The Month in Mines, January 2017

At this year’s Academy Awards, the Danish film, “Land of Mine,” was one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Picture.  “Land of Mine” (Under Sandet in Danish) lost to the Iranian film, “The Salesman,” but garnered quite a bit of attention for its subject: in the days after World War II, the Danish government forced German prisoners of war to clear the landmines placed on Danish soil during the Nazi occupation of Denmark.  I haven’t seen it yet, but as a fact-based account, I am looking forward to this film.  Other the flip side and made of pure hokum, is “Mine” starring Armie Hammer as a US military sniper who steps on a landmine and hears the fateful, “click,” as the mine arms itself.  Hammer then has to survive for 52 hours on the same mine as he waits for rescue. We’ve covered this before, but landmines don’t go “click,” they just explode.  Having them go click may be a good trick for heightening narrative tension, but it is also supremely lazy writing.

Check out “Kilo Two Bravo.”  Like “Land of Mine,” “Kilo Two Bravo” is based upon real events, specifically the experiences of a British army unit in Afghanistan which, during a routine patrol of a dry riverbed near the Kajaki dam, wanders into a minefield.  The mines don’t go click.  They wait like silent predators, unseen and unmarked, until they are disturbed.  The filmmakers treat the landmines like monsters in a horror movie which is what “Kilo Two Bravo” is: a modern monster movie with tragic, terrible and real outcomes.  The soldiers try desperately to save one another and incur additional injuries in the process, but steadfastly refuse to withdraw until they are all rescued.  The audience knows the mines are there but it is still a shock when they detonate because landmine explosions are inherently shocking.  Writing gimmicks are not needed to heighten the tension, the facts of the situation facing the characters creates its own tension.  A very good, if tough movie, which shows the true horror of these weapons.

 

South Africa

A woman living on the border with Zimbabwe was gardening in her yard when she detonated a landmine that had been left behind when the area was a military base in the Apartheid era.  The woman was injured in the arm and face. This incident followed one a year earlier when a person was killed salvaging scrap metal in the same area (All Africa).

 

Uganda

A suspected landmine from the Lord’s Resistance Army severely injured six children in Pader District who found the explosive and were striking it with sticks (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

A Biafran War-era landmine was discovered in Ebonyi state, sparking panic that it might be an improvised explosive device (IED), until the item’s actual provenance was confirmed by local police.  The police also searched the nearby area but found no other explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa).

 

Kenya

In further news of relics from long ago wars, herders in Kenya’s Samburu county found two bombs in an area that had been a British army training post during the colonial period.  The bombs were reported to the police who collected them for destruction. There have been many such discoveries of abandoned munitions in the area, some made by children tending herds (All Africa).

 

Mali

Five Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine in the central Mopti region of the country (Agence France Press).  Three other Malian soldiers were killed and fourth injured by a landmine as the soldiers traveled to the northern city of Gao (The News).

 

Algeria

One child was killed and seven others wounded by an ERW.  The children found the item in the woods near their home which is southwest of Algiers and was thought to be a stronghold for Islamist rebels during Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s (Maghreb Emergent).

In much better news for Algeria, the nation declared that all known border minefields and anti-personnel landmines have been cleared, fulfilling the Mine Ban Treaty obligations under Article 5.  During the course of the work, almost 9 million mines were destroyed and 62,000 hectares of land were cleared.  Algeria joins Tunisia as the second North African state to achieve this milestone (Africa Times).

 

Libya

A military messenger was killed by a landmine in the western part of the city of Benghazi (Al Wasat). Landmine and ERW clearance in Benghazi has been extremely dangerous and several deminers from military engineering units have been killed and injured by explosives laid by Islamic State members as booby traps (Arab 24). An explosive booby trap claimed the life of a special forces volunteer when he was searching and clearing a house in Benghazi (Al Wasat). As Libyan forces made progress towards liberating Benghazi, a brigade commander was killed in the Ganfouda neighborhood (Libya Herald).  A second unit commander was killed by a landmine just as the army declared Ganfouda liberated, leaving only “mopping up” operations to fully secure the city of Benghazi (Libya Herald)

 

Angola

Twenty years ago this month, a divorced mother of two boys took a walk through a field.  Photos show her walking alone, although there were large contingents of deminers and reporters close by.  This brief walk, maybe a couple hundred meters and just a minutes, showed that humanitarian demining worked and could be trusted to make land safe for even the most famous woman in the world, Princess Diana.  The government of Angola, the HALO Trust (Diana’s host for that walk), and diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, gathered to recognize the anniversary of Diana’s minefield walk and re-commit to a mine-free Angola.  The United States committed an additional US $4 million to landmine clearance as the participants in the event recognized that landmines still pose a danger to Angolans, as evidenced by the death of a child from an anti-tank mine a couple months earlier in a town just a few kilometers away (HALO Trust, Relief Web)

Elsewhere in Angola, a mine-risk education campaign in southern Cunene province targeted school children and shoppers at local markets to reduce the likelihood of accidents (ANGOP).

 

Egypt

In the World War II battle of El Alamein, the tank battalions of Great Britain and Germany famously faced off, but they were not alone.  On the German side could be found many Italian soldiers, and the legacy of that Italian involvement is still being recognized.  A decade ago, an Italian Air Force officer found minefield maps that were shared with the Egyptian government and some amateur and professional Italian historians are scouring wartime diaries and journals to uncover more information that may be of help to the Egyptian government in its demining efforts.  Now, satellite images are being used to further refine the information in those maps as battlefield locations are pinpointed (The Daily Beast).

Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation announced the establishment of a national center for mine action that will clear 150,000 acres of landmines from the northern coast.  The center will also provide mine risk education and support survivor assistance with the creation of a prosthetics facility (Daily News).

 

Western Sahara

A man was killed by a landmine when his car struck the mine near the village of Jreyfiya (Sahara Confidential).

 

South Sudan

Since the outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013, the contamination from ERW has increased, especially in Bentiu and Upper Nile States.  Equatoria State remains heavily contaminated from ERW from the civil wars when South Sudan was still a part of Sudan (Eye Radio).

 

Michael P. Moore

February 28, 2017

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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