The Month in Mines, November 2015Posted: December 18, 2015
Religion comes up surprisingly often in this blog about landmines. This month’s news roundup includes several Islamist groups and mentions of two Popes. I think this has more to do with the actors in the conflicts along the Sahel (and Pope Francis’s extraordinary visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic), than anything else, but I would like to hear others’ opinions. We frequently attribute landmine use to Islamist groups in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and I often wonder if they get a disproportionate share of the blame. Are some of the mine accidents attributed to these groups placed by non-Islamist groups or remnants from previous conflicts that had no specific religious ties? If I knew, I would certainly attribute correctly.
The Nigerian Army claimed to have encountered many landmines left by Boko Haram as the Army cleared areas of northeastern Nigeria that had been held by the Islamist group. The presence of landmines has been confirmed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the landmines have hindered the delivery of humanitarian assistance (All Africa). With the expulsion of Boko Haram, Nigerian legislators from the region have called upon the Nigerian Army to prioritize the clearance of landmines and other unexploded ordnance to allow displaced persons to return to their homes. The legislators also sought assistance for victims of landmines (All Africa; Channels TV).
The visit of Pope Francis to Uganda, part of a three-nation visit on the African continent, has led to reminiscences of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Uganda in 1993. Included in John Paul II’s itinerary was Uganda’s western district of Kasese which in 1993 was contaminated with landmines remaining from the 1979 invasion by Tanzanian forces to oust Idi Amin (All Africa). Fortunately, Uganda has cleared all of its known minefields so Pope Francis’s visit did not cause the concern that John Paul II’s had done.
In Kenya, Pope Francis’s visit was preceded by a landmine blast in the northeast of the country, along the border with Somalia. According to Kenyan media, five Kenyan soldiers were wounded by a landmine planted in the roadway during a patrol (Standard Media). However, Al Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the blast, said at least eight Kenyan soldiers were killed in the attack (All Africa). I’m not giving too much credibility to Al Shabaab’s claims, but think it is important to highlight that despite all of the efforts against the group, Al Shabaab continues to control significant portions of Somalia and in addition to its operation capacity, the group maintains a robust media function. Defeating a group like Al Shabaab will require not just military measures, but also social actions to prevent the group from being able to communicate with its intended audience. The inflation of casualties by Al Shabaab can be seen as an attempt to further show the group’s strength.
A child was injured by a piece of unexploded ordnance in Wamba. The boy, a herder, wandered into an area in which British and Kenyan troops had been engaged in live-fire exercises. After his injuries, the boy was evacuated to a regional referral hospital for surgery. The evacuation was seen by some as an attempt to cover-up the injury, but the British Army commander has committed to cover all costs of care (All Africa).
Mine action employees face a number of risks associated with their profession, most specifically from the mines that deminers clear. In Senegal and Afghanistan, deminers have been kidnapped and held hostage and some have been killed. However, Somalia poses its own threats. A few years ago a mine risk educator was kidnapped and held by pirate factions until her rescue by US special forces. This month, a United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) employee was killed in an apparent murder-for-hire scheme after the UNMAS employee got into an argument with the governor of Beledweyne region. The governor and UNMAS employee were from different clans which may have complicated their relationship (Hiiraan Online, no link).
Four days after the assault on the Radisson hotel in the capital Bamako, a United Nations peacekeeper was killed near Timbuktu by a landmine planted in the road. The peacekeeper was part of a convoy. No word on any other injuries (Reuters).
750,000 square meters of land, contaminated by over 700 explosive remnants of war, including anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, has been cleared so far this year in Menongue, the capitol of Angola’s Kuando Kubango province. The cleared land will be used to build houses for area residents (All Africa).
In Huila province, over a thousand kilometers of roads have been cleared in the last decade and over 127,000 explosive remnants of war were destroyed in the process. Also, nearly 2,000 persons with disabilities, including landmine survivors, benefited from social reintegration programs (All Africa).
Between September and October, Algerian army engineering units cleared and destroyed more than 12,000 landmines dating back to the French colonial period. In total, more than 800,000 mines have been cleared to date (All Africa; All Africa).
The Sinai Peninsula continues to be flash point for an Islamist insurgency that arose after the military overthrew Mohamed Morsi’s government. Near Arish, a group of Islamist gunmen attacked a family killing several members and when one member of the family rushed to the scene to try and help his relatives, he drove over a landmine, killing himself and a child (News 24). In Sheikh Zuwaid, two Bedouins, a mother and her child, were killed by a landmine supposedly planted to target Egyptian military forces (Al Bawaba).
The charges against Saadi Gaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, will likely include the distribution and use of landmines in defense of his father’s regime in 2011. Other charges include terrorism and the murder of the coach of Tripoli’s Al-Ittihad football club (Middle East Eye). Dealing with those landmines is a priority for many organizations. The Libyan Mine Action Center, with the support of UNMAS, will conduct an assessment of the Tawrgha neighborhood of Misrata and provide mine risk awareness to the residents (Relief Web). In Benghazi, several Libyan soldiers were killed by landmines placed by Islamist groups as the soldiers advanced on positions in around the city (AFP). And in Derna, three Islamic State members died when karma struck and they drove over a landmine placed other Islamic State members (Libya Observer).
Serious flooding on both sides of the Moroccan-built berm in Western Sahara has likely displaced some of the millions of landmines that lie along the berm. Plastic and other minimal-metal mines are prone to moving during floods and once the waters recede, mine action organizations will need to assess the likelihood that minefields have been disturbed (ICBL).
Three children in North Darfur were killed by a grenade that they found and began to play with. Two other children were injured (Radio Dabanga). In the Jebel Marra region of Darfur, a man was killed and his wife maimed when the donkey he was riding on stepped on or kicked a piece of unexploded ordnance (Radio Dabanga).
To end on a piece of good news, Norwegian Peoples Aid announced that they have cleared their 1,000th landmine along Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique. Hundreds of thousands of mines remain to be cleared by NPA is making good progress and looking to shift to new work sites (NPA).
Michael P. Moore
December 18, 2015
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org