Twenty years ago this month, the world lost one of the most public opponents of landmines, Princess Diana. While she is often credited with helping to bring about the global ban on anti-personnel landmines, the efforts that led to the Mine Ban Treaty started long before Princess Diana’s walk through an Angolan minefield or her meetings with Bosnian survivors. What Diana’s involvement did do was ensure that the world was paying attention to the issue and when she died a couple of weeks before the international community met to vote on accepting or rejecting the Mine Ban Treaty, Diana’s memory loomed large over the proceedings. Her “ghost” almost certainly helped to get the majority of the world’s nations to ban anti-personnel landmines, an effort that was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize shortly thereafter.
Since Diana’s death there have been other champions, perhaps the most famous being Paul Macartney and Heather Mills in the early 2000s and Princess Diana’s own son, Prince Harry. As we look through this month’s news stories, we should also note that the lives of champions are not the ones most affected by mines; those are the unnamed thousands and millions of people living in mine-affected countries and regions. The ones whose stories we often only learn about when they are cut short by these cruel devices.
As for this month’s round-up: Late again, I know.
Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Minister, pledged additional support to Libya’s reconstruction, including £3 million to clear landmines and other explosives from the recently-liberated city of Sirte and £1 million for demining training across the country (Daily Mail). The need for such training is acute in Benghazi where months of clearance work has yet to fully remove all of the mines from the city. One activist estimates that four or five civilians are killed or injured every day by mines and other explosive remnants of war in Benghazi (Libya Herald). In more positive news in Benghazi, the port has been re-opened after landmines were cleared which had been blocking access (Arab 24).
The United States government has donated several landmine detectors and protective suits to the Nigerian army for use in the northeastern region of the country where Boko Haram has laid many mines (TVC News).
Of course, the Boko Haram conflict is not the only one in Nigeria’s past. Just this month some 17,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) dating back to the Biafra war of the 1960s which had been cleared and stockpiled by Demining Concept Nigeria are now under the control of the Nigerian army. The explosives were being stored in a densely populated part of the capitol of Imo State, posing a risk to the local population. Another 44,000 bombs and UXO are believed to be polluting the city (Ripples Nigeria).
In Angola’s Cunene province, the national mine action authority, CNIDAH, is carrying out a mine risk awareness campaign in local schools and markets. So far, only 45 of Cunene’s 143 known minefields have been cleared (All Africa, News Ghana).
An estimated $275 million is needed to finish clearance of all known minefields in Angola. Current funding is less than 20% of that amount and clearance of the minefields at Cuito Cuanavale, “the most-mined town in Africa,” has been halted due to lack of funds. Twenty years after Diana’s visit, her memory can still generate a lot of column inches, but it might not achieve a landmine-free Angola (CNET; bonus points to CNET for quoting yours truly).
One person was injured when the road grader he was using struck an anti-tank landmine in Chiwetu area of Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe Daily).
The Zimbabwean army continues to clear mines laid by the Rhodesian regime during the liberation war. To raise awareness about the work, the army hosts an annual gala with music in the mine-affected region and provides artificial limbs to survivors (The Herald). The awareness efforts are needed because, despite progress by the army, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid, 18 people have been killed by landmines since 2012, including some who are looking for the hoax substance, Red Mercury (The Herald).
The International Committee of the Red Cross trained 50 Malian doctors on war and trauma surgery, enabling them to treat landmine victims (ReliefWeb).
Three civilians were killed by a landmine attributed to the Somalia rebel group, Al Shabaab, in northeastern Kenya. Most of the explosives used by Al Shabaab are remote controlled, but this particular blast appeared to be activated when the mine was struck by their Landcruiser (Prensa Latina). A second, similar incident occurred injuring two people when their truck struck a mine in Lamu, Kenya (The Nation).
A camel herder in north Darfur was killed along with two of his camels while his animals were grazing and one detonated a piece of UXO (Radio Dabanga) and in central Darfur, a 12 year-old boy was seriously injured when the UXO he was playing with exploded (Radio Dabanga).
Some 30 pieces of abandoned ordnance were discovered in the Zambezi region dating back to the South African occupation of the country during the Apartheid era. The local police have started the process to destroy the items (New Era).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
October 12, 2017