were killed and three injured by a mine in the Sinai during an operation to try and free a Croatian being held by the local branch of the Islamic State (Eurasia Review).

Senegal

Six months and a lot of political will is all that would be required to finish clearing the landmines in Senegal’s Casamance region according to Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) which has withdrawn from the country in protest towards the government’s unwillingness to meet its clearance obligations.  Many of the mines that remain were laid by the government and not by the rebels.  Government-laid mines are used to protect military positions, but NPA and other humanitarian deminers have not been allowed to speak with representatives of Senegal’s army.  After NPA withdrew, the European Union suspended its funding of humanitarian mine action in the Casamance.  Observers believe that after thirty years of conflict, too many people in the Casamance, from both the government and the rebels, benefit from the continuation of the conflict and the presence of landmines confirms the conflict’s existence (IRIN News).

Algeria

Nearly doubling its pace from the previous month, the Algerian army announced it had cleared more than 7,300 landmines laid by French forces during the colonial period (All Africa).  Good to see some people don’t make excuses.

Michael P. Moore

September 22, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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