The Month in Mines, April 2016Posted: May 6, 2016
April 4th is the International Day of Mine Action and Mine Awareness and there were many celebrations and observances of the day. The United Nations Mine Action Service has compiled stories and photos here and they are worth checking out. Some of the stories below came out because of the April 4th observance and the extra attention that day provides to mine action, but all too many stories also reflect the fact that landmines continue to threaten lives and limbs across the Continent.
Three French soldiers serving in Mali as part of a stabilization mission were killed by a landmine in the northern part of the country. One soldier died immediately while the other two succumbed to their injuries after a day. The soldiers were traveling in a convoy of vehicles from the town of Gao when their vehicle struck a mine (BBC News).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued its support of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre (ZIMAC) through the donation of protective equipment, metal detectors and mine risk education materials. Since 2012, the ICRC has been the primary sponsor and support of ZIMAC which is responsible for clearing landmines from Zimbabwe’s national park lands; the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) are clearing other parts of the country. The government of Zimbabwe intends to expand the demining capacity in the country with the addition of two more clearance organizations (one of which will be APOPO with its Hero Rats) and a second demining squadron from the national army. Some 62 million square meters of minefield remain in Zimbabwe and 35 cattle have been killed along with 250 wild animals in the most recent rainy season. No mention was made of human casualties (All Africa; All Africa).
In Huambo Province, landmine clearance by the National Demining Institute continues. So far this year, a dozen landmines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance have been cleared and destroyed (All Africa).
The Lord’s Resistance Army continues to impact northern Uganda a decade after the group was forced out of the country. Over 85 hand grenades have been discovered in hidden caches and authorities have called on residents to report any suspicious items they might find (All Africa).
Nigeria & Cameroon
An operation launched against Boko Haram led to the arrests of over 300 rebels and the liberation of 2,000 hostages. The operation destroyed Boko Haram infrastructure, but without some costs. At least six Cameroonian soldiers were injured by a landmine (Voice of America). Following the operation, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo visited northeastern Nigeria to observe the progress. Obasanjo said that the local governor intends to return all internally displaced people to their homes by the end of the year and the government will provide returnees with livestock. Obasanjo also said of the region, “Fortunately, there are no land mines in the fields,” so returnees will be able to farm their lands (Voice of America). Obasanjo’s words proved be wrong as landmines killed five farmers in Yobe state and injured nine others as they were clearing their fields for planting. The blasts occurred less than two weeks after the farmers had returned to their homes (Y Naija). In response to the blast, the Nigerian military spokesperson warned the general public that Boko Haram had mined the farm fields, cutting short Mr. Obasanjo’s message of hope (All Africa).
The trial of four former employees of the National Demining Institute began in Maputo. Over the course of two years beginning in 2009, the employees, all members of the Administration and Finance Department, defrauded the government of about 250,000 meticais (~US $5,000) by issuing airline tickets to their family members (All Africa).
Three members of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), a paramilitary group affiliated with the national army, were killed and several others injured by a landmine at a checkpoint in South Kordofan state. Fighting in South Kordofan between the government and rebels has intensified recently (Radio Tamazuj).
In Darfur, members of a UN Security Council monitoring group reported the presence of RBK-500 cluster bombs at one of the government’s air bases. Sudan had previously declared that it did not possess any cluster munitions, but the group’s findings dispute that (Reuters).
Eight million anti-personnel landmines laid by the French during the colonial era have been cleared by the Algerian army. This report was made in conjunction with the observance of the International Day for Mine Action and Awareness (KUNA). At another observance event, focusing on the victims of anti-personnel mines, a lawyer working with Algerian civil society called for the amendment of the Mine Ban Treaty to hold the countries that laid the mines responsible for their clearance (Ennahar). This argument is often used by Egypt as an excuse to remain outside of the Treaty because a significant number of the landmines in Egypt were laid by Britain and Germany during World War II. However, the Mine Ban Treaty’s cooperation clause responds to this very issue.
The civil war in South Sudan that erupted in December 2013 has set back demining activities in the country. When South Sudan acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty after independence 2011, the government believed it would be landmine free by 2020 and while substantial mine clearance has continued throughout the conflict, the use of new mines and the restrictions on access to mine affected areas means that more time will be needed to finish the job (Shanghai Daily).
South Sudan’s war has been very dangerous for humanitarian workers. In Yei state, seven employees of the Danish Demining Group were ambushed on their way to the minefields that they were clearing. Two local employees were shot and killed during the ambush and the other five managed to escape. The killers remain at large. In response to the attack, Danish Demining Group has suspended all operations in Yei indefinitely (Copenhagen Post; Copenhagen Post).
Between 1975 and 2012, 831 people were killed and 1705 people injured by landmines in Morocco. These figures were released by Moroccan authorities. In addition to the human casualties, livestock and native species, like the fennec fox, have been killed (Moroccan Times).
As part of the local observance of the International Day of Mine Action and Mine Awareness, leaders in Western Sahara called for the removal of the Moroccan-built berm which divides the territory and includes millions of landmines. Awareness raising activities also took place and representatives from the Chahid Cherif center noted that 151 survivors of landmines were receiving assistance at the center (All Africa).
Derna Shura fighters are using landmines to fight against Islamic State militants in the eastern Libyan city (Libya Observer). In Benghazi, three Libyan soldiers were killed and eight others wounded by a landmine attributed to Islamic State (Arabs Today).
In Marka town, a landmine placed in the center of the town claimed one life and injured another when a car drove over the mine in the middle of the night (Goobjoog News, no link). In the central region of Galgaduud, three children found a piece of unexploded ordnance and started to play with it. All three were injured when the item exploded (Goobjoog News, no link).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
May 6, 2016