The Month in Mines, August 2017

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.

 

Libya

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).

 

Nigeria

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).

 

Angola

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).

 

Zimbabwe

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).

 

Mali

The International Committee of the Red Cross trained 50 Malian doctors on war and trauma surgery, enabling them to treat landmine victims (ReliefWeb).

 

Kenya

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).

 

Sudan

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).

 

Namibia

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

 

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The Month in Mines, July 2017

The Convention on Cluster Munitions gets a boost this month in advance of the anniversary of the Convention on August 1st.  Two West African countries, Benin and The Gambia, ratified and made progress towards ratification, respectively.  We also see disturbing news from Libya about the sheer scale of contamination there, but also recognition and support from the international community.  So, another glass half-full month.

 

South Sudan

Some 4 million landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been cleared from South Sudan, but thousands more remain and new minefields are still being discovered.  The conflict in South Sudan that began in December 2013 has hindered but not halted clearance operations. Today, 400 to 500 deminers, including many women, continue to work towards a mine-free South Sudan (All Africa).

 

The Gambia

The West Africa Network of Peacebuilding (WANEP), a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, called on the new government of the country to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  The Gambia is one of 17 countries to have signed the Convention but not yet ratify (All Africa).

 

Libya

Landmine explosions were heard in the Akhribish and Sabri areas of Benghazi as Operation Dignity forces loyal to General Haftar moved to consolidate their control over the city (Libya Observer). The engineering divisions of Operation Dignity continued to clear landmines and booby traps left by Islamic State fighters from Benghazi, but also warned civilians from attempting to return to their homes before clearance work was finished (Al Wasat). Despite the efforts of the engineers, two special forces soldiers were killed and three more wounded by a landmine near the Hotel Al Nuran in the Sabri neighborhood.  A number of other mines and explosive devices were also found in the vicinity (Al Wasat). In total, 21 soldiers were killed by landmines and an unknown number injured in the Sabri neighborhood (Libya Herald).  The engineering units have also been decimated by landmines with at least 43 killed and 27 injured by landmines.  Another 19 civilians have been also been killed or injured in Benghazi (Xinhua), six just in Sabri (Al Wasat). Others have estimated that five civilians are killed or injured by landmines every day in Benghazi (Libya Herald). Libyans are not the only ones falling victim to mines in Benghazi. At least one Egyptian citizen was also injured (Libya Herald).

In Derna, two Libyan soldiers were killed by landmine (Al Wasat).

In Sirte, Operation Dignity forces have finished the demining of the main roads near the coastline allowing the re-opening of the beaches (Libya Observer). Over one and a half tons of landmines and abandoned ordnance was cleared and destroyed from Sirte (Libya Observer).

To improve capacity in Libya, the British government, through its Tripoli Embassy, is suppoting demining training for Libyan military engineers (Libya Observer).  Representatives of the Libyan Mine Action Centre (LibMAC) have partnered with the United Nations Mine Action Services (UNMAS) and Handicap International to identify gaps in victim assistance (there are many) and create action plans to address them (UN Mission in Libya).

 

Somalia

A minibus struck a landmine about 30 kilometers north of Mogadishu, killing two passengers and injuring 5 others (Xinhua).

In the Puntland region, two deminers were killed trying to defuse mines attributed to Al Shabaab (Horn Observer).

In the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland an eleven year-old boy from Las Anod town was killed by a landmine while he and other children were playing on the edges of the town (Somaliland Sun). A few days later, a second mine detonated in Las Anod killing one more and injuring 19 others (Somaliland Sun).

 

Algeria

The Algerian National Police reported the seizure of 121 landmines in addition to other explosive devices and ammunition (Middle East Monitor).

 

Angola

The recent National Geographic expeditions and efforts by international conservation groups like Panthera confirm that much of the southeastern reaches of Angola are prime for conservation activities.  With many endemic and endangered species, the need is great in this part of the country that was the site of much of the conflict during Angola’s civil wars.  It is also a region where landmine clearance is taking place and the irony is that the presence of landmines, along with the remoteness of the region, have helped to prevent development and exploitation of the region’s natural resources.  As the minefields are clear and as the Angolan government seeks to develop its tourism sector, conservation and preservation becomes a priority (Phys.Org).

At a national conference on mine action in Angola, the British ambassador to Angola reconfirmed his government’s support for a landmine-free Huambo province and announced contributions from the British and Japanese governments to support the efforts of the HALO Trust (Read Tru Africa).

In Cunene Province, over a decade of landmine clearance has resulted in the destruction of over a thousand landmines and 218,000 other ERW.  In addition, nearly 100,000 residents have been educated on the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance (All Africa).

 

Uganda

Women with disabilities in northwestern Uganda, including many landmine survivors, have organized to call attention to their land tenure rights and to call out the speculators who are trying to usurp those rights (Sunrise).

 

Benin

Benin ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, noting that the country has never possessed or used these weapons (The Monitor).

 

Mali

One child was killed and two others wounded when they picked up a piece of unexploded ordnance in the Konna area and began playing with it.  The explosive, likely from the French assaults against Islamic State forces in 2013, detonated.  The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) works with the national army to raise awareness of the dangers of ERW, but clearance has been limited and none carried out in Konna (Mussoya).

Also in July a MINUSMA cargo truck struck a mine on the Ansongo-Menaka road injuring at least four persons (Studio Tamani).

 

Sudan

A Darfuri teen from a camp for the internally displaced was put into a coma by the blast of a piece of unexploded ordnance after he picked it up and began to play with it.  The teenager also lost several fingers and sustained facial injuries (Radio Dabanga).

 

Zimbabwe

37 years after Zimbabwe gained its independence, liberation war era landmines are still being cleared. The Zimbabwe National Army estimates that US $1 million is required to clear one square kilometer of land from mines and other ERW and while the government provides some support, more is needed (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company).

 

Michael P. Moore

September 3, 2017

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, March 2017

So, the big news lately featured a certain second son of Princess Diana and his efforts on behalf of a landmine free world by 2025.  At Kensington Palace on April 4th, Prince Harry delivered a powerful speech calling on people and nations to commit to a mine free world.  Harry’s call, made personal by his own visits to minefields in Angola and Mozambique (and presumably by what he saw during his tour of duty in Afghanistan), was quickly answered by the British Minister for International Development, Priti Patel, who announced a three-fold increase in British funding for mine action (The HALO Trust; Mines Advisory Group).  Many other countries have made similar pledges for new or sustained funding for mine action (Landmine and Cluster Munition Blog), but what I have not seen are pledges from the mine-affected countries to meet their obligations to clear minefields and support survivors.  With new money available, mine-affected countries need to step up and meet the challenge.

 

Somaliland

For the first time, Somaliland’s parliament ordered the deportation of two foreigners who had “disrespected Islam.”  Both of the individuals deported worked for the Danish Demining Group (DDG) which conducts community safety programs including mine risk education and small-scale clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa, Danish Demining Group).

 

The Gambia

In the far eastern section of The Gambia, just on the border of Senegal’s Casamance region, a landmine killed a father and his son.  The area is known as a safe haven for Casamance rebel groups, but this is the first known mine in the area (Freedom Newspaper).

 

Egypt

Two civilians were killed by a landmine pace in a village near the border with Israel on the Sinai Peninsula (Al Araby). Another landmine near the Suez Canal killed one person and injured four more.  The mine was believed to have been a remnant from the war with Israel in the 1950s (Ahram). In a third incident on the Sinai Peninsula, three people, including two children, were killed and two others injured when their car stuck a mine (Ahram).

 

Angola

The government of Japan has made a US $550,000 grant to the HALO Trust to help clear the 20 remaining minefields in Huambo Province.  Having already cleared 270 minefields, the HALO Trust is looking to finish the job in Huambo, once one of the most mine-affected areas of Angola (Relief Web).

 

Nigeria

A Cameroonian soldier was killed by a landmine in Nigeria’s Borno State.  The soldier was part of the multi-national force fighting against Boko Haram and he was killed when his vehicle struck a mine in the roadway (Cameroon Concord). To support Nigerian capacity to clear landmines and other ERW, the United States government donated training aids and hosted a humanitarian mine action training program at the Nigerian Army’s military engineering school in Abuja (NTA).

 

Libya

Two Libyan soldiers were injured by a landmine attributed to the Islamic State in the liberated city of Sirte (Libya Observer).  In Benghazi, a military deminer was killed in the line of duty and the Gawarsha neighborhood of Benghazi has been deemed too mine-contaminated to allow for the return of civilians (Libya Observer).

A dozen deminers from the Russian company, rsb Group, have been conducting mine clearance in the eastern part of Libya (The Trumpet).

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 17, 2017

 


The Month in Mines, February 2017

Below we will talk about Algeria’s landmine clearance, but I would like to compare it to Mozambique’s achievement of a landmine-free country.  Mozambique was greatly aided by the efforts of multiple commercial and humanitarian demining organizations and when Mozambique detonated its last mine, board members were invited and press releases issued.  When Algeria cleared its last mined, no announcement was made for a couple of months, despite the fact that Algeria had three times as many mines as Mozambique.  Algeria’s deminers, members of police and army engineering units, toiled away for years on what must have seemed like an impossible task, but they did it.  Those anonymous souls achieved something special and deserve as much recognition and respect as Mozambique’s deminers.

 

Algeria

As we had mentioned in last month’s news round-up, Algeria has completed its demining obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  With contamination from World War II, the liberation war against France and a civil war in the 1990s, Algeria had over a million mines across 120 million square meters.  The densest minefields were to be found along the borders and had been laid by the French as a “cordon sanitaire” in an attempt to prevent supply and support to the liberation fighters in the 1950s and 1960s. Mine clearance took place in two phases, the first in the two and a half decades after liberation and the second after 2004 with the last mine cleared on November 30, 2016. Algeria is the second North African country after Tunisia to complete demining with the rest of North Africa, Morocco, Libya and Egypt choosing to remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty. The formal announcement of Algeria’s clearance was made at the annual meeting of Mine Action Program Managers in Geneva and recognized by the President of the Convention (Defence Web).

 

Cameroon

A Cameroonian soldier was killed while on duty in Nigeria’s Borno state by a suspected landmine attributed to Boko Haram.  The soldier was riding in a vehicle which struck the mine (Cameroon Concord).  A few days later, another Cameroonian military vehicle struck a mine in northeastern Cameroon killing four soldiers and injuring others.  The second mine was also attributed to Boko Haram which has been accused of laying mines throughout the Lake Chad region to thwart attempts by the joint forces of five countries – Nigeria, Niger, Char, Cameroon and Benin – to combat the group (Anadolu Agency).

 

Egypt

2017 will see the 75th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein and while some will celebrate this turning point in the second World War, for many Egyptians in the Northwest Desert, it will be a grim reminder of the continuing threat of landmines laid during that battle.  To date some 8,000 people have been killed or injured by World War II landmines and the demining process has been slow (ITV).

 

Somalia

In 2015 the HALO Trust expanded its activities in Somalia beyond the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland with some initial survey work.  Now operating in southern Somalia, the HALO Trust is active along the Ethiopian-Somali border which was the site of battles in the Ogaden wars of the 1980s.  This month, the Trust’s clearance teams found their first landmine in southern Somalia near a former military camp which had been the source of multiple accidents in the 2000s (Relief Web).

 

Libya

Despite the liberation of the western city of Sirte from Islamic State forces, civilians continue to be threatened by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).  Three children were injured by a piece of ammunition that was thrown onto a fire and father and two of his children were injured by a landmine outside of their house which had reportedly been used as an operations room by Islamic State (Libya Herald).  In partial response, the Presidential Council, which is recognized by the United Nations as the formal governing body, has been called upon by the Libyan army to provide metal detectors and other demining gear to find and clear the mines left by IS (Libya Observer).  Demining is a core element in the army’s six-point plan for ensuring the safe return of Sirte residents who had been displaced by the fighting.  The city has been divided into neighborhoods and the army is sweeping them in turn before allowing residents back to their homes (Libya Observer).

In Derna, one child was killed and two others injured by a landmine attributed to IS and left near the GECOL building (Libya Observer).

 

Western Sahara

An estimated 5 to 10 million landmines pollute the Western Sahara region.  Laid by the Polisario Movement and the government of Morocco the mine have killed or injured more than 300 people and thousands of camels since the 1991 ceasefire.  Polisario has handed over its minefield maps to the United Nations to assist with clearance while the Moroccan government maintains active minefields along the berm that divides the region (Mail and Guardian).

 

Angola

The United States ambassador to Angola, Helen La Lime, confirmed the US’s continuing support for a mine-free Angola during the first visit of a US ambassador to the eastern provinces of Lunda Sul and Lunda Norte (Relief Web).

 

South Sudan

Eighty children in the United Nations Protection of Civilian (PoC) site in Bentiu received mine-risk education from the Mission staff.  The lessons are part of a broader program to inform school children about the dangers from landmines and other ERW, especially after three children were injured while playing with unspent ammunition (Relief Web).

 

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

March 7, 2017


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


The Month in Mines, August 2016

Syria and Yemen deservedly get the majority of the news about use of cluster munitions and landmines, but North Africa has also seen fairly widespread use of these weapons in the last few years.  Beginning with the Gaddhafi regime’s use to try and hold off the liberation forces encouraged by Arab Spring, through current use by various Islamist groups, new landmine use can be seen in Algeria, Libya, Mali, Tunisia, Egypt and Nigeria.  In Libya and Sudan, government aligned forces have been alleged to use cluster munitions.  The use of these weapons in these ongoing conflicts means that their effects will be felt for years to come, in countries which already faced substantial burdens of explosive remnants of war.

 

Egypt

During World War II, British and German armies laid some 17 million landmines in the western deserts of Egypt, an area that became famous as the tank battle of El Alamein.  Most of those landmines remain in the deserts and until recently have only been a threat to the nomadic communities who make the desert their home.  Two people were killed and three injured by a mine in the Wasy el-Natroun area.  Egypt now has plans to development much of the western desert to take advantage of the natural gas deposits that lie below the surface and has cleared 155 square kilometers of desert of mines (Daily News Egypt), but another actor has also emerged with plans for the minefields: the Islamic State.  According to the former director of Egypt’s Mine Action Center, Fathy el-Shazly, there have been at least ten confirmed reports of jihadists digging up old landmines and repurposing them as improved explosive devices, the first coming in 2004.  The March 2016 landmine blast in the Red Sea area was attributed to repurposed landmines. Newsweek’s story about ISIS using World War II mines is a bit breathless and sensationalized, but points to another danger of abandoned ordnance. To its credit, Newsweek also highlights the poverty of the nomadic communities in the western desert and notes that some of the nomads are tempted to dig up the old mines and sell them as they have no other form of income (Newsweek).

In the Sinai region, where the Egyptian government is fighting a separate Islamist insurgency, a policy captain was killed while chasing insurgents following a firefight and an attempted bombing of an Al-Arish police station (Ahram).

 

Rwanda

When Papias Higiro stepped on a landmine shortly after the genocide and civil war in Rwanda, his life prospects were bleak.  21 years later, Papias has received his first prosthetic leg and can fulfill his dream of walking again and will attend vocational training to become a hairdresser.  This intervention was made possible by the charitable arm of AirTel, a mobile phone company (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

The government of Zimbabwe has accused three Zimbabweans living abroad of trying to destabilized the government.  One of the men is accused of threatening to plant landmines on the roads to kill a thousand people (The Herald).

In recognition of Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, recognized the landmine clearance efforts of the Zimbabwean army, the HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

Nigerian soldiers are clearing landmines and other explosives left by Boko Haram and have arrested five members of the group who are suspected of planting some of the mines (All Africa).  The local Nigerian commanders boasted of a massive demining effort covering the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, an effort made possible by the purchase and delivery of demining equipment (Vanguard).

 

Chad

Nigeria is not the only country affected by Boko Haram.  Four Chadian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram landmine near that country’s border with Niger (Reuters).

 

Libya

In Libya, the army under General Haftar, has ousted Islamic State forces from the city of Sirte, but Islamic State laid many landmines and booby traps.  Deminers from the army and from Libya’s intelligence services are now tasked with clearing mines and explosives which have killed over 300 soldiers and injured another 400.  At least four deminers have been killed and another injured trying to clear Sirte.  Five months of clearance work remains in Sirte according to a military spokesman (IRIN News).  To assist the Libyan forces, the Italian government is believed to have deployed special forces to the country to train Libyan deminers (Sputnik News; Ahram).

General Haftar’s army, while calling for assistance with landmine clearance, has also not helped its own cause by using banned cluster bombs.  In official photos published by the Libyan National Army (LNA), army helicopters are shown carrying the munitions, which challenges the LNA’s denial of use of such weapons in Derna and Benghazi (War is Boring).

In addition to the LNA’s cluster bombs, the Islamic State left landmines in Derna city, one of which killed a leader of the Shura Council of Mujahideen, an Islamist group that ousted Islamic State before being besieged by the LNA (Libyan Express).

In Benghazi two soldiers were killed and two more wounded at a checkpoint in the Al Gawarsha district (Libya Observer).  And in Misrata, the local hospital reported three soldiers killed in two separate incidents, both attributed to Islamic State landmines (Libya Observer).

Of course, the extensive use of landmines can also backfire as seen in Sirte when an Islamic State member tried to drive an explosive laden car into Al Bunyan Al Marsoos positions and struck a landmine laid by Islamic State forces, destroying the car and causing no casualties beyond the driver (Libyan Observer).

 

Tunisia

Three Tunisian soldiers were killed and seven more injured by an anti-tank landmine in the western region of the country, near the Algerian border.  The mountainous region has been a hideout for militants since the start of Arab Spring in 2011 (Press TV).

 

Algeria

The Algerian army cleared 866 landmines dating back to the liberation war against the French.  This was part of the ongoing clearance work along the borders of the country.  Algeria is also facing a current threat from Islamist groups that are fighting against the government and the army.  In the last year and a half, Algerian has killed or arrested hundreds of suspected Islamists and the government claims that the Islamists have mostly been defeated and the government is now trying to consolidate its position and make the affected areas safe for the population.  The government reported the seizure of two landmines that were believed to have been intended for use along the country’s roads.  In just such an incident, four civilians were killed when their vehicle struck a mine attributed to Islamist groups (Strategy Page; Defence Web).

 

Michael P. Moore

September 26, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, July 2016

Two stories this month, one from Libya and one from Sudan, remind us of the dangers of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW).  In Libya, an experienced and knowledgeable deminer was killed in the line of duty; in Sudan some children played with an unexploded munition with tragic results.  Mine risk education is a vital part of mine action, but despite the numerous warnings in Sudan, people, including children, continue to tamper with mines and ERW.  However, even those most aware of the risks of explosive devices can still fall victim to them.  The lesson is this: the sooner all such items are cleared and destroyed, the sooner we can all live a little more securely.  On to the news:

 

Angola

The low price of oil has created a serious economic crisis in Angola. Many government subsidies have been cut as revenues from oil have evaporated.  However, the Minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration stated that programs benefitting some of the most vulnerable Angolans, including landmine clearance, will continue (All Africa).

The deputy governor of Cabinda province, Angola’s hub for oil production, announced that between 2008 and 2015, 2.1 million square meters of land had been cleared of mines, along with 586 kilometers of road (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, 41,000 square meters of land were cleared in the first half of 2016 (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

In areas liberated from Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, returnees are unable to farm their lands for fear of the landmines placed by Boko Haram. This is one of the factors that is creating a famine with two million people needing food aid (All Africa).  In Borno state, personnel from Medicins Sans Frontieres were involved in a landmine incident that went unreported until a Nigerian army convoy was ambushed by Boko Haram in the same area a few days later (Trends).

 

Somalia

Four people were injured in the Kenyan town of Mandera, near the border with Somalia, by a landmine blamed on Al Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group which has been expanding its geographic reach.  The mine was placed near a communications tower as an ambush (All Africa). After the ambush, Kenyan soldiers were accused of attacking and looting the town of Lafey in retaliation for the death of one of the soldiers during the ambush.  This is one of many incidents in which military forces fighting Al Shabaab have killed or injured civilians, civilians who are just as traumatized by the acts of Al Shabaab (All Africa).

 

Libya

A Libyan deminer, the Chief of Explosives for Operation Dignity in Benghazi, was killed trying to defuse a landmine.  The deminer had previously escaped injury when the car he was in drove over a landmine in May and he had just recently completed a demining course in the United Arab Emirates (Libyan Express).  The Libyan forces, led by General Haftar, have suffered many injuries from landmines laid by retreating Islamists.  Four special forces members were killed by a landmine in Benghazi’s al-Gwarcha district as the army tries to fully control the city (Daily Mail).

 

Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe the HALO Trust employs a number of female deminers as part of its equal opportunity policy in hiring.  For many women in the Mukumbura region where the HALO Trust is working, few formal employment opportunities exist and, thanks to the training and focus of the deminers, female deminers can support their families and build houses (News Day).

 

Sudan

Three separate blasts from unexploded ordnance occurred in North Darfur.  In the first, two women were killed and a man injured; the survivor lost his hands and feet in the blast (All Africa). In the second, a farmer was killed when he struck an explosive while plowing his fields (All Africa). In the third, two children were killed and a third injured when they played with a munition and tried to set it on fire (Strategy Page).

 

Continental

The government of the Netherlands committed 45 million euros to landmine clearance.  In Africa, the Dutch will support demining in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan (Netherlands Times).

The British charity, Find A Better Way, sponsored a dozen trauma surgeons from mine-affected countries to attend a seminar at the Imperial College of London to learn about the latest research and advice for treatment of traumatic amputations.  Algeria was among the African nations represented at the seminar (Imperial College of London).

The European Union proposed to shift some development funds to improving the security sector in African and Middle Eastern countries.  According to a EU Commission spokesperson, one of the ways these re-allocated funds could be used is for demining by national armies (CCTV).

 

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

September 6, 2016