The Month in Mines, October 2015

We have tended not to cover cluster munitions as a specific topic here at Landmines in Africa. That decision has been based on the fact that cluster munitions have historically been less of an issue in Africa than elsewhere (e.g., Lebanon, Kosovo, Laos and too many other places).  However, cluster bombs have been recently used in Libya, Sudan and South Sudan and as you will see in the stories below, possibly in Nigeria.  Further in the past, cluster munitions contamination in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe dates back to the liberation wars and civil wars in those countries.  In Somalia this month, the government acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions which bans these weapons, becoming the 97th country to do so (Horseed Media).  African nations played a key role in the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and we’ll be keeping a closer eye on these weapons going forward.

 

Angola

In Luanda Angolan authorities seized 14 landmines in the course of a series of arrests as the capital city witnessed a spasm of violent crime (All Africa). In Cuando Cubango, authorities collected another three landmines from citizens as part of a voluntary disarmament program (All Africa).  In Bie Province, almost nine thousand people have received mine risk awareness messages since the start of the year (All Africa).  To address the country’s mine clearance needs, 36 deminers have been trained and deployed to Cunene province where at least one mine incident occurred in June (All Africa) and 18 security and police personnel participated in a course on the management of humanitarian disarmament activities (All Africa).

Landmines also feature in Angola’s foreign affairs. Botswana’s president, Seretse Khama, traveled to Angola and discussed with Angolan officials the development of a trans frontier park for wildlife and the care of many Angolan elephants who migrated to Botswana to escape the landmines planted during Angola’s wars (All Africa).  During a visit to Japan, Angola’s minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration met with leaders from the Japanese Mine Action Service which clears landmines in Bengo province (All Africa).

 

Somalia

A landmine killed one soldier and wounded another in Afgoye Town’s animal market (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian army discovered several caches of cluster bombs in Adamawa State as the military continued its pursuit of Boko Haram.  The army then warned residents to be on the lookout for other caches (All Africa).  Later analysis of the cluster bombs confirmed that the Nigerian army had found French-made BLG-66 (“Beluga”) munitions which can only be used from aircraft which Boko Haram does not possess.  In fact, the Cluster Munition Coalition suggests that the found cluster munitions had originated with the Nigerian army and had somehow found their way into Boko Haram’s hands.  Boko Haram could use the bomblets as part of an improvised explosive device, but evidence points to the weapons’ origin as being with the national army (All Africa).  If such is the case, then the Nigerian army needs to explain how its own weapons could be found in areas controlled by Boko Haram.

Also, outside of the Boko Haram conflict zone in northeastern Nigeria, the army is operating in central Plateau State where a simmering conflict between the Berom and Fulani ethnic groups is spreading.  The army discovered several landmines in a road near the village of Gyambus (All Africa).

Abandoned and unexploded ordnance dating back to the Biafra War of the 1960s continues to plague Nigeria.  The government just settled a case brought by several individuals who sued the government, alleging that the government had failed to clear landmines and abandoned caches of explosives from residential areas.  Specifically, the suit sought to have the abandoned stockpile in a residential neighborhood of Owerri in Imo State violated the human rights of the persons living there.  The final settlement of the case will be made in January 2016 (All Africa).

 

Egypt

During an illegal hunting trip in a natural reserve in Egypt’s Red Sea governorate, a car drove over a landmine likely dating to the late 1960s killing one hunter and wounding another.  The men intended to use falcons to hunt in the area which is popular for the activities despite its being banned.  According to the director of the Cairo-based landmines struggle center, landmine clearance only takes place in Egypt if there is a significant financial incentive to do.  No word on the conditions of the falcon (Cairo Post; All Africa).

 

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Safe Schools Declaration seeks commitments from nations and their armies to avoid using schools for any military activities.  In one school in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the army had occupied the school’s buildings for a period and then dumped unused explosives into the latrines which had to be cleared by demining teams before the school could be re-opened for its intended purpose (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

While Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, was in India, the acting president, Phelekeleza Mphoko, visited the Gonakudzingwa Restriction Camp in Gonarezhou National Park.  The Camp had been used by the Rhodesian government to isolate nationalist leaders like Joshua Nkomo during the liberation war.  The area around the Camp, like much of Gonarezhou, is contaminated with landmines which limits access to the site.  Mphoko called for clearance of the mines and restoration of the Camp as a museum (All Africa).

 

Mali

A civilian convoy was attacked by “terrorists” who used rocket launchers and small arms to kill six people and would at least two.  The convoy was under the protection of security forces and the attack began when one of the vehicles struck a landmine planted in the road (Press TV).  In another incident, three civilians were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine and two of the United Nations peacekeepers who arrived on the scene were injured by a second mine.  The mines were located near the United Nations base at Tessalit near Kidal (Reuters).  In a third incident, three French special forces operators were injured in an unspecified area of northern Mali (Agence France Presse).

 

Uganda

The Orthopedic Workshop at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, originally set up to respond to the needs of landmine survivors in northern Uganda, is unable to meet the demands of its clients.  Each month 30 patients come to the Workshop seeking prosthetic limbs and orthotic appliances but no one has received any items since June when the Workshop’s funding ran out.  Supported by the Italian NGO AVSI, the Workshop does not appear to receive any funds from the government and the cost of prosthetics and orthotics is prohibitive to its clients (Uganda Radio Network).  The Ugandan government must step in and provide the support it has committed to give under the Mine Ban Treaty and other agreements.

 

Mozambique

In 2007 an explosion ripped through an ammunition depot in Mozambique’s capitol Maputo setting off a chain reaction of explosions that killed more than a hundred people and injured another 500.  Ordnance remains at the depot even today, but plans are in place to clear the unexploded ordnance and create a public park on the site.  APOPO and the HALO Trust will work together to make the site safe for its transformation into a multifunction space that includes a zoo, a water park and camp ground (US News and World Report).

 

Somaliland

The German Deputy Ambassador to Somalia visited the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland and observed the German-funded work of the HALO Trust which is clearing minefields near the Ethiopian border.  The Deputy Ambassador also met with trainees who will soon be conducting the first comprehensive survey of Somaliland’s minefields as well as other German-funded development initiatives in the region (Somaliland Press).

 

Cameroon

The US Army Africa Command (AFRICOM) is providing a number of landmine-detecting vehicles to the Cameroon army in response to the threat of mines placed by Boko Haram.  The vehicles would also protect soldiers from explosions should the vehicles miss a mine (Voice of America).

 

Libya

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and United Nations Support Mission in Libya have trained 15 Libyans (14 men and one woman) in non-technical survey to enhance the capacity of Libya to assess the contamination of the country from landmines and explosive remnants of war.  The ongoing civil war in the country will limit the extent to which this training can be used (UNSMIL).

 

South Sudan

The UNMAS chief in South Sudan told reporters that 12 million square meters of land in South Sudan has been cleared of mines and explosive remnants of war.  Despite the ongoing conflict, some 2,800 villages have been surveyed and the residents educated on risk awareness.  He did note that there is the possibility of some residual contamination in Juba and other areas that have been cleared and South Sudanese should report any items they discover (The Niles).

 

Algeria

15 anti-personnel landmines were seized by the Algerian army along with a number of other items from smuggling groups that had been trafficking people and contraband (All Africa).

 

China in Africa

China has committed to providing US $100 million in military aid to the African Union standby force and will provide support to 10 landmine clearance programs in Africa.  The exact countries to be supported were not announced, but will likely be in countries of strategic interest to China (News Day).

 

Michael P. Moore

November 20, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

Advertisements

Landmines in Mali, New Use and the Response

Earlier this month, the States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) met for their annual meeting and covered many topics, including anti-vehicle mines or mines other than anti-personnel mines (MOTAPM) in Convention-speak.  Since the early 2000s, a number of groups and countries have advocated for the regulation of anti-vehicle mines for humanitarian reasons, similar to the bans on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions.  However, some countries continue to insist that anti-vehicle mines have a military utility that outweighs their humanitarian impact.  In response to the military utility argument, we present the case of Mali and the impact of anti-vehicle mine contamination.

In January 2012, the Tuareg people of northern Mali rebelled against the government, provoking a coup by military members who were tired of putting down Tuareg rebellions.  Intervention by the French army restored civilian rule, but the damage had been done: in the wake of the rebellion and the coup Islamist groups, including Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb seized control and briefly declared independence.  The French army ousted the Islamists and a United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, was established to stabilize the region as the Malian government sought peace with the various factions.  That peace has not been forthcoming and Northern Mali has seen waves of violence and the MINUSMA mission has been the deadliest in years for peacekeepers.

One of the features of the conflict has been the use of anti-vehicle landmines. Mali had previously not been a mine-affected country – before 2006, no landmine casualties were reported in the country and only 33 casualties were identified between 2006 and 2011 (The Monitor). The January 2012 rebellion introduced significant numbers of landmines to Mali and the Islamists, using mines possibly looted from stores in Libya, began extensive use of anti-vehicle mines.  Reports indicate that a common tactic is for Islamists to monitor the peacekeepers’ movements and race ahead of convoys on motorbikes and place landmines immediately in the path of the convoys.  Roads that had been clear of mines only the day before would be mined in advance of peacekeepers’ vehicles.  The United Nations was slow to provide mine-resistant vehicles to the mission, but now peacekeepers have armored vehicles for protection.

Contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of was, as documented by UNMAS

Contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of was, as documented by UNMAS

How significant is the landmine problem now in Mali?  More than 325 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Mali (MINUSMA). The above map shows the extent of known landmine and ERW contamination, but data is also coming from a dedicated effort to track anti-vehicle mine casualties. The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) have teamed up to document the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines.  From 1999 – 2013, less than 10 casualties from anti-vehicle mines were reported in Mali (GICHD – SIPRI).  However, from January to September 2015, 17 anti-vehicle mine incidents have been reported in Mali causing 71 casualties, the second highest number in the world (trailing only Ukraine which reported 73 casualties from 14 events) (GICHD – SIPRI).  Prior to the 2012 coup, most of the mine casualties in Mali were from anti-personnel mines or other ERW.  Since the coup, nearly all mine casualties have been from anti-vehicle mines.

Victims by Month

Landmine & ERW victims in Mali, by Month, January 2012 – June 2015

As the chart above shows, landmine casualties have come in waves.  The first was in 2012 after the initial coup and then more waves in January 2013, June – July 2013 and August 2014.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has been a frequent target of landmine attacks.  Mali has also been one of the deadliest missions for UN peacekeepers with 68 killed since the start of the mission (United Nations) and at least 109 injured (War is Boring).  There were seven attacks on MINUSMA convoys between June and September 2015 alone.  The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been busy with weekly call-outs to respond to landmines and other explosive remnants of war while also training Mission staff on mine awareness.  UNMAS has also provided victim assistance in the form of rehabilitation assistance, mobility devices and socio-economic support for landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities (Report of the UNSG on the situation in Mali, S/2015/732).

Landmine victims in Mali by Gender, by Age

Landmine victims in Mali by Gender, by Age

According to UNMAS, there were 144 victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war from January 2012 through June 2015 (note: this differs from MINUSMA’s records).  Mali’s landmine victims are overwhelmingly male (5 out of every 6 victims are male), but more than half (83 out of 144) are children (see charts above). Also, Mali was the site of the single worst anti-vehicle mine incident in 2015 when a bus struck a mine on the way to the weekly market in Gao in April killing four people and injuring another 28 (Global Post).  The bus and the civilians riding in the bus had been deliberately targeted by two men who had planted the mine in the road and then fled the scene by motorcycle.

A significant majority of the landmine victims in Mali over the last three years have been non-combatants and civilians.  Of military personnel killed by landmines, many have been United Nations peacekeepers and not active combatants.  Prior to 2006, no landmine victims were known in Mali and in a single incident in April of this year, almost as many people were killed or injured by an anti-vehicle mine (32) as had been killed or injured by mines and ERW in the years 2006 to 2011 (33) and of those, less than 10 had been victims of anti-vehicle mines.  Anti-vehicle mines have killed or injured 71 people in 17 events the first nine months of 2015. In October 2015, four more incidents resulted in at least three more persons killed and five injured (Press TV,  Agence France Presse, Reuters).

Landmines and especially anti-vehicle mines have killed or injured Malians far out of proportion to any military utility.  Market routes have been disrupted and humanitarian aid has been stalled due to unsafe roads in northern Mali.  Anti-vehicle mines are inhumane weapons and should be banned just as anti-personnel mines are.  Had anti-vehicle mines been banned, the suffering in Mali might have been lessened considerably.

Michael P. Moore

November 17, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 


The Month in Mines, September 2015

The brotherhood of mine-free countries has now increased by one: Mozambique.  In September, after two decades of work, the last of Mozambique’s 171,000 landmines has been cleared from what was once thought of as one of the five most mine-affected countries (along with Egypt, Cambodia, Angola and Afghanistan).  When mine clearance first began, Mozambique was thought to have millions of mines to be cleared after the wars of liberation in the 1960s and 1960s and the civil war from 1975 to 1992 and clearance would take centuries, not decades.  Many organizations, including the HALO Trust, Norwegian Peoples Aid, Handicap International and APOPO, took part in the clearance work alongside the National Demining Institute, whose director proudly announced “Now I am jobless.” (All Africa; All Africa; The Guardian; Storify).

Despite this very good news, Mozambique continues to face a problem of unexploded and abandoned ordnance.  In Manica province, a building company discovered a cache of explosives during a construction project and deminers from the HALO Trust were called to dispose of the items (All Africa).

And Mozambique was not the only landmine-related news on the continent:

Somalia

The Al Shabaab militia, which has been pushed out of much of Somalia in the last few years, has found a new haven in Kenya’s Boni Forest, just across the border from Somalia.  To protect their base, Al Shabaab members are alleged to have laid landmines on the roads used by Kenyan security forces (All Africa, All Africa).

In Somalia proper, Al Shabaab continues to use landmines and explosive devices as part of its asymmetrical strategy.  In the coastal town of Merca, four civilians were killed by a landmine that was intended for a convoy of African Union peacekeepers (All Africa).  A Swedish mine clearance expert working on assignment for the United Nations was injured by a landmine that detonated under the armored vehicle he was traveling in. No word on other casualties (Radio Bar Kulan).  A Somali deminer was killed by a landmine he was trying to clear in Bardere town which had recently been liberated from Al Shabaab (Mareeg).  Unexploded ordnance claimed the lives of two children in the Middle Shabelle region and injured at least two others (Garowe Online, no link).  The commissioner of El-Ade was wounded by a landmine that was reportedly placed within his residence.  This was the second assassination attempt on the commissioner (All Africa).   A landmine was also placed within the Waamo stadium in Kismayo, but Interim Jubbaland Authority forces found and cleared the mine before it exploded (Goobjoog).

Namibia

A cattleherder was arrested for setting a cache of South African-made explosives he had found on fire.  The herder, in addition to his legal troubles for illegally detonating the abandoned ordnance, has developed hearing problems (All Africa).  In other parts of Namibia, unexploded ordnance has been deadly.  A woman reported an unexploded bomb in her farm fields to the police, but the police did not respond and a few days later the woman and her daughter were killed by a bomb blast which injured two others.  Relatives of the deceased allege police negligence in their response to the reports of ordnance despite the Namibian police mine and explosive awareness campaigns (All Africa).

Angola

Nearly 13,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance, including dozens of landmines, were destroyed in Cunhinga municipality in Bie province (All Africa).  In Chitembo municipality, also in Bie province, another 300 pieces were detonated (All Africa).  Despite the progress, at least five landmines accidents have been reported in Bie province in 2015 with an unknown number of casualties and mine action authorities called for more mine risk education (All Africa).

Algeria

Over 7,600 landmines were cleared from Algeria’s borders.  The mines, dating back to the liberation war against the French colonial administration. To date over 1.4 million mines have been cleared from Algeria to date (All Africa).

Tunisia

A flock of sheep set of a landmine in El Kef.  No other casualties were reported (All Africa).

Libya

Five children were killed and two more injured by a landmine in Benghazi’s Benina district.  The mine was blamed on the Ansar Al Sharia group which was pushed out of the city by the Libyan army (Al Bawaba).

Egypt

15 alleged terrorists were killed and another 10 injured when the individuals tried to plant several landmines in Rafah on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula (El Balad).  Also in the Sinai, three boys were severely wounded by a landmine also attributed to terrorist elements (Star Tribune).

Nigeria

The Nigerian government has ordered 10 demining machines from a Slovakian company with delivery to be completed by the end of 2016 (Spectator). The need for such machines was highlighted when a cow triggered a landmine, killing the nine year-old boy who was minding the herd and at least three cows (Daily Trust).

South Sudan

Despite the civil war that erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 between the government and forces loyal to ousted vice president, Riek Machar, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and its partners have managed to clear 12 million square meters of land and 1,000 kilometers of roads of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  The violence has greatly reduced UNMAS’s ability to clear land as prior to December 2013, UNMAS has been able to clear over a billion square meters and return that land to productive use (Star Africa).

Tanzania

As part of AFRICOM’s efforts to increase the capacity of African national armies, especially those which contribute forces to regional and international peacekeeping missions, US Navy explosive ordnance specialists provided training to 22 Tanzanian soldiers in August.  The humanitarian mine action instruction course is funded by the State Department (AFRICOM).

Senegal

Landmines are seen as both a challenge to peace in Senegal’s Casamance region (All Africa), as well as an enabler of the illegal logging that supports rebel groups in the region (All Africa).  To combat the landmine problem, Pax Mondial will provide several mine detection dogs to Handicap International which has long been clearing mines in Senegal (Pax Mondial).

Somaliland

The announcement of Mozambique as a mine-free country will hopefully spur other countries to complete their mine clearance obligations.  Somaliland announced its intention to be mine-free by the end of 2017 (Somaliland Informer).

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

November 5, 2015