The Month in Mines, October 2015Posted: November 20, 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.
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).
A landmine killed one soldier and wounded another in Afgoye Town’s animal market (All Africa).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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