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
Twice a year, upon release of the annual Landmine Monitor report around December 1st and the annual celebration of International Day for Mine Action and Awareness on April 4th, countries and organizations take the opportunity to recommit themselves to mine action. Several of this month’s stories come from events commemorating Mine Action day, but entirely too many also come from the fact that landmines continue to plague Africa and the world, ten years after the first International day and almost 20 years after the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty. Landmine use appears to be on the increase, a sad way to increase awareness of the need for mine action.
Ten landmines were cleared from the road leading to Airport Road in Benghazi and a spokesperson for the army warned of the possibility of additional mines in the area from fighting earlier in the conflict (Al Wasat). In Ajdabiya, one soldier was killed and four others wounded by landmine (Al Wasat).
Despite the insecurity in the country, the United Nations Mission in Libya and the Libyan Mine Action Centre hosted an event for International Mine Action Day (UNSMIL).
Democratic Republic of Congo
The head of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, called achieving landmine-free Congo “a duty.” Kobler noted that there were almost 30 landmine casualties in the DRC and over 2,500 survivors. One-eighth of the mine-affected land in DRC was cleared in 2014 with over 15,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), including landmines, destroyed (MONUSCO). The contamination in DRC is concentrated in a few regions. According to the group, Africa for Mine Action, 40% of Ituri Province is contaminated with landmines and after years of work, only three provinces in the entire country have been declared landmine-free (Radio Okapi).
Three deminers with the South-African firm, Mechem, were kidnapped from near the eastern city of Goma. While some reports erroneously labelled the deminers as United Nations peacekeepers, the three men, two Congolese and one from abroad, were released after about a week. The kidnappings occurred as tensions between DRC and Rwanda were high with a Congolese soldier injured in an exchange with Rwandan troops and the re-emergence of the Allied Democratic Force, a rebel group committed to overthrowing the Ugandan government and responsible for brutal attacks in the 1990s and early 2000s (World Bulletin; Agence France Presse; News 24). The men were kidnapped while looking into reports of an anti-tank landmine and in total, three such mines were discovered near Goma the same week as the abductions. The mines appear to be new ones and would represent the first new usage of mines in DRC since 1999 (State Department; Radio Okapi).
Central African Republic
During an April 4th event, the head of the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) confirmed that there were “no real threats of landmines” in the country. MINUSCA teams has recovered landmines from “public places” and displacement camps, but these mines were in stockpiles and not deployed (All Africa).
During the recent conflict in the Central African Republic, Seleka rebels had attacked members of the Ba’aka ethnic group in the belief that Ba’aka members had mythical Red Mercury. The Ba’aka village is now under the fulltime protection of government soldiers (Mint Press News).
Making quick and steady progress in Bie Province, Angola and the HALO Trust announced the clearance of three minefields covering 10.5 hectares (All Africa). This clearance and other projects across the country facilitate rapid development such as the National Urbanisation and Housing Programme which seeks to build one million new houses in the country. To date, over 80,000 have been built and the Minister of Urbanisation and Housing called for more landmine clearance to allow more houses to be cleared (All Africa).
In the capitol, Mogadishu, three men were caught trying to bury a landmine in Howlwadag district. The mine was cleared and the road made safe (Warar Media).
In commemoration of International Mine Action Day, the UNAMID peacekeeping mission in Darfur and its partner The Development Initiative (TDI) hosted an awareness session. In 2014, TDI completed assessments of 217 villages, cleared 183 dangerous areas and destroyed over 3,000 pieced of unexploded ordnance. TDI and its local partners have provided mine risk education to over 600,000 people in Darfur, a necessary act in a region which has seen at least 150 ERW incidents which have killed 105 people and injured 215, many of them children (All Africa).
In South Kordofan state where the government is fighting a rebel group, a landmine detonated during the national election day killing three people and injuring another three (Radio Tamazuj).
That conflict in South Kordofan has been associated with many accusations of human rights violations and war crimes. In April, Human Rights Watch reported on confirmed evidence of cluster munitions use by the government, identifying the remnants of six cluster bombs. This is the second accusation of cluster munition use by Sudan, the first was in 2012, and monitors suspect that Sudan both stockpiles and produces the weapon. Both times, the targets of the cluster munition use appear to be civilians which would be a war crime (Sudan Tribune). Of course, the Sudanese government has rejected the reports, calling them “fabricated and baseless” and the fight against the rebels in South Kordofan “does not need such bombs” (Anadolu Agency).
The campaign against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria continued with fighting focused around Borno State and the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram is believed to be based. Boko Haram appears to have used landmines extensively to prevent any direct assault upon its position. Seven Nigerians, six soldiers and one “civilian vigilante” were injured by a landmine placed by Boko Haram near the town of Baga (All Africa). When Nigerian forces launched an attack on Sambisa Forest, one soldier and three vigilantes were killed by a mine and the Nigerian soldiers retreated to a point, just five kilometers from Boko Haram’s main camp in the forest (All Africa). After these two incidents, the Nigerian army brought out mechanized minesweepers to help clear roads and paths for further attacks against Boko Haram (All Africa). This begs the question, if Nigeria had such equipment already, why did they wait until several soldiers had been killed or injured by mines before using them? Especially since Boko Haram has long been rumored to be using landmines as part of its defense.
Eleven landmines were cleared by Tunisian forces during a recent operation on Mount Salloum in the Kasserine region on the Algerian border. A twelfth mine detonated without causing an injuries (All Africa).
Mali continues to be in the midst of a terrible landmine epidemic as a result of continuing conflict there that has shattered most of the northern region of the country. Since 2013 more than 325 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Mali (MINUSMA). Two incidents targeted peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission, MINUSMA. The first injured two peacekeepers and the second another seven; both incidents occurred as peacekeepers were escorting convoys near Kidal (Global Post; MINUSMA). Two Malian soldiers were injured by a landmine near the town of Diabaly which is the further south a landmine attack has been recorded in the course of the current conflict (Reuters). In Aguelhok, MINUSMA peacekeepers arrested three men who were accused of planting landmines (MINUSMA). Near the town of Gossi, two civilian women were killed by a mine (Defence Web), but that incident was dwarfed by one on the road from Gossi to Gao. Two men on a motorcycle placed a mine in the road and a bus carrying people to people to the weekly market hit the mine, killing at least three people and injuring another 28 (Agence France Presse; Global Post).
In an April 4th event for International Mine Action Day, the South Sudan Vice President called landmines “one of the biggest obstacles to development in the country.” At the same event, the head of the South Sudan Demining Commission accused the rebel Sudanese People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/IO) of using landmines in the current conflict (Radio Tamazuj). In response the SPLM/IO’s Mine Action Program denied using landmines and in turn accused the government of South Sudan of using mines, reporting at least 60 separate incidents of landmine use by the government (Radio Tamazuj). So the government denied the SPLM/IO’s accusations and reported discovering nine mines placed by the SPLM/IO, two of which destroyed vehicles (Citizen News).
This has been the pattern of the conflict in South Sudan since violence broke out in December 2013. The two sides have traded accusations of war crimes and treaty violations when in fact, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional body of governments of East Africa, has documented violations by both sides in roughly equal numbers. The government of South Sudan, the SPLM/IO and the many, many militias associated with each are all complicit in the continuation and escalation of the conflict. In the end, it is the people of South Sudan who are made to suffer by their leaders’ callous indifference.
The Algerian People’s National Army has cleared over 720,000 landmines from seven provinces. 72 municipalities had been contaminated by mines and 46 have been cleared so far with demining crews active in four (Ennahar).
The United States government has been increasing its investment in demining of Zimbabwe. In FY2013, the US provided $500,000, in FY 2014 $750,000 and this year, $1 million. The landmine contamination in Zimbabwe prevents agricultural development and has injured more than two thousand people since the war ended in 1980 (US Embassy in Harare). With US government support, the HALO Trust has already cleared 5,000 mines, but with an estimate 1.5 million to go, a lot of work remains (HALO Trust).
Handicap International recently sent a team to the Moyen-Chari region of Chad to conduct some initial surveys and do some community liaison activities including mine risk education. During the trip, the team found multiple areas where munitions were abandoned after the wars in the 1980s. The mines in this part of the country have impeded road works and agricultural development and injured dozens of people (Handicap International).
And last, one of the countries at the forefront of the fight against landmines and cluster munitions continues to support those affected by landmines, even after the last mine has been cleared. The government of Zambia re-affirmed its commitment to support landmine survivors. According to the Foreign Minister, Zambia will conduct a needs assessment and then come up with a suitable and sustainable victim assistance program (Daily Mail Zambia).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
May 20, 2015
The multinational offensive against the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria has uncovered the possible extensive use of landmines (mostly in the form of victim-activated improvised explosive devices [IEDs], or “artisanal landmines” as we have referred to them in these pages) by the Islamist group. Action on Armed Violence has tracked the damage done by IEDs over the last several years noting the increase in the use of these weapons. Boko Haram, like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghred in Mali and Al Shabaab in Somalia and the as-yet-unnamed Islamists in Tunisia, appear to be using artisanal landmines to disrupt travel and deny entry to areas under its control. Prior to the offensive, rumors abounded about Boko Haram’s use of landmines, but several incidents in Nigeria and neighboring countries prove the rumors true, making Nigeria join Mali and Tunisia as countries that had been free of landmines, but are no longer so.
While Boko Haram was the big story regarding landmines on the Continent, mine clearance progress continued elsewhere and several unfortunate reminders were to be found of the need for more efforts. Landmines continue to plague more than twenty African countries and despite the pledges made at the Third Review Conference in Mozambique last June, much remains to be done.
Two men were injured by an unexploded cluster bomb in the Polisario-controlled region of Western Sahara (All Africa) and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights released a report critical of Morocco’s activities in Western Sahara including reports of “unmonitored landmine blasts” (All Africa).
As amazing as this might sound, after 20 years of mine action, the government of Angola recently asked for assistance from the residents of Cunene province in identifying mine affected areas. We agree that residents of an area are likely to have the best knowledge about the location of suspected minefields, but the government should complete all survey work to determine the extent of the landmine problem with all haste (All Africa). Also in Cunene province, which borders Namibia, the government destroyed 130 pieces of unexploded ordnance cleared form the border region (All Africa). In Bie province, almost 600 explosive devices, including 42 landmines were detonated after clearance by the National Demining Institute (All Africa) and the HALO Trust reported clearing some 315,000 square meters of land in 2014. In addition to mine clearance, HALO Trust also provided mine risk education to over 5,000 individuals (All Africa). Cuanza Sul province, in central Angola, saw the clearance of 11.7 million square meters by government, NGO and private demining operators (All Africa).
All told, Angola has cleared more than 5 million pieces of explosive ordnance from an area equivalent to 500,000 football fields. This includes almost 450,000 antipersonnel mines and roughly 45,000 anti-vehicle or anti-tank mines. There are about 2,000 more areas suspected or confirmed to contain landmines and clearance of those areas may not be finished until 2028 (Ango Noticias).
The World War II minefields of El Alamein in Egypt are some of the most famous, but the landmine contamination in North Africa from World War II extends far beyond Egypt. As a reminder, a World War II mine was found in Tunisia this month during a routine security sweep (All Africa).
Several years ago, Rwanda declared itself landmine-free, but survivors of landmine injuries continue to live and work in the country. Rayisi Kwizera lost his leg in 1997 when he was eleven years old. Seven years later Kwizera received a bicycle from the Japan One Love project which works in Rwanda producing prosthetic devices and providing rehabilitation services. Kwizera soon was biking 30 kilometers a day along the hills of Kigali, Rwanda’s capitol. Now, Kwizera is a bicycle racer who dreams of participating in the Paralympic Games on behalf of his country. To keep in shape, he has been riding along with the cyclists participating in the Tour of Rwanda as there are no specific races for paralympians in Rwanda (All Africa).
Nigeria postponed its presidential elections which were supposed to take place on February 14th as the military launched an offensive against the Boko Haram insurgency which had declared a caliphate in northeastern Nigeria, near the borders with Chad and Cameroon on the banks of Lake Chad. Boko Haram has been operating freely in the region for years, killing and abducting people with little resistance from the government, including the abduction of over 200 school girls from the village of Chibok, an event that launched the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Prior to the postponement of the elections, the candidates barely mentioned Boko Haram and President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign managers had the tone-deaf idea to use #BringBackGoodluck as a campaign slogan when Jonathan had ignored the Chibok abductions for months.
Of course, once the offensive got underway, the Nigerian army has been reported to have made great progress in defeating and driving out Boko Haram. Nigerian forces stormed Baga town and Boko Haram posts in the Sambisa forests. The liberation of Baga was preceded by the clearance of some 1,500 landmines planted by Boko Haram around the town (Eye on Nigeria) and in Sambisa Forest, the Nigerian forces used mine-sweeping tanks to clear the mines that had previously stalled efforts in the Forest (All Africa).
The offensive against Boko Haram has been joined by troops from Niger, Chad and Cameroon. In retaliation, Boko Haram placed mines in Niger and Cameroon. In the Nigerien region of Diffa, near the Nigerian border, two soldiers were killed and four other wounded by a landmine placed in a roadway (Reuters). Also in Diffa, two civilians were killed when their horse-drawn cart ran over a landmine (All Africa). In Cameroon, an officer and an enlisted man were killed by an artisanal landmine, suspected to have been made from explosives seized from a Chinese workers’ camp in May 2014 (Reuters). No reports of Nigerian casualties from landmines have been seen.
One person was killed by a landmine in Mogadishu thought to be targeting Turkish workers building a road. Turkey has been a key supporter of reconstruction in Somalia (RBC Radio).
In the semi-autonomous Puntland region, security forces have been fighting Al Shabaab members in the Galgala mountain range. Along a feeder road to the main highway in the area, a Puntland soldier was injured when a troop transport vehicle drove into a minefield laid by Al Shabaab (Garowe Online, no link).
A naturalized United States citizen was injured by a landmine in Upper Nile state, losing his right leg in the explosion. The rebel group Sudan People Liberation Movement in Opposition, which the survivor had joined and is loyal to ousted South Sudan vice president Riek Machar, accused the South Sudan government of using anti-personnel landmines in and around Nasir town (Sudan Tribune).
The Development Initiative (TDI) continues to support the United Nations Mine Action Service’s program in South Sudan with survey and clearance work. An estimate 40 clearance personnel will be dispatched to respond to the extensive landmine contamination in the world’s newest country (Devex).
A spokesperson for a Tuareg (or Azawad) coalition accused militias loyal to the government of Mali of placing landmines in northern Mali where Tuareg separatists sparked an Islamist uprising that required French forces to quell (Reuters). Near Timbuktu, a Malian army vehicle struck a landmine that had been placed by a motorcyclist who rode a few kilometers ahead of the vehicle. No injuries were reported and the attack was blamed on Islamists (Daily Mail). Two weeks later, seven United Nations peacekeepers were injured, four seriously, by a landmine near Tabankort (Agence France Presse).
In Algeria, 2,929 mines, including anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, were cleared from the border regions. These mines were part of the French defensive operations from the Algerian liberation war of the 1950s and 1960s (Ennahar Online).
Three herders and five camels were killed by a piece of unexploded ordnance in East Jebel Marra in Sudan’s Darfur region (Radio Dabanga). In North Darfur, two children were killed when they picked up and played with a piece of unexploded ordnance (All Africa).
In the disputed Abyei region on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, a mine risk education campaign has been launched to ensure local residents are familiar with landmines and other explosive remnants of war and know who to contact if such items are discovered (Radio Tamazuj).
Handicap International has launched a landmine survey and clearance project in Chad. Over the course of several days, the survey team met with residents and elders to ascertain the location of possible minefields as no records were kept of mine-laying in the southern regions of the country. Along the way, the team delivered mine risk education lessons to thousands of students. The team also worked to educate fishermen after learning of several accidents along the rivers (Handicap International).
Handicap International’s survey team was delayed by threats made by Boko Haram to invade Chad. Two women were arrested near the country’s capitol, N’Djamena carrying anti-personnel landmines and grenades. The women were believed to be members of Boko Haram intending to launch suicide attacks against Chad in retaliation for Chad’s supporting the Nigerian Army’s assault against Boko Haram (Alwihda Info).
Michael P. Moore
March 12, 2015
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Article 5.1 of the Mine Ban Treaty commits States Parties to clearing all known anti-personnel landmines from their territory. In full, the clause reads:
Each State Party undertakes to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible but not later than ten years after the entry into force of this Convention for that State Party.
Too many countries have not met this obligation. Some have missed the deadline due to the extent of contamination, e.g., Cambodia and Afghanistan, but others have simply failed to put forth the effort to clear their minefields despite having the capacity to do. Blaming mismanagement and shortfalls, Chad has requested an additional ten years to clear its minefields; a request that has been granted despite the country’s ability to complete the task faster.
Chad’s minefields, almost exclusively found in the northern area of the country, come from the 1973 invasion of Chad by Libya and decades of internal conflicts and cover some 128 square kilometers, about double the size of Manhattan Island in New York City. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) is found in the north, east and west of the country, but only covers a little more than 3 kilometers. Despite this limited area of contamination, roughly 0.01% of the country, Chadian officials have talked about minefields covering “vast swathes of territory” (AP Mine Ban Convention; The Monitor).
The limited landmine contamination in Chad has had an outsized impact on the population. More than a hundred people are killed or injured by mines every year due to the highly mobile nature of Chad’s population, many of whom are pastoralists. Chad also has a very large refugee population with nearly half a million refugees, equivalent to almost a tenth of the country’s population, fleeing conflicts in Sudan and the Central African Republic, and refugees are one of the most at-risk groups for landmine injuries (IRIN News; ACAPS). In the past, Chad has explained its inability to address the landmine issue as the result of mismanagement and absence of central leadership on the issue. While there may be some truth to that and certainly the changes in ownership of the mine action issue in Chad would affect the government’s ability to prioritize landmine clearance, it doesn’t not explain the whole story.
The United States government, as part of its counter-terrorism and regional security initiative has identified Chad as a key partner. Since 1993, the US government has provided US $11 million to Chad to address its landmine problem and beginning in 2010, AFRICOM has helped “to build capabilities within Chad by instructing local forces on demining, stockpile management, and medical first response.” As a result of that training, “the Chad National Demining Authority assists their American instructors in teaching demining operations to personnel from other countries in the Sahel and throughout the African continent” (State Department). Therefore, the government of Chad has used its newly increased capacity not to address its own landmine contamination, but to train other countries. Instead of first getting its own house in order, Chad has decided to deploy these valuable assets elsewhere.
The government of Chad is obligated by its ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty to clear all anti-personnel landmines “as soon as possible.” The training from the US government should be used to meet that obligation before helping other countries to meet their obligations. With a determined effort, Chad could complete its landmine clearance long before its current deadline of January 1, 2020. The US, as a prime supporter of Chad’s landmine clearance work and trainer of its deminers, should encourage Chad to focus on its mines before asking Chad to help neighboring countries.
Michael P. Moore
October 3, 2014
The big story for the month was the Third Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty, held in Maputo, Mozambique. Over one thousand delegates and participants from around the world re-affirmed the importance of landmine clearance and survivor assistance while laying out an ambitious agenda night for the next five years. The participants agreed to a common deadline of 2025 for all landmine clearance in States Parties and approved clearance extensions for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Zimbabwe. Reports of credible landmine use by non-state actors were heard from Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Tunisia. On a positive note, Burundi confirmed its status as a landmine-free country and casualties from landmines are less than a quarter of what they were before the Treaty came into force.
Mozambique’s president, Armando Guebuza, opened the Conference, calling the Convention and its ratification or accession by 161 countries, “a victory for the promotion of international humanitarian law.” Conference documents called on States Parties to “spare no effort to continue promoting universal adherence to the Convention and observance of its norms” and highlighted the fact that a landmine-free world is “within reach” (All Africa; All Africa; Mail and Guardian; All Africa).
Of note was the absence of any delegation from Ethiopia at the Conference. Ethiopia is obligated to complete its landmine clearance by June 1, 2015 and even though Ethiopian authorities have suggested that less than seven square kilometers of land was contaminated by landmines as of June 2012, observes believe that demining will not be completed by the coming deadline. As a result, the States Parties expected to receive an extension request from Ethiopia but none was sent. It is likely that as of June 2, 2015, Ethiopia will be in violation of Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty unless it submits evidence of clearing all known minefields before then.
Unfortunately, the Conference was not the only landmine-related news from the Continent. We saw ready reminders of the work that remains and the continuing threat posed by these weapons that “just wait to explode, whether set off by a person, an animal or a machine.”
For over three decades Zimbabweans living along the border with Mozambique have faced the daily threat of landmines. Those same Zimbabweans are now responsible, with training from the HALO Trust, for clearing those minefields while earning a salary. Those salaries will pay school fees for their children and, if resources permit, will continue for another 10 years, so extensive is the landmine contamination in this area. The villagers are able to clear landmines at the rate of 30 per day and have already cleared over a thousand mines in just a few months (All Africa).
Rumors continue to spread that Boko Haram, an Islamist group accused of abducting hundreds of schoolgirls from Northern Nigeria and forcing them to convert, has used landmines in Sambisa forest to prevent Nigerian armed forces from pursuing the group (All Africa). However, no credible reports of landmine injuries or blasts have been recorded.
In the 1990s, Angola’s landmine contamination was estimated at 20 million mines, or two mines for every Angolan living in 1990. This estimate was an intentional fabrication to “discourage potential investors” from coming to Angola in the immediate aftermath of the civil wars in the country. The high estimate also restricted movement of refugees and displaced persons within the country and according to the Executive Commission for Demining, saved hundreds of thousands of people from death or injury due to landmines. Instead, less than 500 people were reported killed or injured by mines and other explosive remnants of war since 1996 and over 450,000 landmines and almost 3 million pieces of unexploded ordnance have been cleared (Angola Journal).
Angolan police continue to work with local communities to encourage citizens to turn in weapons left over from the civil wars. In Bie Province, rocket-propelled grenades, rifles, grenades, pistols and a landmine were turned and will be destroyed (All Africa).
The eastern states of Sudan are the most mine-affected and in recent months, the number of casualties appears to have increased with over 80 people killed and another 180 injured. A member of the Sudanese Parliament, Mohamed El Taher Ousham, has taken the Ministry of Defence to task over the casualties and called for the government to allocate funds to the Eastern Sudan Reconstruction Fund to cover the costs of demining and to launch awareness campaigns to prevent additional casualties (All Africa; Sudanese Online).
One group that has been active in mine risk education in Sudan is the Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR Japan). Since the start of their work in 2006, AAR Japan has sensitized almost 90,000 people about the threat of landmines and unexploded ordnance in Sudan using a variety of materials during in-person information sessions. Those materials have recently been revised for use in the eastern states of Kassala and South Kordofan, but the remoteness of some settlements in these areas limits the effectiveness of in-person sessions. To address the risk education needs of the persons living in those settlements, AAR Japan developed a radio drama in Arabic and local languages which has been broadcast on a daily basis. AAR Japan followed up the broadcasts with an on-air quiz program to test message retention and while participation in the quiz program was high, few listeners were able to provide the correct answers. AAR Japan will revise its materials and radio drama script to emphasize the gaps in knowledge (Relief Web).
The International Campaign against the Wall of the Moroccan Occupation in Western Sahara launched its website in June and the Campaign will focus on three main pillars: the wall itself, the seven million landmines that accompany the wall and the victims of those landmines. With participation from NGOs from three continents, the Campaign’s goal is “to compel the occupying Moroccan State to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law and demilitarise the wall, neutralise and remove the… landmines” (All Africa).
In Britain’s House of Lords, Lord John Stevens questioned the minister of state about what steps the British government had taken to “neutralize” the wall and the associated landmines. The minister of state responded that demining teams from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, the Moroccan Army and the Polisario Front are cooperating to clear the landmines on both sides of the wall (All Africa).
The Refugee Law Project based at Makerere University has launched a traveling exhibition of objects and recorded testimonies from persons affected by conflict in Uganda. Specifically excluding artifacts and stories related the more-famous Lord’s Resistance Army conflict, the “Traveling Testimonies” project focuses on conflicts with the 43 other rebel movements that have fought against Uganda’s governments since independence in 1962 (that’s almost one new rebel movement per year!?). The exhibition curator, Kara Blackmore, says that the testimonies reflect all experiences of conflict, “from an arms trader to landmine survivors to widows.” The Traveling Testimonies materials will form a core of the National Memory and Peace Documentation Centre under construction in Kitgum (All Africa).
Chad continues to face challenges both from its landmine contamination and assisting the survivors. The extent of contamination in Chad is still not known and accidents still occur in the northern deserts from mines laid during conflicts with Libya. For survivors, there are only two rehabilitations centers, one in the capitol of Ndjamena and the other in the southern city of Moundou. Neither center is adequately resourced and both are huge distances (Chad is the size of France and Spain combined) from the minefields in the north of the country. Survivors from the north of Chad are forced to relocate to either Ndjamena or Moundou to be able to access services on a regular basis (All Africa).
One child was killed and two others were wounded by a landmine in the Galgadud region near the Ethiopian border. The children found the mine on their way to the local market and the mine exploded as they played with it (Radio Ergo, no link). In the Banadir region, one person was killed and two injured by a landmine (Goobjoog News). Both of these incidents took place before the start of Ramadan, which marked a new offensive in Somalia by the Al Shabaab Islamist group. In one of the first attacks during Ramadan, two people, a soldier and a civilian, were killed by a landmine near a business center in Mogadishu. The blast destroyed several market stalls in the center and likely injured many people (CTV News).
Near Timbuktu where a United Nations peacekeeping force has taken over security duties from the French military which ousted the Islamist Al Qaeda in the Maghreb forces who had briefly seized control of northern Mali, a UN vehicle with seven peacekeepers from Burkina Faso struck a newly placed landmine. One peacekeeper was killed, three were severely injured and the other three less so. The blast was only the most recent in a series of attacks on United Nations and humanitarian staff trying to bring security and relief to the region after a series of conflicts in recent years (Business Insider).
A Tunisian army patrol operating in the Mount Chaambi region triggered a landmine killing one person and injuring five others. The soldiers are part of a larger operation in the region trying to oust Islamist fighters who have used Mount Chaambi as their base from which to threaten the new Tunisian state (Strategy Page).
Michael P. Moore
July 16, 2014
Frequent readers of Landmines in Africa will be interested in several items at next month’s 13th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty being held in Geneva. For those that cannot attend, information and documents can be found on the Implementation Support Unit’s website: www.13MSP.org. In addition to the specifics highlighted below, many countries will provide updates about landmine issues and comments on issues of interest to the community as a whole.
Four African states, Chad, Mozambique, Niger and Sudan, will be requesting additional time to complete clearance of anti-personnel landmines in their territory. We’ve covered the Mozambique situation elsewhere (After the last mine is cleared) and that request is almost certain to be approved, so let’s focus on three Sahelian states. Niger had previously declared itself to be free of anti-personnel landmines but recently discovered a previously unknown minefield and four possible minefields. Per the Treaty’s requirements, Niger has brought this discovery to the attention of the Meeting and requests two years to complete the survey and clearance work. There are two possible complications which would impede Niger’s ability to complete the work: first, sandstorms have and possibly will move landmines from their current location; and second, the security situation around some of the suspected minefields is poor as a result of ongoing instability. The total anticipated cost of the work in Niger is US $800,000 of which about a third will come from the Nigerien government; the balance will be raised from international donors. Barring any unforeseen issues, this request is likely to be approved.
Sudan has requested a five-year extension to complete its demining work with several caveats. To date, Sudan has cleared almost 2 billion (yes, with a “b”) square meters and destroyed 450,000 pieces of ordnance. Another 40 million square meters of land remains to be cleared and while the actual amount of land to be cleared sounds low relative to the amount already cleared, the concentration of ordnance in the remaining minefields is believed to be very high. Also, of the known minefields that remain, half lie in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states which are in a state of near-civil war and completely inaccessible to deminers. Sudan’s plan to complete demining assumes that the conflict will abate, but the work will begin in areas that are currently peaceful and as soon as is possible, demining assets will be transferred to the restive states. Sudan also recognized that most international demining organizations had withdrawn from the country (TDI, The Development Initiative, is doing great work still) and so the national mine action authority intends to train several national organizations to conduct survey and landmine clearance work. Sudan would also welcome other international operators, but could not guarantee the safety of their staff. Sudan appears to be able to support a significant portion of the cost of the remaining work, but would not commit to a figure; the total estimate cost is US $93 million and historically Sudan has provided $7.5 million annually. Recognizing the security issues and the possible additional delays should the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile continue, this request is likely to be approved.
Chad is submitting its third request for an extension. Chad’s second extension, which expires on January 1, 2014 allowed for the development of a national strategy to address the landmine contamination. That strategy has now been developed and serves as the basis for the current request. Chad is requesting a five year extension that will cost US $40 million of which the Chadian government will contribute almost 60%. Chad believes that surveys conducted during the previous extension periods provide a reliable estimate of the remaining contamination, although areas along the border with Libya and in the southern region of Moyen Chari on the border with the Central African Republic require further evaluation. 246 areas covering over 61 million square meters are known to be contaminated by explosive remnants of war and of those a quarter or 65 have landmines. Technical and human capacity in Chad is being increased with the support of the United Nations Development Programme and Chad should be able to meet its obligations within the requested time frame. This request is likely to be approved.
Third Review Conference
If everyone knows that the Third Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty is to be held in Maputo in June and July of 2014, does it really need to be approved? Yes, yes it does. So one of the easier decisions in Geneva will be to confirm Maputo as the site of the Review Conference and Mozambique’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mozambique, Henrique Banze, will be appointed to preside over the Conference.
On December 2nd, the major findings of the 2013 Landmine Monitor will be discussed. The Monitor is the most comprehensive monitoring and verification tool for the Mine Ban Treaty and its findings and reports are usually taken as gospel within the community. A couple of things to look for in the briefing: 1) Are casualty figures going up, going down or holding steady? 2012 saw a lot of conflict in the aftermath of the Arab Spring which may have driven the casualty numbers up. In 2010 and 2011, casualty figures crept up from 2009’s low of just under 4,000 casualties. 2) Has the funding for mine action gone up, gone down or held steady? Mine action funding in 2011 was at its highest ever, but support for direct victim assistance programming was down. 3) Has the number of rebel groups using landmines gone up, gone down or held steady? The number of states using landmines is down to a handful, so most new usage is by rebels.
On December 3rd, the Government of Sudan will host an event to discuss the mine clearance progress to date and share information about its request for an extension to complete the remaining clearance work.
On December 5th, the United Nations Mine Action Service and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo will discuss the DRC landmine survey and its findings. DRC will be preparing an extension request for submission and review at the Third Review Conference and this event will be an opportunity to initiate conversations about that request. DRC will also discuss the impact MONUSCO’s intervention or “peace-making” brigade will have on mine action in the country.
Also on the 5th, the US Campaign to Ban Landmines will host a session on US government’s landmine policy review and hopefully be able to present the outcome of that review and discuss next steps.
On the 6th, the last day of the Meeting, Handicap International will present the findings from its nine-month survivor assessment in Mozambique, conducted in partnership with the Mozambican survivor association RAVIM. The assessment documents the needs and living conditions of survivors and their families and will present recommendations for how to meet those needs.
Two non-country specific events will cover operations and outcomes measurement within mine action. Similar themes were covered in our survivor assistance thought-piece, so we’re glad to see these initiatives moving forward. In the first event, on December 4th, the Implementation Support Unit will present its findings from research sponsored by Australia around the sustainability of survivor assistance programming with a focus on mainstreaming survivor assistance into other frameworks (like disability programming or poverty eradication schemes). On December 6th, Mine Advisory Group, Norwegian Peoples Aid, Danish Demining Group and Danish Church Aid will launch the Outcome Monitoring Initiative, a collaborative project to unify indicators for mine action and shift to an outcome-based monitoring system.
Michael P. Moore
November 22, 2013