The Month in Mines, October 2016

The passing of one of the towering giants of the Cold War, Fidel Castro, has prompted a lot of column inches in other venues.  This past summer I saw some of the impact of Cuba’s military adventurism in Angola but in previous trips I saw Cuban-built hospitals in Vietnam and met Cuban engineers in Denmark.  During Castro’s leadership, Cuba was a country with an outsized impact on the world.  Even before the recent thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba, the United States had removed the minefields that surrounded the military base at Guantanamo Bay and Cuba’s role as mediator in negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels had held out hope for demining progress there.  Cuba recently joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the improving relations between the US and Cuba removed one of the principle excuses Cuba had used to remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty.

 

Angola

A newly discovered minefields was reported in the central province of Bie.  The exact extent of the contamination is not known, but the area had been the scene of fighting during one of Angola’s many periods of fighting in the province (All Africa).

In the northern province of Malanje, the Japanese ambassador to Angola re-affirmed his country’s commitment to Angola’s humanitarian mine action program.  Annually the Japanese government provides US $20 million for demining in Angola (Relief Web).

In the northern Zaire province, the National Demining Institute detonated over 100 explosive remnants of was including eight landmines (All Africa).

The director of Angola’s mine action program estimates that 270 million euros will be required to clear the remaining 1,435 known minefields.  Angola will need international support to meet the Maputo Declaration’s goal of clearing all known minefields by 2025. At present, Angola still needs to complete minefield surveys in eight of the country’s 18 provinces to fully document the extent of contamination (Government of Angola).

 

Somalia

During an attack on Mandera, a town along the Somali-Kenya border, Al Shabaab members planted landmines in the town which have hindered the efforts of the security forces to respond to the attack (All Africa).

In Mogadishu, three suspected Al Shabaab members were killed by the landmine they were trying to plant in a roadway (All Africa).

The extensive use of remote-controlled and victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been a major security challenge for the African Union peacekeepers in Somalia.  225 separate attacks have been recorded in 2016 with hundreds of casualties. Victim-activated IEDs, including pressure-plate and magnetic IEDs, are banned by the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian army, having ousted Boko Haram from much of northeastern Nigeria is now busy trying to certify the safety of liberated areas.  The army recognizes the threat from landmines and IEDs and once an area has been cleared of explosives, it will be released back to the population (The Eagle).  The governor of Adamawa state acknowledged the threat and fear of landmines during a speech at the United States Institute of Peace. The governor also noted that despite the assurances of the army, many farmers are reluctant to return to their fields (All Africa). Those fears have some validity as less than an hour after the Nigerian army declared a road in Maiduguri safe, a truck struck a landmine injuring several passengers (All Africa).

During the fight against Boko Haram, Nigeria recruited and used local vigilante forces to augment the formal army units.  At least 162 women whose husbands served as vigilantes have been widowed as a result of the fighting, many by landmines, and the Borno state government has committed to providing assistance to those widows (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

The national mine action authority is developing a new extension request for its Article 5 mine clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  This would be the fifth such extension request and set a new deadline for clearing all known minefields of 2025, matching the global deadline from the Maputo Declaration.  At present, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid are actively demining in Zimbabwe and they will soon be joined by Mines Advisory Group and APOPO (All Africa). Unfortunately, the national commitment to demining appears to be lacking.  For the last several years, the government of Zimbabwe has only allocated US $500,000 for demining and in 2016, that allocation was reduced to US $100,000 (News Day).  The government, in its extension request, should state its commitment to demining and identify national resources to match that commitment.

 

Mali

Multiple landmine incidents were reported in northern Mali. Three Malian soldiers were killed and another injured when their vehicle stuck a mine in the northern Timbuktu region. This accident closely followed an incident in which a Chadian soldier was killed by a landmine in Kidal when his vehicle struck a mine (Fox News). A Tuareg leader from an anti-government faction was killed by a landmine less than 300 meters from a United Nations base in Kidal where he has been meeting with peacekeeping troops (Reuters). Landmines were used as part of an ambush of Malian soldiers in the village of N’Goma Coura in the center of the country.  Four soldiers were killed and seven injured in the attack (Yahoo).

 

Libya

Female parliamentarians in Libya called upon the Italian government and the international community to support demining in the liberated areas of Benghazi (ANSAMed). The Dutch ambassador to Libya pledged one million Euros for demining in Sirte (Libya Observer). Despite the gains made by the government-backed army in Sirte, there are concerns about the insurgent attacks.  A teacher was killed and his family members injured by a landmine on the road from Sirte to Misrata, an area that is supposed to have been liberated from Islamist forces. This was the fifth such explosion on that stretch of road in less than three months (Libya Herald).

Despite the war, students at Benghazi University managed to complete their studies and to celebrate their graduation, they visited the campus which had recently been liberated after a two years’ occupation by Islamic State forces. Demining teams continue to work to clear the campus of explosives, but estimate that only 5% of the booby traps and landmines have been cleared (BBC News).

 

Sudan

Three militia members aligned with the government were killed when their vehicle struck and detonated a piece of unexploded ordnance (All Africa).

 

Egypt

Egypt’s International Cooperation Minister met with Swiss representatives to request support from Switzerland to clear the landmines in the Northwest Desert that remain from World War II (El Balad).

 

Western Sahara

A four-year old child was killed by a cluster munition and two others were injured (Remove the Wall).

 

Michael P. Moore

November 30, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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