Demining should resume in Western Sahara

As of March 20, 2016, all landmine clearance activities in Western Sahara have halted. Earlier in the month, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon traveled to Western Sahara visiting the refugee camps on the east side of the berm and observing various activities of the United Nations mission there, MINURSO, include landmine clearing activities.  During his visit, Ban referred to the “occupation” of Western Sahara by Morocco a term that the Moroccan government took “strong exception to.” The government of Morocco demanded the withdrawal of 84 civilian members of MINURSO from Morocco on March 16, including the staff of the United Nations Mine Action Services (UNMAS) which oversees the demining activities.  By March 20, all UNMAS staff had complied with Morocco’s order and the landmine clearance activities were halted indefinitely.

Landmine clearance in Western Sahara is urgently needed, on both sides of the berm.  In the last year 17 landmine incidents were reported resulting in 37 casualties.  MINURSO’s landmine clearance teams were responsible for activities on the east side of the berm and some 42 minefields and 52 cluster munitions strikes remain to be cleared.  If mine clearance activities do not resume soon, then minefield markings can be lost and the landmines and unexploded cluster munitions will continue to threaten lives and limbs.

Western Sahara desperately needs a political solution: I get that.  I also know that landmine clearance on either side of the berm will protect lives and can be a confidence-building measure.  Indeed, MINURSO’s Mine Action Coordination Centre worked with both sides of the dispute to coordinate and document landmine clearance by the UNMAS-supported teams and by the Royal Moroccan Army.  I also know that as soon as I post this I will be reminded that the mines on the east side of the berm were placed by the Polisario Front and Algerian forces, which I do not dispute.  But I DO NOT CARE.  The origin of a landmine does not diminish the injustice of its injury.

I sincerely hope that the UNMAS teams will be allowed to return to MINURSO and that landmine clearance will resume soon.  After all, of the 37 casualties mentioned above, 32 happened on the west side of the berm, in areas controlled by Morocco, not Polisario.

Michael P. Moore

May 2, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


One Comment on “Demining should resume in Western Sahara”

  1. Mike Kendellen says:

    I went to Morocco as a Peace Corps Volunteer a year after King Hassan II rallied the nation to march to the Western Sahara and claim it as theirs. The march is commemorated each year in November as a national day. It is appalling the world community lets Morocco get away with various obfuscations including the latest regarding landmines and UNMAS. Michael, I posted your report on a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Facebook page that has over 1,000 “friends.” I am sure they are completely unaware what the Moroccan government is doing in Western Sahara.

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