As we close out another year, there are reminders of how far mine action has come and of how much is left to be done. We like to keep a “glass half-full” attitude, but admit some days that’s harder than others. However, there are lots of good bits of news this month from Mozambique, South Africa and Senegal and elsewhere.
Once more with feeling: Mozambique is landmine-free. Taking advantage of the annual Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, Mozambique confirmed its September announcement that all known anti-personnel landmines have been cleared from the country. In addition 2015 was the first year in four decades in which not a single Mozambican was killed or injured by a landmine (All Africa). However, other unexploded ordnance does remain in Mozambique and only now are the final steps being taken to clear the ammunition dump in Maputo that erupted in 2007 killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. APOPO, the Belgian charity that employs rats to detect landmines and other explosives is clearing the former dump and the government plans to turn the area into a park once all hazards have been removed (Treehugger).
Nigeria / Cameroon
We’re putting these two countries together as their current landmine issues arise from the concerted efforts against Boko Haram, an Islamist militia that is operating in the area where the borders of the countries come together. A Boko Haram landmine was blamed for the deaths of two Cameroonian soldiers in the northern region of that country (All Africa). In parts of northeastern Nigeria, landmines are threatening displaced persons who fled Boko Haram’s violence. According to sources, there have been “many” explosions as displaced persons return to their homes and try to plant crops. In response, the Nigerian army is clearing mines, but is focusing on “schools, [health] clinics and roads” which leaves farmers in danger (All Africa).
Somalia / Kenya
The government launched a national plan, the “Badbaado Plan,” to address the explosive remnants of war and landmine contamination in the country. The Plan will also help the country fulfill its clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty. Currently, a HALO Trust implemented program on the border with Ethiopia and supported by the Government of Japan and the United Nations Mine Action Service is being held up as the model program to build the Plan around (All Africa). The extent of contamination is great and due to the continuing conflict with Al Shabaab, is in constant flux. Three landmines were cleared from the market in Bulo Burde town (Mareeg). Of course, Al Shabaab members are also often victims of their own explosives and five Al Shabaab fighters were apparently killed in southwestern Somalia by a landmine they were planting (Puntland Post).
In Kenya’s Lamu East sub-county, a Kenyan soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine blamed on Al Shabaab (Citizen TV).
Landmines were among the 395 explosives collected and destroyed from Uige by the National Demining Institute (All Africa). Another 200 explosive items were cleared by the newly-created national NGO, Terra Mae, from 121,000 square meters in Cunene Province (All Africa). In addition to the work of Terra Mae, the Angolan army cleared 341,000 square meters in Cunene Province in 2015. Three landmine incidents were reported – with no mention of how many casualties – and almost 2,000 people participated in mine risk awareness sessions (All Africa).
Three high profile visitors to Angola, US Under Secretary of State, Rose Gottemoeller, and professional climbers Alex Honnold and Stacy Bare, helped to highlight the continuing landmine problem in the country (All Africa; Discovery).
The annual meeting of mine action operators and stakeholders for Western Sahara was held at the UN mission in Tindouf. Participants discussed ways to combat the threat of landmines from the 2,700 kilometer berm in the face of limited funding (All Africa).
Much like in Mozambique above, a former munitions test site in the South African capitol Pretoria is to be re-developed. The site, home to as many as 9,000 squatters, was the site of a World War II test site and munitions dump. Mechem, the South African demining firm associate with the national army, took responsibility for the clearance of the site and started with a visual inspection. Mechem hired 20 individuals, provided them with training and then had them conduct a visual inspection of the site. Those same individuals will be trained on demining procedures and be part of the team that allows the site to become a housing development (Defence Web). The dangers from the estimated 10 tons of ordnance are well known; as recently as 2011 a father and his son were killed by a mortar detonated during a bonfire (All Africa).
CNN profiled the trainer of mine detection dogs in Sudan, Dr. Muiz Ali Taha, and gave a nice description of how the dogs work. Sudan’s mine contamination dates back to World War II and includes use in recent conflicts (CNN).
Geneva Call announced the destruction of the anti-personnel landmine stockpile held by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N). The SPLM-N signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment and has pledged not to use anti-personnel landmines in its conflict with the government of Sudan, currently raging in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. One issue that the article does not address is the origin of the SPLM-N’s mines as both Sudan and South Sudan have declared that all stockpiled mines have been destroyed (Geneva Call). It is possible that the SPLM-N’s stockpile is a remnant from long ago conflicts and as it was not in the control of the government, would not have been included in Sudan’s stockpile destruction. But if that is the case, are there other such stockpiles in the country needing to be destroyed?
In Darfur, two men were killed while trying to collect firewood when their pack animal triggered an explosive device near Jebel Marra (Radio Dabanga).
The Japanese Ambassador to South Sudan visited an UNMAS project site, south of the capitol Juba, where UNMAS is using support from the Japanese government to clear minefields and raise awareness of the dangers of explosive devices. Plans for the site, once clearance is complete, include agriculture and development (ReliefWeb).
Since the start of its program in November 2013, the HALO Trust has cleared 10,000 landmines from Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique. While progress is excellent, roughly one kilometer of border is cleared of mines every month, HALO’s demining team would need to be increased to 600 from its current workforce of 150 if the entire border is to be cleared by 2025 (HALO Trust).
Mines Advisory Group has launched a mine risk education program in the Gao region of northern Mali with the support of the UN peacekeeping mission (Mikado Radio). In addition, the Mission facilitated the training of over 30 Malian security personnel on explosive risk and emergency first aid (MINUSMA).
In 2015, Algerian authorities seized 123 landmines as part of the country’s ongoing efforts against terrorism (Global Post). In addition, the country is facing a large smuggling and trafficking problem and two mines were seized along with substantial amounts of cannabis (All Africa).
And to close out the year on some very good news, Handicap International has re-launched its landmine clearance program in Senegal’s Casamance region. Though the program is starting small, HI expects to clear enough land to allow 60,000 Casamancais to live free of the fear of landmines (Handicap International).
Michael P. Moore
January 28, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org