The Month in Mines, March 2017

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

 

Somaliland

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

 

The Gambia

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

 

Egypt

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

 

Angola

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

 

Nigeria

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

 

Libya

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

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

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 17, 2017

 


The Month in Mines, February 2017

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

 

Algeria

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

 

Cameroon

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

 

Egypt

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

 

Somalia

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

 

Libya

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

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

 

Western Sahara

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

 

Angola

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

 

South Sudan

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

 

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

March 7, 2017


The Month in Mines, January 2017

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

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

 

South Africa

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

 

Uganda

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

 

Nigeria

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

 

Kenya

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

 

Mali

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

 

Algeria

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

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

 

Libya

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

 

Angola

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

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

 

Egypt

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

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

 

Western Sahara

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

 

South Sudan

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

 

Michael P. Moore

February 28, 2017

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, November 2016

The release of the annual Landmine Monitor report included the shocking fact that landmine casualties had increased substantially in 2015 from recent years.  Whereas 10 people were killed or injured by landmines each day in 2014, 18 people were killed or injured daily in 2015. On the African continent, Libya had the most casualties, with more casualties than all other African countries put together.  I am hopeful that 2015 was an anomaly.

 

Nigeria

Five Nigerian soldiers were injured by a landmine during a patrol near Maiduguri, capitol of Borno state. Army official believe Boko Haram members planted the mine the previous night in expectation of the patrol (News 24).

Near the Chibok area of Borno state, a local militia patrol vehicle struck a landmine killing two militia members and wounding two others. Boko Haram members followed up on the blast with gunfire (Naij).

 

South Sudan

Despite the violence in South Sudan that erupted when the President, Salva Kiir, ousted his Vice President, Riek Machar, no evidence has been found of new landmine use in the country according to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).  In this blog we have documented multiple accusations of new use, but cannot confirm those accusations.

The violence has not prevented UNMAS and its partners from continuing to map and clear landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). So far, 750 hazardous areas have been identified and UNMAS prioritizes clearance and assessment of schools and humanitarian access points.  Much of the country remains to be surveyed – the violence has made Jonglei and Upper Nile states inaccessible.

UNMAS maintains the South Sudan Mine Action hotline (+211 92 000 1055) and encourages all South Sudanese to use the hotline to report suspicious items (All Africa).

 

Sudan

The United Nations Security Council, in its re-authorization of the peacekeeping force in the disputed territory of Abyei, expressed concern about the continuing presence and threat from landmines and ERW which prevent the return of displaced persons (All Africa).

In Sudan’s South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Eastern States, the Japanese NGO, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan), is conducting mine risk education work.  These states are some of the most mine-affected in the country and the Japanese ambassador to Sudan led a delegation that included the State Minister of Defense, the Ambassadors from Italy and Sweden, and the US Embassy’s Charge d’Affaires (All Africa).

Sudan’s Foreign Minister repeated the government’s denial of possession or use of cluster munitions, claiming that international NGOs are making accusations for fundraising purposes. The minister also claimed that there was peace in Darfur (Morocco World News).

 

Libya

Conflict Armament Research published a report on weapons smuggling and trade in North Africa and the Sahel.  The report says that despite efforts by the United States and Europe to prevent the proliferation of small arms from Libya after Gaddhafi’s fall, many factions in the region possess anti-tank landmines looted from Libyan stockpiles (All Africa).

In Germany, an eleven year-old girl from the Libyan town of Sirte continues her recovery from a landmine blast that also killed most of her family.  Yaqeen Al-Hajali endured 17 hours of surgery in Libya, a medical evacuation to Tunisia and then onward evacuation to Germany. No word on Yaqeen’s brother and sister who also survived the blast (Libya Observer).

In Sirte, two members of the engineering brigade were killed and two more injured by a landmine attributed to the Islamic State (Al Wasat).

In Benghazi’s Al-Gawarsha neighborhood, a soldier in Khalifa Haftar’s army was killed by a landmine as Haftar’s army closed in on an Islamic State stronghold near the European Hospital (Libya Observer). A second soldier was killed by another landmine in the same area a few days later (Al Wasat). A few days later, Haftar’s army announced the liberation of the Al-Gawarsha district.  Once the army had captured the European Hospital, the Islamic State forces fled the neighborhood.  During the final approaches, a field commander was killed by a mine (Libya Herald).

 

Rwanda

Five young men were killed when they discovered a suspected landmine on former battlefield dating to the period before the 1994 genocide. The men were grazing cattle and, upon discovery of the explosive, began to play with it causing the blast (New Times).

 

Mali

A 60 vehicle convoy of the French army struck a landmine claimed by a rebel group affiliated with Al Qaeda.  One soldier was killed and another wounded (The Local).

 

Egypt

During a visit of the International Cooperation Minister, a new prosthetic center was opened in the town of Masra Matrouh.  The center will support landmine survivors injured in the minefields of the World War II battlefield of El Alamein, which is nearby.  In addition to the prosthetic center, the Minister delivered a variety of economic and social supports to survivors and their families including water access, small business kits, agricultural inputs and sewing machines.  During the ceremonies, the British ambassador to Egypt also announced the handover of maps of the minefields laid by British and Allied forces during World War II (Because).

The interventions were critiqued by several in Egypt who hold the position that because Germany and Britain laid the landmines, they hold all of the responsibility for their clearance.  According the head of the military engineering department, the British minefield maps handed over by the ambassador are “sketch maps” and most of the mines were buried randomly.  The prosthetic center was also critiqued as many of the survivors suffered loss of vision and / or hearing and will not benefit from prosthetic limbs.  Among the survivors, almost half (48%) suffered upper limb injuries which suggest that they might have been digging or farming at the time of their injury, not just walking through the mine-affected areas (Middle East Observer)

The International Cooperation Minister also met with the Swiss ambassador to Egypt to discuss support for landmine clearance (Daily News Egypt).

 

Angola

The Japanese ambassador to Angola confirmed his commitment to support landmine clearance projects in Angola during a visit to Japanese-funded development projects in Uige province (Relief Web).

 

Western Sahara

Recent flooding in the Western Sahara region of Saguia El-Hamra have displaced many landmines laid by Moroccan forces.  The displacement of mines by flooding can lead to additional injuries as areas that had previously been free of mines may be contaminated (Facebook).

 

Somalia

A child was killed and two others injured by a landmine in Galkayo in the Puntland region (Puntland Mirror).

In central Somalia, police forces located and cleared several landmines from busy roadways.  The mines were attributed to Al Shabaab and found on a road used for transport convoys (Goobjoog).

 

Senegal

The US Embassy in Senegal reminded citizens of the presence of landmines in the Ziguinchor and Sedhiou areas of Senegal’s Casamance region.  The notice said that landmine clearance efforts are reducing the threat, but caution must continue to be taken (Overseas Security Advisory Council).

 

Michael P. Moore

December 22, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 

 

 


The Month in Mines, October 2016

The passing of one of the towering giants of the Cold War, Fidel Castro, has prompted a lot of column inches in other venues.  This past summer I saw some of the impact of Cuba’s military adventurism in Angola but in previous trips I saw Cuban-built hospitals in Vietnam and met Cuban engineers in Denmark.  During Castro’s leadership, Cuba was a country with an outsized impact on the world.  Even before the recent thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba, the United States had removed the minefields that surrounded the military base at Guantanamo Bay and Cuba’s role as mediator in negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels had held out hope for demining progress there.  Cuba recently joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the improving relations between the US and Cuba removed one of the principle excuses Cuba had used to remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty.

 

Angola

A newly discovered minefields was reported in the central province of Bie.  The exact extent of the contamination is not known, but the area had been the scene of fighting during one of Angola’s many periods of fighting in the province (All Africa).

In the northern province of Malanje, the Japanese ambassador to Angola re-affirmed his country’s commitment to Angola’s humanitarian mine action program.  Annually the Japanese government provides US $20 million for demining in Angola (Relief Web).

In the northern Zaire province, the National Demining Institute detonated over 100 explosive remnants of was including eight landmines (All Africa).

The director of Angola’s mine action program estimates that 270 million euros will be required to clear the remaining 1,435 known minefields.  Angola will need international support to meet the Maputo Declaration’s goal of clearing all known minefields by 2025. At present, Angola still needs to complete minefield surveys in eight of the country’s 18 provinces to fully document the extent of contamination (Government of Angola).

 

Somalia

During an attack on Mandera, a town along the Somali-Kenya border, Al Shabaab members planted landmines in the town which have hindered the efforts of the security forces to respond to the attack (All Africa).

In Mogadishu, three suspected Al Shabaab members were killed by the landmine they were trying to plant in a roadway (All Africa).

The extensive use of remote-controlled and victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been a major security challenge for the African Union peacekeepers in Somalia.  225 separate attacks have been recorded in 2016 with hundreds of casualties. Victim-activated IEDs, including pressure-plate and magnetic IEDs, are banned by the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian army, having ousted Boko Haram from much of northeastern Nigeria is now busy trying to certify the safety of liberated areas.  The army recognizes the threat from landmines and IEDs and once an area has been cleared of explosives, it will be released back to the population (The Eagle).  The governor of Adamawa state acknowledged the threat and fear of landmines during a speech at the United States Institute of Peace. The governor also noted that despite the assurances of the army, many farmers are reluctant to return to their fields (All Africa). Those fears have some validity as less than an hour after the Nigerian army declared a road in Maiduguri safe, a truck struck a landmine injuring several passengers (All Africa).

During the fight against Boko Haram, Nigeria recruited and used local vigilante forces to augment the formal army units.  At least 162 women whose husbands served as vigilantes have been widowed as a result of the fighting, many by landmines, and the Borno state government has committed to providing assistance to those widows (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

The national mine action authority is developing a new extension request for its Article 5 mine clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  This would be the fifth such extension request and set a new deadline for clearing all known minefields of 2025, matching the global deadline from the Maputo Declaration.  At present, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid are actively demining in Zimbabwe and they will soon be joined by Mines Advisory Group and APOPO (All Africa). Unfortunately, the national commitment to demining appears to be lacking.  For the last several years, the government of Zimbabwe has only allocated US $500,000 for demining and in 2016, that allocation was reduced to US $100,000 (News Day).  The government, in its extension request, should state its commitment to demining and identify national resources to match that commitment.

 

Mali

Multiple landmine incidents were reported in northern Mali. Three Malian soldiers were killed and another injured when their vehicle stuck a mine in the northern Timbuktu region. This accident closely followed an incident in which a Chadian soldier was killed by a landmine in Kidal when his vehicle struck a mine (Fox News). A Tuareg leader from an anti-government faction was killed by a landmine less than 300 meters from a United Nations base in Kidal where he has been meeting with peacekeeping troops (Reuters). Landmines were used as part of an ambush of Malian soldiers in the village of N’Goma Coura in the center of the country.  Four soldiers were killed and seven injured in the attack (Yahoo).

 

Libya

Female parliamentarians in Libya called upon the Italian government and the international community to support demining in the liberated areas of Benghazi (ANSAMed). The Dutch ambassador to Libya pledged one million Euros for demining in Sirte (Libya Observer). Despite the gains made by the government-backed army in Sirte, there are concerns about the insurgent attacks.  A teacher was killed and his family members injured by a landmine on the road from Sirte to Misrata, an area that is supposed to have been liberated from Islamist forces. This was the fifth such explosion on that stretch of road in less than three months (Libya Herald).

Despite the war, students at Benghazi University managed to complete their studies and to celebrate their graduation, they visited the campus which had recently been liberated after a two years’ occupation by Islamic State forces. Demining teams continue to work to clear the campus of explosives, but estimate that only 5% of the booby traps and landmines have been cleared (BBC News).

 

Sudan

Three militia members aligned with the government were killed when their vehicle struck and detonated a piece of unexploded ordnance (All Africa).

 

Egypt

Egypt’s International Cooperation Minister met with Swiss representatives to request support from Switzerland to clear the landmines in the Northwest Desert that remain from World War II (El Balad).

 

Western Sahara

A four-year old child was killed by a cluster munition and two others were injured (Remove the Wall).

 

Michael P. Moore

November 30, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, August 2016

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

 

Egypt

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

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

 

Rwanda

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

 

Zimbabwe

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

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

 

Nigeria

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

 

Chad

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

 

Libya

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tunisia

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

 

Algeria

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

 

Michael P. Moore

September 26, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, March 2016

Bear with me, folks: this is going to be a long one.  In March we have landmine-related stories from 15 countries and areas, with good and bad news to report.  In the stories below, I report on over 150 landmine and ERW casualties, the deadliest month of the year so far.  The positive news includes continued mine clearance in Angola and Algeria and Japan’s support for mine action in several countries.  The glass is never more than half-full.

 

 

Western Sahara

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights produces a biannual report on violations of the human rights of the Sahrawi people.  In their report for the period July – December 2015, they noted one landmine injury in addition to multiple other violations (All Africa).

During March, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visited Western Sahara and observed the landmine clearance projects managed by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) (All Africa).  During that visit, Ban referred to the “occupation” of Western Sahara by Morocco which led the Moroccan government to call for the expulsion of the UN mission in Western Sahara, including the UNMAS staff.

Also in March, Western Sahara registered its first landmine fatality of the year when a shepherd’s truck struck a probable anti-vehicle mine west of the berm, near Smara (Remove the Wall).

 

Sudan

The government of Japan pledged US $2.1 million in support of UNMAS’s work in Kassala, Red Sea, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.  The donation will support clearance of 1.5 million square meters and risk education for 100,000 Sudanese (All Africa).  At the same time, a rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), accused the government of Sudan of using cluster munitions in the ongoing conflict in Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains region, which includes South Kordofan (Sudan Tribune).

In North Darfur’s Tawila area, two UXO incidents were reported.  In the first, two men were killed by a UXO blast as they were collecting firewood (Radio Dabanga).  In the second incident, six gold miners were killed and three more injured when their vehicle struck a piece of UXO (Radio Dabanga).

 

Mozambique

Even though the country has been declared landmine free, Mozambique is still plagued by other explosive remnants of war so the national police are being educated on explosive ordnance disposal (Star Africa).

 

Morocco

In addition to training Senegalese forces, the US Marines have been training Moroccan soldiers to build the demining capacity of the Moroccan army.  Starting in 2007, the Moroccan military has cleared some 564 square kilometers of land, and the goal is for Morocco to be able to train its own forces on explosive ordnance disposal.  In April, Morocco will launch a new effort to clear the landmines from the eastern side of the berm that divides Western Sahara into the Moroccan-controlled area and the Polisario-controlled area (Camp Lejeune Globe; Sahara Question).

 

Angola

The governments of Japan and Norway provided US $ 203,384 for landmine clearance in Malanje province.  With the funds, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will be able to clear 117,000 square meters (All Africa).

The National Intersectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Aid (CNIDAH) has called on the population to report suspected minefields to the Commission.  At the same time, CNIDAH’s representative announced plans for clearance of 3.1 million square meters of land in Cunene province and that over 546,000 square meters had been cleared in 2015 (Angola Press).  In Lunda Norte province, the National Demining Institute (INAD) reported the clearance of 2.2 million square meters of land in 2015 (All Africa).  As part of the national infrastructure plan, INAD has finished the clearance of the high voltage lines in Cabinda Province which was accompanied by some clearance activities to enable small scale cultivation (All Africa http://allafrica.com/stories/201603170842.html).  In Zaire province, construction of electrical lines is pending the demining of some 189 kilometers of line (Angola Press).  In Uige province, the Angola NGO, Terra Mae, cleared over 300 landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) in March (Angola Press).

The uncertain financial support for mine action globally continues to have very real, local impacts.  The HALO Trust, which has cleared over 51 million square meters and 65,000 mines and ERW in Bie Province since 1995 have shuttered their operations in that province.  INAD and the Angolan army will be responsible for surveying and clearing the 300 suspected hazardous areas that remain in the province (Rede Angola).

 

Egypt

Egypt’s northwestern deserts are polluted with mines leftover from the World War II battles around El Alamein and the modern city of Matrouh.  The European Union supports a large demining project there which is in its third year.  Sahar Nasr, the Minister of International Cooperation, during a visit to the program called on the EU to extend the project (All Africa; State Information Service; El Balad).

Even though the minefields of El Alamein are more famous, two landmine incidents in Sinai and one on the Red Sea coast highlighted the fact that Egypt’s landmine contamination is more widespread.  Five soldiers were killed and seven more injured by a landmine near the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada (Egyptian Streets).  In Sinai, seven police were killed and nine injured in one landmine incident and one Bedouin was killed and another injured in a second incident (Al Bawaba; Al Bawaba).  The Red Sea mine likely dates to World War II and the first Sinai mine is from the conflicts with Israel in the 1950s and 1970s.  The Bedouins were victims of a recently laid mine that detonated when struck by their tractor.

 

Algeria

Algerian counter-terrorism forces destroyed four bunkers and 16 anti-personnel landmines in Boumerdes (Ennahar).  In ongoing operations, the Algerian army cleared almost five thousand landmines from the borders that date back to the French colonial period.  Through February 2016, Algeria has destroyed 831,017 landmines (Ennahar).

 

Zimbabwe

The anti-poaching unit operating near Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls park arrested 300 poachers in 2015 and recovered 10 kilograms of elephant ivory from three dealers.  In the process, the unit also found a cache of 50 landmines leftover from the liberation war in the Zambezi National Park and called the Zimbabwe army to destroy them (Radio VOP).

 

Nigeria & Cameroon

Vigilantes, operating under the more benign name of “civilian self-defense groups,” have been important actors in the fight against Boko Haram in Cameroon.  However, these vigilantes lack the necessary equipment – they have appealed for bicycles to assist in their operations – and have been victims of the very landmines and explosives they are trying to find.  In five days, seven landmine blasts killed 34 people and injured 40 more. The Cameroonian army has received technical advice and equipment from the US government and trainers from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the French army are educating Cameroon soldiers on landmine and explosive clearance (Voice of America; African Press Organization). Cameroon’s soldiers have also been landmine victims with one killed and four more injured in two separate blasts in Amchide-Gance and Zamga (Simon Ateba).  The explosions and other war-related injuries have stretched Cameroon’s health system beyond its capacity (All Africa).

In Nigeria, 15 people were killed by suspected Boko Haram landmines in Nussa village in Borno state (Channels TV).  On the road from Chul to Huyum, also in Borno, three Nigerian vigilantes were killed and seven injured by a landmine (Press TV). In addition to soldiers and vigilantes, hunters from Nigeria’s indigenous groups have also sought to join the fight against Boko Haram.  Acknowledging the landmine risks, these hunters have “super natural powers” which they will use “to assist the military in crushing Boko Haram” in addition to their extensive knowledge of the Sambisa forest which Boko Haram is using as a refuge (TVC News).  Two Boko Haram members were killed by their own landmine as they fled from Nigerian soldiers in Kumala area of Borno (All Africa http://allafrica.com/stories/201603180337.html).

The US government provided 24 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) to the Nigerian army to assist with the fight against Boko Haram.  However, most of the vehicles require maintenance and servicing before they can be used and have been referred to as “carcasses.”  The Nigerian army has been able to deploy some mine-clearance machines, but the available machines are insufficient for the vast area of the Sambisa forest (All Africa).

 

Tunisia

One soldier was injured by a landmine in the Kasserine region during a counter-terrorism operation (All Africa).

 

Senegal

Under the auspices of the State Department’s Humanitarian Mine Action program, a US Marine contingent led a six week training session for Senegalese soldiers in demining and explosive ordnance disposal. Other partners in the training program include the Vermont National Guard and the Austrian Armed Forces (Defence Web). In addition to the national army, Handicap International is clearing landmines in Senegal’s Casamance region.  In 2016, HI plans to clear 55,000 square meters, the equivalent of 8 football pitches (Relief Web).  HI’s partner, the Senegalese Association of Mine Victims (ASVM) is leading a mine risk education campaign in Casamance with survivors directly participating.  In the current campaign, ASVM hopes to reach 60 schools and 65 villages (Relief Web).

 

Somalia

The European Union and UNMAS donated bomb disposal equipment to the Somali Police force which will outfit five bomb squad units that will also be trained (Relief Web).  A line of landmines placed in the center of Bardhere town in southern Somalia killed two people and injured several others when an Ethiopian army vehicle drove over them. In the aftermath of the blast, the Ethiopian soldiers fired indiscriminately injuring some bystanders (Goobjoog News).  In Bakol, three Al Shabaab members were arrested and charged with planting landmines (News Ghana).

 

Mali

Six peacekeepers with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) were injured at the start of the month when their vehicle struck a landmine on the Aguelhok – Tessalit road (MINUSMA).  Three days later an unknown number of casualties occurred when another MINUSMA vehicle struck a landmine near Kidal (Desert Media). At the end of the month, two Malian soldiers were killed by a landmine on the Mopti – Timbuktu road (Desert Media).

 

South Sudan

The government of Japan contributed US $2.3 million to UNMAS for mine action in South Sudan.  Over 110 million square meters of land in South Sudan is contaminated by landmines and ERW affected almost eight million people.  New mine usage during the current civil war compounds the problem (Modern Ghana).

 

Michael P. Moore

April 18, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org