In 2016 I traveled to Zimbabwe to take stock of mine clearance along the border with Mozambique and to document the availability and quality of victim assistance in the country. Short answers were that the clearance was going well while victim assistance services were deteriorating. To prepare for the trip I had read Peter Godwin’s The Fear about the violence that followed the contested 2008 elections and Heidi Holland’s Dinner with Mugabe, a psychological biography of the only leader Zimbabwe had ever known. Until a week ago. After a brief power struggle between Robert Mugabe’s two most-likely successors, the first lady Grace Mugabe and the general and former director of Zimbabwe’s interior security Emerson Mnangagwa, Mnangagwa found himself fired in early November and having to flee arrest. A few days later, leaders of the Zimbabwean army consulted with Chinese officials in Beijing and presumably secured their support for the non-coup that deposed Mugabe and replaced him with Mnangagwa after several days of negotiations. The transition has so far been peaceful, but let’s be clear: Mnangagwa is not the reformer that Morgan Tsangvirai would have been in 2008. Mnangagwa, nicknamed “the Crocodile,” led the pogroms against the Matabelele people in the 1980s, eliminating a key opposition group to Mugabe’s rule and allowing Mugabe to consolidate control. Then, in 2008, Mnangagwa masterminded the violence and repression which followed the Movement for Democracy and Change’s, Tsangvirai’s party, likely electoral victory. Until Grace Mugabe’s efforts to seize power in recent months, Mnangagwa had been seen as Mugabe’s likely successor.
I have heard from colleagues that the mine clearance is continuing in Zimbabwe and the general mood in the country is positive. I don’t hold any particular hope for a dramatic improvement in the quality and availability of victim assistance services, but I, for the most part, recall my time in Zimbabwe fondly. The people I met, much like the Bosnians, Rwandans and Vietnamese I have met in other travels, were remarkably resilient; despite the poor economy and the recent memories of violence, life continued.
We are consolidating two months’ worth of stories into this update.
Benghazi, despite its association with a non-scandal involving the Clinton State Department, should be seen as one of the most mine-affected cities in the world. In one month – July 2017 – at least 40 civilians were killed by mines with an unknown number injured and further unknown numbers of soldiers killed or wounded. The Islamic State made wide use of victim-activated booby traps and local activists have taken on the role of counting the casualties. The Libyan army is making some progress to clear the mines and booby traps, and 43 deminers have lost their lives to liberate the city from explosives. More support is needed from the international community to train and equip the deminers, but more options are also needed for the residents of Benghazi who fled their homes and now wish to return (D and C).
At least four people were killed and 9 injured by landmines in Benghazi in September (Libya Observer). In Sabri neighborhood, a teenager lost both legs in a landmine explosion while playing football near his home (Libyan Express). Also in Sabri, a father and his son were injured by the shrapnel from a mine (Libya Herald) and three men were killed by a booby trap near the entrance to a public building. A Chadian man also died from his injuries after stepping on a landmine near his home (Libya Observer).
Women activists from Libya met in Rome under the auspices of the Italian Foreign Ministry and called on the international community to provide more support to landmine clearance in Libya (Libya Herald).
Cement factories in Benghazi are expected to re-open for operations in the near future after landmine clearance supported by British experts. Local production of cement will aid in reconstruction (Libya Herald).
A UN peacekeeping convoy struck a landmine near Gao which touched off an ambush that killed three peacekeepers and injured five others in September (WTOP). In October, another ambush killed three peacekeepers and injured two more after a convoy hit a mine in Kidal (Punch Nigeria). The Al Qaeda affiliated Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed credit for the attack in Kidal and was also suspected of a landmine blast that injured two Malian soldiers (Long War Journal).
In Angola’s Zaire province, seven landmines were among the 89 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) (All Africa). In Kwanza Norte almost 3 million square meters of land have been cleared of mines and and over 21 thousand people have been sensitized to the danger of landmines (Relief Web). 468 UXO cleared in Bengo province were destroyed (EIN News).
Having earlier cleared the last known minefield, Algeria destroyed the last 5,970 landmines stockpiled by the country (Middle East Online).
The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) ruled against the government of Nigeria for failure to clear landmines from the 1960s Biafra War. The ruling requires the government to begin removing stockpiles of unexploded and abandoned ordnance (Sahara Reporters).
Two vehicles in northern Nigeria struck separate landmines attributed to Boko Haram, killing two people and injuring many others (Independent). Near Maidugari Boko Haram launched an ambush after an army convoy struck a landmine; four Nigerian soldiers were killed and five were injured in the attack (All Africa).
A convoy belonging to Avocet, a mining company, struck a mine north of Burkina Faso’s capitol, Ougadougou, killing two and injuring two more. The mine was attributed to a new jihadist group, Ansaroul Islam (Reuters).
Two Cameroonian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram-attributed landmine near the Nigerian border (Anadolu Agency).
Landmines and UXO from the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda continue to be found and threaten lives and livelihood. The region suffers from food insecurity due to an inability to fully use the agricultural lands due to fears of explosives (All Africa).
A minibus struck a landmine in Lower Shabelle killing the two women and four men riding in it. Two other landmines were discovered and cleared in a Mogadishu suburb (Voice of America).
Sixty square kilometers of minefields remain in Zimbabwe as the country scrambles to meet the global target of a landmine-free world in 2025. The HALO Trust covers the areas of Mount Darwin and Mukumbura and report that while human casualties have mercifully been reduced, livestock continue to suffer with 19 cattle lost to landmines in just two months in Mukumbura. Near Mount Darwin, plans for emergency clinics to respond to landmine injuries have been delayed or shelved due to lack of funds. Demining continues to receive international support with a recent contribution of US $2 million from the Japanese government (News Day). That support has helped to clear five square kilometers of land and over 40,000 mines out of the estimated 29 square kilometers of minefields in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East where Mukumbura is (News Day).
In addition to herding, farming and general transit across Zimbabwe’s minefields, a continuing lure for people to enter the minefields is the myth of Red Mercury. A belief persists that landmines contain Red Mercury, a nonexistent substance thought to be more valuable than gold, so people try to open mines to obtain the substance with disastrous consequences. The HALO Trust and local legislators have been working to combat this myth and save lives (News Day).
Also in Zimbabwe, a new mine-risk education program was launched by Happy Readers and the HALO Trust. The program combines a literacy program with a fact-based story about the dangers of landmines.
Over 2,600 square kilometers of Egypt’s northwestern desert, site of the World War II battle of El Alamein, remain contaminated with landmines. The Egyptian government and then United Nations have led awareness campaigns while mine clearance is led by a division in the Egyptian army. The work is paying off as there has only been one reported landmine casualty to date in 2017, but the continuing presence hinders development of the region (The National).
Sudan’s Kassala State will likely be declared free of landmines by the end of the year. So far 90% of the known hazards have been cleared (All Africa).
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.
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 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).
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).
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).
The Algerian National Police reported the seizure of 121 landmines in addition to other explosive devices and ammunition (Middle East Monitor).
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).
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 ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, noting that the country has never possessed or used these weapons (The Monitor).
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).
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).
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
My more astute readers will have noticed the distinct lack of traffic and content on this site. I apologize: things in my other worlds have gotten busier than I would have liked and I will try to get caught up again. I have posted a couple of items on the Red Mercury side of things, one on the report of a man trying to bring Red Mercury to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s offices in Atlanta (Campaign against Red Mercury) and the other about the people who keep trying to get me to buy the stuff (Campaign against Red Mercury). Also during this period I received a reminder that I have been writing this blog for six years, but I feel the urgency of the issue as sharply as I did when I first began. Without further ado or delay, the Quarter in Mines:
The Gambia is not considered a mine-affected country, but it is located immediately next to Senegal’s Casamance region which is a recognized mine-affected region and during Yahya Jammeh’s rule, The Gambia served as a refuge for rebels involved in the Casamance conflict. Since Jammeh departed The Gambia earlier this year, the space for free media has opened up and two landmine incidents have been reported which suggest the possibility of others which we simply didn’t hear about during Jammeh’s dictatorship. In the first incident, a farmer and his two sons were returning from collecting firewood when their donkey cart struck a mine on a road leading to the Casamance. All three were killed (All Africa). The second incident, which, like the first occurred in the Foni region, had no reported casualties, but seemed to spark a significant intelligence investigation (Freedom Newspaper).
Nigeria’s Army Chief of Staff acknowledged that landmine clearance of the Sambisa Forest, which had been used as a base by the Boko Haram rebels, had yet to begin in any meaningful manner. He called for donations of equipment and invited the international demining operators to support a clearance program (All Africa). In partial response, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) deployed an assessment team to Nigeria to evaluate the situation (All Africa). The threat from improvised and artisanal mines in Sambisa Forest is significant. At a crossroads, four mines were found and cleared (All Africa). In another incident, three civilian loggers were killed by a mine in the roadway when their truck struck the mine (National Daily).
In the south of the country, in the regions affected by the Biafra War in the 1960s, landmine survivors called upon the government for greater assistance and caches of mines and other abandoned ordnance are still being found (The Guardian).
In the good news column of the ledger, two regions, West Darfur’s Foro Baranga area and the Red Sea State were declared free of landmines (All Africa; All Africa). Clearance in the Red Sea State received substantial support from the government of Italy. Other eastern states in Sudan are expected to be cleared by the end of the year, thanks in part to continuing support from Italy, but the mine action program in Sudan remains woefully underfunded with less than 20% of the funds sought received (Italian mission to the UN). In somewhat surprising news – due to continuing sanctions on Sudan – the US government pledged US $1.5 million in support for mine action in Sudan during a donors conference (Journal du Cameroun).
In Darfur, UXO is the more significant problem. A teenager was killed by a suspected grenade when one of the two camels he was herding kicked the explosive (All Africa). While on patrol, ten peacekeepers from the United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were injured when their truck struck an explosive remnant of war (ERW) (Sudan Tribune). In a third incident a herder was killed and another injured by a piece of ERW. The man killed was buried on the site of the blast so severe was the damage and the man injured suffered loss of his legs (Radio Dabanga).
In the contested region of Abyei, the Ethiopian Demining Platoon assigned to the peacekeeping force there destroyed several small arms and hundreds of pieces of ammunition and explosives as part of ongoing efforts there (Sudan Tribune).
The government of Norway continues to support landmine clearance in Angola’s northern Malanje province. A new grant of US $470,000 to Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will help clear the village of Camalanga (Relief Web). NPA’s partner APOPO used rats to detect landmines in the village of Camatende, and the fields have been returned to productive use (Relief Web). NPA is also working to clear the village of Luquembo and have discovered five anti-personnel landmines already (Angola National Press).
In accordance with its recent report on landmine clearance to the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, Angola is developing a final request for extension of it Article 5 demining obligations. At current pace, the clearance will take at least another 25 years, but Angola has pledged to meet the global goal of clearance by 2025. To develop the request, Angola’s mine action authority hosted a national conference on demining and included donors, mine clearance organizations and other government agencies. During the conference, the Angolan government announced that US $200 million would be needed in international assistance to achieve a mine-free Angola by 2025 (New York Times, All Africa, Relief Web).
In addition to the problems facing the country from policital violence and civil conflict, the government of South Sudan also needs to complete the demarcation of its southern border with Uganda. Part of that process will include survey and landmine clearance (All Africa). To support mine clearance in South Sudan, several countries, including Cambodia, continue to send specialized peacekeeping forces (Khmer Times).
While support for mine survey and clearance is forthcoming, support for landmine survivors is very limited. In the capitol, Juba, survivors can obtain prosthetics from the Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre but orthopedic services are limited elsewhere in the country. With a quarter million ERW found and cleared so far in 2017, the threat from mines to the population is pervasive. Survivors from across the country have to travel to Juba and find the resources to support themselves for up to two weeks to have a prosthetic built and fitted for them (All Africa).
The heavily mine affected province of Matrouh – near the site of the World War II battle of El Alamein – reported zero landmine casualties in 2016, a stunning achievement made possible by the efforts of local activists and landmine survivors to raise awareness about landmines. Mine clearance and survivor support remain a challenge despite the efforts of the United Nations Development Programme, the government of Egypt and the limited number of donors, including Kuwait, which support clearance of Egypt’s northwestern deserts (Mada Masr, Al Ahram). Of course, Egypt’s landmine problem is not limited to the ERW from World War II. Extensive minefields remain on the Sinai Peninsula from the 1950s and 1960s conflicts with Israel. One Egyptian soldier was killed and three others injured when their vehicle struck a mine on Sinai, a mine that might be a decades old relic or the result of recent conflict with an Islamic State-linked group operating in Egypt (Al Bawaba).
Two children were killed by a landmine in the Middle Shabelle region when their auto rickshaw struck the explosive. Two other mines were found nearby (Xinhua Net). In the Lower Shabelle region, a minibus struck a mine killing at least 19 people and injuring others (Al Jazeera). And in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, two people were killed by a mine in the Galgala mountain area (All Africa). All three incidents were blamed on the Al Shabaab rebels without confirmation from the rebels themselves.
Three people affiliated with the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali were injured when their vehicle hit a mine in the northern Kidal region. A newly announced Islamist group, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, claimed responsibility for the blast (Stars and Stripes).
Until the outbreak of the Boko Haram rebellion and its spread in the aftermath of efforts by the government of Nigeria to eliminate the threat, Cameroon had not been considered a landmine-affected country. That has now clearly changed. The US government has donated mine-clearing equipment to Cameroon to address the threat (Journal du Cameroun) and multiple incidents confirm the threat. Three Cameroon soldiers were killed and at least five others injured in two separate landmine blasts (Anadolu Agency, Cameroon Concord) and six civilians were injured by a mine placed on a busy road (Journal du Cameroon). During a visit to a military hospital, Cameroon’s Defense Minister was able to meet with 21 soldiers who had been injured by landmines (Journal de Cameroun).
In the fighting for the cities of Sirte and Benghazi, Islamist rebels made extensive use of landmines and booby traps. Sirte has been liberated by the Libyan army under General Haftar and the fighting in Benghazi intensified during the quarter. The Danish Demining Group has received funding from the government of Great Britain to support landmine clearance and mine risk education in the country (Libya Observer).
In Sirte, the main roads into the city from the east and west have been re-opened following landmine clearance (Libya Observer). Within the city, mine clearance continued, but the risks remain. Two employees of the water utility were killed by a mine near a water storage tank (Libya Herald).
In Benghazi, at least 24 people, soldiers and civilians alike, were killed in the “Tree Street” district of the city in February and March, including a father and his son who were trying to return to their farm (Libya Herald). A mine planted at the former internal security building killed one soldier and injured two others (Libya Herald). In total, the Libyan National Army reported clearing 3,800 landmines from the center of Benghazi during its efforts to defeat the Islamist forces there (Xinhua Net).
In addition to the civilians and soldiers killed and wounded, two Libya National Army officers, a naval commander and a senior Special Forces officer were killed in separate landmine explosions (Libya Herald).
In the northern Mijek region, a shepherd was killed by a landmine after apparently hitting the explosive with a rock. The national mine action center had declared that part of the country landmine-free, but some of the desert regions are still contaminated as evidenced by this recent tragedy (Zouerate Media).
Over the course of the next 15 months, the Polisario Front, in fulfillment of its Deed of Commitment with Geneva Call, will destroy all stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines. Already the Front has destroyed 13,000 mines, but thousands remain in the stockpile (Geneva Call).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with the Ethiopian National Defence Forces to increase the capacity of Ethiopia’s military in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). This is part of a regional program to increase landmine clearance and EOD capacity in Africa and ICRC has supported similar work in Zimbabwe (International Committee of the Red Cross).
A Tunisian soldier died from injuries sustained in a landmine blast on Mount Ouergha on the border with Algeria. The mountain ranges have been used as an operating base by Islamist rebels and the deceased soldier was honored with the title, “Martyr of the nation,” after his death (Al Bawaba). A few days later a shepherdess was also killed by a landmine on a nearby mountain (News 24).
During the Intersessional Meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, Algeria made the formal announcement that the nation had completed its landmine clearance obligations. One million mines in 93 separate hazardous areas have been cleared and 120 million square miles have been made available for productive use (Relief Web).
In 2012 Uganda declared itself landmine-free but over the last several years 149 unexploded and abandoned explosives have been discovered in the region. Most of the devices have been discovered by farmers in their fields, but there is no clear reporting mechanism to alert authorities about these explosives. The Gulu Amuru Landmine Survivors Association, composed of some 800 survivors injured by mines laid by the Lord’s Resistance Army, have called on the government of Uganda to take action to address the problem (PML Daily).
After declaring itself landmine-free in 2015, Mozambique discovered additional, previously unknown minefields. In partnership with Norwegian People’s Aid Mozambique has now cleared the minefields removing over 100 antipersonnel landmines (Norwegian People’s Aid).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
July 25, 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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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)
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).
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).
A man was killed by a landmine when his car struck the mine near the village of Jreyfiya (Sahara Confidential).
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
Many apologies for this one being so late. Will try to do better for the rest of the year…
2016’s news that the number of landmine casualties had gone up severely is tempered only slightly by the fact that this news seems to have spurred some action in the international community. At a meeting of the African Union in December, the countries that had joined the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions re-committed themselves to the goal of a mine-free world by 2025 and setting up mechanisms to create cross-border cooperation to help achieve that end (African Union).
In the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, security forces fought militants aligned with the Islamic State for the first time in that region of the country. The firefight began when Puntland troops were stopped by landmines placed in the road. When the troops started to clear the mines, Islamic State fighters attacked. No casualties were reported from the mines (All Africa).
In Hirshabelle, one of Somalia’s key agricultural regions, the United Nations Support Office in Somalia and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) collaborated to rehabilitate major roadways to enable access and transport. During the operation, the teams rebuilt a bridge near Jowhar town that had been destroyed by a landmine (UN Support Office in Somalia).
The Zimbabwe Mine Action Center (ZIMAC) hosted a national mine action strategic planning workshop to develop the 2017 workplan and set up a long-term plan for clearing all remaining landmines in the country. This plan will help to inform the expected extension request from Zimbabwe to the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).
An India company, JMC Projects India, is building a hundred kilometer road between Kenya and Ethiopia and has pledged to provide prosthetics to members of the Tigray Disabled Veterans Association. An estimate 100,000 people in Tigray Regional State have been disabled by landmines or the wars in Ethiopia (All Africa).
Last year Nigerian military engineers discovered multiple caches of cluster munitions in northeastern Adamawa state and a suicide attack in Maiduguri carried out by a female bomber is thought to have used similar munitions (The Daily Beast).
In December, a lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian army died when his vehicle struck a landmine buried in the road in Borno state; the mine was attributed to Boko Haram. The lieutenant colonel is the fourth officer killed by Boko Haram in just two months (Naij.com).
To combat Boko Haram and the landmines, IEDs and booby-traps left by them, the Nigerian army acquired a Slovak-made mine-sweeper to clear the roads in Borno state (Naij.com).
The spokesman for the Libyan National Army’s engineering division was killed by a landmine in the Banfouda area of Benghazi (Libya Herald). As the army liberates more of the city, civilians are attempting to return to their homes and many have been killed or wounded by landmines and booby traps left by the fleeing Islamic State forces. A Chadian national was injured by a mine on a farm just east of Benghazi (Al Wasat). Bobby traps have been found not only in the streets and fields but also in Benghazi’s main hospital where two mines exploded. Fortunately no one was seriously injured (Libya Herald). As IS forces expand their asymmetrical warfare to include suicide car bombs and the use of weaponized drones, a brigade commander was killed by a landmine (Libya Herald) and a special forces soldier was killed and two other soldiers injured by a mine (Arab Today).
In the western city of Sirte, recently liberated from the Islamic State, residents and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) have called for assistance to clear the landmines left by IS. UNHCR and Mercy Corps are conducting a rapid needs assessment and have identified landmine clearance as the more pressing need (UNHCR). In partial response, army engineering teams from Misrata, Zliten and Tripoli are clearing the mines in Sirte and as they clear neighborhoods, alerting the residents so they can return. The engineering teams are also asking residents not to return to areas before those areas have been declared clear of mines to avoid further casualties. (Libya Observer). This message has been reinforced by the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, in remarks aimed at fostering national reconciliation (Press TV).
Democratic Republic of Congo
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reported on its 2016 achievements in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In addition to clearing almost 175,000 square meters of ground and destroying over 26,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), 8,000 Congolese have been sensitized about the dangers of landmines and ERW. The sensitization campaign included a pop song by a local artist and is available on YouTube. The current pace of clearance would allow DRC to meet its Mine Ban Treaty requirement of clearance of all known minefields by January 1, 2021 (UNMAS).
A shepherd lost his left leg to a landmine on Mount Semmama in the Kasserine region. The right leg was also severely damaged and may also require amputation (Webdo). Two Tunisian soldiers were also injured in the Kasserine region in a separate incident (Direct Info).
In the northern Malanje province, Angola’s National Demining Institute handed over to the local government, a 2,500 square meter field that had been cleared of mines. The local authorities plan to use the land for an electrical substation (ANGOP).
In Huila province, fears of a previously undocumented minefield were heightened when a farmer was injured by an anti-tank mined as he was plowing a field for a newly launched agricultural program. This was the second such blast in the area in the last two years and the earlier explosion killed two people (ANGOP).
In its annual review of progress, the National Inter-ministerial Commission on Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH) reported 1.4 million square meters of land have been cleared of mines by Angolan military engineers. CNIDAH also announced its intention to secure another extension for its Article 5 clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty with the extension period lasting until 2025. CNIDAH calculates that US $275.2 million will be required to clear all known landmines and minefields (Prensa Latina).
Just a little a year after declaring the country free of anti-personnel landmines, Mozambique has declared itself free of cluster munitions. In 2015 Norwegian Peoples Aid, with support from UNDP, conducted a comprehensive survey of cluster munitions remnants and identified 4 provinces affected by cluster munitions. After the survey, NPA cleared 144 Rhodesia-made submunitions from multiple campaigns along the border leaving Mozambique cluster munition-free (Norwegian Peoples Aid).
In the North Darfur region, two boys were killed and a third injured by an ERW that the boys found and played with (Radio Dabanga).
According to the Sudanese Defense Minister, 14 civilians were killed or injured by landmines in Sudan in 2016. In response, almost 99 million square meters of land has been cleared of mines and other ERW (Sudan Vision).
Three French soldiers were killed and three others wounded when their vehicle struck a landmine. The vehicle was in the lead of a convoy traveling to Tessalit from Gao (Africa News).
In December, the Algerian National Police cleared over 81,000 landmines from the border with Morocco (DZ Breaking).
A man was injured by a landmine when he drove his Land Rover over it. The injuries were not thought to be life threatening, but there is concern that recent floods in Western Sahara may have moved some mines causing areas that had previously been safe to now be dangerous (Dales Vozalas Victimas).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
February 27, 2017
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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