The Month in Mines, November 2017

On November 30th, the US Department of Defense reversed a Bush Administration policy on the use of cluster munitions.  After using cluster munitions in Afghanistan and Iraq and seeing the impact of the weapons in Lebanon after their use by Israel, the Bush Administration, simultaneous to the negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, had decided the weapons had an inexcusable humanitarian impact due to their high failure rate and their threat to civilian populations after conflicts ended.  The Obama Administration maintained the policy and increased support to Laos to clear the cluster munitions that had been dropped by the United States during the Vietnam War. Since 2008, the Pentagon has sought replacement weapons for cluster munitions and abided by the policy that the US military would not acquire any cluster munitions that have a failure rate greater than 1%.  At the same time, the military would dispose of existing stockpiles of older cluster munitions that did not adhere to the 2008 policy. The new Trump Administration policy reverses the earlier policy and ignores the humanitarian consequences of the cluster munitions.

Citing the ongoing (never-ending) war on terror and unnamed, but “important changes in the global security environment,” the new policy specifically authorizes the use of cluster munitions with failure rates above 1%. The policy requires new cluster munitions to either have a self-destruct feature or a failure rate of 1% of less; however, the policy also allows field commanders to purchase and order cluster munitions that do not adhere to the policy’s requirements for new cluster munitions, thus rendering any such requirements moot.  This change will provide political cover for any regime, including the Syrian government, to use and stockpile cluster munitions, saying that if the weapons are important to the United States, they are also important to us.  This is the same argument that kept the Cuban and Georgian governments from joining the Mine Ban Treaty and means these inhuman weapons will likely continue to threaten civilian populations for years to come.

Now, longtime readers will know I have a cynical streak, but please hear me out.  The 2008 Department of Defense policy had a significant impact on domestic producers of cluster munitions, specifically Textron, Inc.  During the Obama Administration, Textron announced the closure of a cluster munition manufacturing plant in Massachusetts and a round of layoffs, saying that the 2008 policy made the weapons system unsustainable for the company.  This was a good thing.  However, in June 2017, the Trump Administration nominated Textron’s CEO, Ellen Lord, as undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, responsible for all military acquisitions, including cluster munitions under the new policy.  During her confirmation testimony, no mention was made of any recusal of Ms. Lord from decisions related to Textron’s business interests, despite her position as head of acquisitions and Textron’s status as the 18th largest defense contractor in the world. And then, just four months after Lord’s confirmation, the Pentagon announces the change in policy including an option to purchase cluster munitions such as those Textron produces.  Again, I may be cynical on these matters, but something feels a bit off here (Congressional Research Service Report # RS22907; USNI; Defense News).

On to the news from the Continent:

 

Zimbabwe

APOPO, the landmine clearance organization that uses rats to detect mines, is the fourth NGO operator to support the clearance efforts in Zimbabwe.  APOPO has been assigned the minefields in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.  Clearance of the Park will provide security for the animals and enable greater use of the Park for eco-tourism.  APOPO will start the work using traditional methods of mechanical and manual demining before introducing the rats (Relief Web).

 

Libya

Libya has emerged in the last couple of years as one of the most mine-affected countries with the Islamic State making extensive use of the weapons. Estimates of the total number of newly laid explosives are in the thousands and include extensive use of booby traps in residences (Asharq Al-Awsat).  At least eight civilians were killed and another 11 wounded by landmines in October in the city of Benghazi (Netral News).  Additional casualties were reported in November in Benghazi (Libya Herald; Libya Herald; Libya Herald). The British government donated US $4 million worth of demining equipment to assist with the clearance of Sirte; in addition to the equipment, the United Kingdom is providing training to Libyan military and police engineers (Xinhua). The British ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, also visited Benghazi and announced a donation of 1.2 million British Pounds to train clearance teams in Benghazi and launch a mine-risk education program (Libya Herald).

 

Mali

Four civilians were killed in northern Mali when the minibus they were riding in struck a landmine near Lellehoye in the Gao region (Anadolu Agency).

 

Tunisia

Tunisian anti-terror units killed an explosives expert and found at least one landmine ready for use (Xinhua).

 

Nigeria

With the recent government settlement to provide funding for the clearance of landmines and unexploded and abandoned ordnance from the 1960s Biafra war, there seems to be a new interest in the extent of contamination.  Casualty figures are unclear, but over 18,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been cleared so far by one demining organization with another thousand items waiting disposal (People’s Daily).

 

Angola

The HALO Trust has cleared and destroyed over 1,000 anti-personnel mines from Menongue and Cuito Cuanavale in the first nine months of 2017 (EIN News). In Bie Province, the National Demining Institute (INAD) cleared over 200 ERW in a similar time period (All Africa).

 

Egypt

British Member of Parliament Daniel Kawczinski called on the British government to hand over any minefield maps from the battle of El Alamein in World War II.  Any maps from the battle would be significantly out of date and the shifting sands of the desert may have moved most of the mines from their original locations making the maps less helpful than might be hoped (Arab News).  In previous reports, the British Ambassador has said that all such maps have been turned over the Egyptian authorities, but the detail of the maps was limited (The Monitor).

 

The Gambia

The Ministry of Defence has submitted a request to the Cabinet of the Gambia to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Gambia has already signed the Convention, but not yet completed the process of ratification (The Point).

 

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

December 30, 2017

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The Months in Mines, September and October 2017

In 2016 I traveled to Zimbabwe to take stock of mine clearance along the border with Mozambique and to document the availability and quality of victim assistance in the country. Short answers were that the clearance was going well while victim assistance services were deteriorating.  To prepare for the trip I had read Peter Godwin’s The Fear about the violence that followed the contested 2008 elections and Heidi Holland’s Dinner with Mugabe, a psychological biography of the only leader Zimbabwe had ever known.  Until a week ago.  After a brief power struggle between Robert Mugabe’s two most-likely successors, the first lady Grace Mugabe and the general and former director of Zimbabwe’s interior security Emerson Mnangagwa, Mnangagwa found himself fired in early November and having to flee arrest.  A few days later, leaders of the Zimbabwean army consulted with Chinese officials in Beijing and presumably secured their support for the non-coup that deposed Mugabe and replaced him with Mnangagwa after several days of negotiations.  The transition has so far been peaceful, but let’s be clear: Mnangagwa is not the reformer that Morgan Tsangvirai would have been in 2008.  Mnangagwa, nicknamed “the Crocodile,” led the pogroms against the Matabelele people in the 1980s, eliminating a key opposition group to Mugabe’s rule and allowing Mugabe to consolidate control.  Then, in 2008, Mnangagwa masterminded the violence and repression which followed the Movement for Democracy and Change’s, Tsangvirai’s party, likely electoral victory.  Until Grace Mugabe’s efforts to seize power in recent months, Mnangagwa had been seen as Mugabe’s likely successor.

I have heard from colleagues that the mine clearance is continuing in Zimbabwe and the general mood in the country is positive.  I don’t hold any particular hope for a dramatic improvement in the quality and availability of victim assistance services, but I, for the most part, recall my time in Zimbabwe fondly.  The people I met, much like the Bosnians, Rwandans and Vietnamese I have met in other travels, were remarkably resilient; despite the poor economy and the recent memories of violence, life continued.

 

We are consolidating two months’ worth of stories into this update.

 

Libya

Benghazi, despite its association with a non-scandal involving the Clinton State Department, should be seen as one of the most mine-affected cities in the world.  In one month – July 2017 – at least 40 civilians were killed by mines with an unknown number injured and further unknown numbers of soldiers killed or wounded.  The Islamic State made wide use of victim-activated booby traps and local activists have taken on the role of counting the casualties.  The Libyan army is making some progress to clear the mines and booby traps, and 43 deminers have lost their lives to liberate the city from explosives.  More support is needed from the international community to train and equip the deminers, but more options are also needed for the residents of Benghazi who fled their homes and now wish to return (D and C).

At least four people were killed and 9 injured by landmines in Benghazi in September (Libya Observer). In Sabri neighborhood, a teenager lost both legs in a landmine explosion while playing football near his home (Libyan Express). Also in Sabri, a father and his son were injured by the shrapnel from a mine (Libya Herald) and three men were killed by a booby trap near the entrance to a public building.  A Chadian man also died from his injuries after stepping on a landmine near his home (Libya Observer).

Women activists from Libya met in Rome under the auspices of the Italian Foreign Ministry and called on the international community to provide more support to landmine clearance in Libya (Libya Herald).

Cement factories in Benghazi are expected to re-open for operations in the near future after landmine clearance supported by British experts.  Local production of cement will aid in reconstruction (Libya Herald).

 

Mali

A UN peacekeeping convoy struck a landmine near Gao which touched off an ambush that killed three peacekeepers and injured five others in September (WTOP). In October, another ambush killed three peacekeepers and injured two more after a convoy hit a mine in Kidal (Punch Nigeria). The Al Qaeda affiliated Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed credit for the attack in Kidal and was also suspected of a landmine blast that injured two Malian soldiers (Long War Journal).

 

Angola

In Angola’s Zaire province, seven landmines were among the 89 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) (All Africa). In Kwanza Norte almost 3 million square meters of land have been cleared of mines and and over 21 thousand people have been sensitized to the danger of landmines (Relief Web). 468 UXO cleared in Bengo province were destroyed (EIN News).

Algeria

Having earlier cleared the last known minefield, Algeria destroyed the last 5,970 landmines stockpiled by the country (Middle East Online).

 

Nigeria

The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) ruled against the government of Nigeria for failure to clear landmines from the 1960s Biafra War. The ruling requires the government to begin removing stockpiles of unexploded and abandoned ordnance (Sahara Reporters).

Two vehicles in northern Nigeria struck separate landmines attributed to Boko Haram, killing two people and injuring many others (Independent). Near Maidugari Boko Haram launched an ambush after an army convoy struck a landmine; four Nigerian soldiers were killed and five were injured in the attack (All Africa).

 

Burkina Faso

A convoy belonging to Avocet, a mining company, struck a mine north of Burkina Faso’s capitol, Ougadougou, killing two and injuring two more.  The mine was attributed to a new jihadist group, Ansaroul Islam (Reuters).

 

Cameroon

Two Cameroonian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram-attributed landmine near the Nigerian border (Anadolu Agency).

 

Uganda

Landmines and UXO from the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda continue to be found and threaten lives and livelihood.  The region suffers from food insecurity due to an inability to fully use the agricultural lands due to fears of explosives (All Africa).

 

Somalia

A minibus struck a landmine in Lower Shabelle killing the two women and four men riding in it.  Two other landmines were discovered and cleared in a Mogadishu suburb (Voice of America).

 

Zimbabwe

Sixty square kilometers of minefields remain in Zimbabwe as the country scrambles to meet the global target of a landmine-free world in 2025.  The HALO Trust covers the areas of Mount Darwin and Mukumbura and report that while human casualties have mercifully been reduced, livestock continue to suffer with 19 cattle lost to landmines in just two months in Mukumbura.  Near Mount Darwin, plans for emergency clinics to respond to landmine injuries have been delayed or shelved due to lack of funds. Demining continues to receive international support with a recent contribution of US $2 million from the Japanese government (News Day). That support has helped to clear five square kilometers of land and over 40,000 mines out of the estimated 29 square kilometers of minefields in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East where Mukumbura is (News Day).

In addition to herding, farming and general transit across Zimbabwe’s minefields, a continuing lure for people to enter the minefields is the myth of Red Mercury.  A belief persists that landmines contain Red Mercury, a nonexistent substance thought to be more valuable than gold, so people try to open mines to obtain the substance with disastrous consequences.  The HALO Trust and local legislators have been working to combat this myth and save lives (News Day).

Also in Zimbabwe, a new mine-risk education program was launched by Happy Readers and the HALO Trust.  The program combines a literacy program with a fact-based story about the dangers of landmines.

Happy Readers_The Minefiels

 

Egypt

Over 2,600 square kilometers of Egypt’s northwestern desert, site of the World War II battle of El Alamein, remain contaminated with landmines.  The Egyptian government and then United Nations have led awareness campaigns while mine clearance is led by a division in the Egyptian army.  The work is paying off as there has only been one reported landmine casualty to date in 2017, but the continuing presence hinders development of the region (The National).

 

Sudan

Sudan’s Kassala State will likely be declared free of landmines by the end of the year.  So far 90% of the known hazards have been cleared (All Africa).


The Months in Mines: April, May and June

My more astute readers will have noticed the distinct lack of traffic and content on this site.  I apologize: things in my other worlds have gotten busier than I would have liked and I will try to get caught up again.  I have posted a couple of items on the Red Mercury side of things, one on the report of a man trying to bring Red Mercury to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s offices in Atlanta (Campaign against Red Mercury) and the other about the people who keep trying to get me to buy the stuff (Campaign against Red Mercury).  Also during this period I received a reminder that I have been writing this blog for six years, but I feel the urgency of the issue as sharply as I did when I first began.  Without further ado or delay, the Quarter in Mines:

 

The Gambia

The Gambia is not considered a mine-affected country, but it is located immediately next to Senegal’s Casamance region which is a recognized mine-affected region and during Yahya Jammeh’s rule, The Gambia served as a refuge for rebels involved in the Casamance conflict.  Since Jammeh departed The Gambia earlier this year, the space for free media has opened up and two landmine incidents have been reported which suggest the possibility of others which we simply didn’t hear about during Jammeh’s dictatorship.  In the first incident, a farmer and his two sons were returning from collecting firewood when their donkey cart struck a mine on a road leading to the Casamance.  All three were killed (All Africa). The second incident, which, like the first occurred in the Foni region, had no reported casualties, but seemed to spark a significant intelligence investigation (Freedom Newspaper).

 

Nigeria

Nigeria’s Army Chief of Staff acknowledged that landmine clearance of the Sambisa Forest, which had been used as a base by the Boko Haram rebels, had yet to begin in any meaningful manner. He called for donations of equipment and invited the international demining operators to support a clearance program (All Africa). In partial response, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) deployed an assessment team to Nigeria to evaluate the situation (All Africa).  The threat from improvised and artisanal mines in Sambisa Forest is significant.  At a crossroads, four mines were found and cleared (All Africa). In another incident, three civilian loggers were killed by a mine in the roadway when their truck struck the mine (National Daily).

In the south of the country, in the regions affected by the Biafra War in the 1960s, landmine survivors called upon the government for greater assistance and caches of mines and other abandoned ordnance are still being found (The Guardian).

 

Sudan

In the good news column of the ledger, two regions, West Darfur’s Foro Baranga area and the Red Sea State were declared free of landmines (All Africa; All Africa). Clearance in the Red Sea State received substantial support from the government of Italy.  Other eastern states in Sudan are expected to be cleared by the end of the year, thanks in part to continuing support from Italy, but the mine action program in Sudan remains woefully underfunded with less than 20% of the funds sought received (Italian mission to the UN).  In somewhat surprising news – due to continuing sanctions on Sudan – the US government pledged US $1.5 million in support for mine action in Sudan during a donors conference (Journal du Cameroun).

In Darfur, UXO is the more significant problem.  A teenager was killed by a suspected grenade when one of the two camels he was herding kicked the explosive (All Africa). While on patrol, ten peacekeepers from the United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were injured when their truck struck an explosive remnant of war (ERW) (Sudan Tribune).  In a third incident a herder was killed and another injured by a piece of ERW.  The man killed was buried on the site of the blast so severe was the damage and the man injured suffered loss of his legs (Radio Dabanga).

In the contested region of Abyei, the Ethiopian Demining Platoon assigned to the peacekeeping force there destroyed several small arms and hundreds of pieces of ammunition and explosives as part of ongoing efforts there (Sudan Tribune).

 

Angola

The government of Norway continues to support landmine clearance in Angola’s northern Malanje province. A new grant of US $470,000 to Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will help clear the village of Camalanga (Relief Web).  NPA’s partner APOPO used rats to detect landmines in the village of Camatende, and the fields have been returned to productive use (Relief Web).  NPA is also working to clear the village of Luquembo and have discovered five anti-personnel landmines already (Angola National Press).

In accordance with its recent report on landmine clearance to the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, Angola is developing a final request for extension of it Article 5 demining obligations. At current pace, the clearance will take at least another 25 years, but Angola has pledged to meet the global goal of clearance by 2025.  To develop the request, Angola’s mine action authority hosted a national conference on demining and included donors, mine clearance organizations and other government agencies. During the conference, the Angolan government announced that US $200 million would be needed in international assistance to achieve a mine-free Angola by 2025 (New York Times, All Africa, Relief Web).

 

South Sudan

In addition to the problems facing the country from policital violence and civil conflict, the government of South Sudan also needs to complete the demarcation of its southern border with Uganda.  Part of that process will include survey and landmine clearance (All Africa).  To support mine clearance in South Sudan, several countries, including Cambodia, continue to send specialized peacekeeping forces (Khmer Times).

While support for mine survey and clearance is forthcoming, support for landmine survivors is very limited.  In the capitol, Juba, survivors can obtain prosthetics from the Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre but orthopedic services are limited elsewhere in the country. With a quarter million ERW found and cleared so far in 2017, the threat from mines to the population is pervasive.  Survivors from across the country have to travel to Juba and find the resources to support themselves for up to two weeks to have a prosthetic built and fitted for them (All Africa).

 

Egypt

The heavily mine affected province of Matrouh – near the site of the World War II battle of El Alamein – reported zero landmine casualties in 2016, a stunning achievement made possible by the efforts of local activists and landmine survivors to raise awareness about landmines. Mine clearance and survivor support remain a challenge despite the efforts of the United Nations Development Programme, the government of Egypt and the limited number of donors, including Kuwait, which support clearance of Egypt’s northwestern deserts (Mada Masr, Al Ahram).  Of course, Egypt’s landmine problem is not limited to the ERW from World War II.  Extensive minefields remain on the Sinai Peninsula from the 1950s and 1960s conflicts with Israel.  One Egyptian soldier was killed and three others injured when their vehicle struck a mine on Sinai, a mine that might be a decades old relic or the result of recent conflict with an Islamic State-linked group operating in Egypt (Al Bawaba).

 

Somalia

Two children were killed by a landmine in the Middle Shabelle region when their auto rickshaw struck the explosive.  Two other mines were found nearby (Xinhua Net). In the Lower Shabelle region, a minibus struck a mine killing at least 19 people and injuring others (Al Jazeera). And in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, two people were killed by a mine in the Galgala mountain area (All Africa). All three incidents were blamed on the Al Shabaab rebels without confirmation from the rebels themselves.

 

Mali

Three people affiliated with the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali were injured when their vehicle hit a mine in the northern Kidal region. A newly announced Islamist group, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, claimed responsibility for the blast  (Stars and Stripes).

 

Cameroon

Until the outbreak of the Boko Haram rebellion and its spread in the aftermath of efforts by the government of Nigeria to eliminate the threat, Cameroon had not been considered a landmine-affected country.  That has now clearly changed.  The US government has donated mine-clearing equipment to Cameroon to address the threat (Journal du Cameroun) and multiple incidents confirm the threat. Three Cameroon soldiers were killed and at least five others injured in two separate landmine blasts (Anadolu Agency, Cameroon Concord) and six civilians were injured by a mine placed on a busy road (Journal du Cameroon).  During a visit to a military hospital, Cameroon’s Defense Minister was able to meet with 21 soldiers who had been injured by landmines (Journal de Cameroun).

 

Libya

In the fighting for the cities of Sirte and Benghazi, Islamist rebels made extensive use of landmines and booby traps.  Sirte has been liberated by the Libyan army under General Haftar and the fighting in Benghazi intensified during the quarter.  The Danish Demining Group has received funding from the government of Great Britain to support landmine clearance and mine risk education in the country (Libya Observer).

In Sirte, the main roads into the city from the east and west have been re-opened following landmine clearance (Libya Observer).  Within the city, mine clearance continued, but the risks remain. Two employees of the water utility were killed by a mine near a water storage tank (Libya Herald).

In Benghazi, at least 24 people, soldiers and civilians alike, were killed in the “Tree Street” district of the city in February and March, including a father and his son who were trying to return to their farm (Libya Herald). A mine planted at the former internal security building killed one soldier and injured two others (Libya Herald). In total, the Libyan National Army reported clearing 3,800 landmines from the center of Benghazi during its efforts to defeat the Islamist forces there (Xinhua Net).

In addition to the civilians and soldiers killed and wounded, two Libya National Army officers, a naval commander and a senior Special Forces officer were killed in separate landmine explosions (Libya Herald).

 

Mauritania

In the northern Mijek region, a shepherd was killed by a landmine after apparently hitting the explosive with a rock.  The national mine action center had declared that part of the country landmine-free, but some of the desert regions are still contaminated as evidenced by this recent tragedy (Zouerate Media).

 

Western Sahara

Over the course of the next 15 months, the Polisario Front, in fulfillment of its Deed of Commitment with Geneva Call, will destroy all stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines.  Already the Front has destroyed 13,000 mines, but thousands remain in the stockpile (Geneva Call).

 

Ethiopia

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with the Ethiopian National Defence Forces to increase the capacity of Ethiopia’s military in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).  This is part of a regional program to increase landmine clearance and EOD capacity in Africa and ICRC has supported similar work in Zimbabwe (International Committee of the Red Cross).

 

Tunisia

A Tunisian soldier died from injuries sustained in a landmine blast on Mount Ouergha on the border with Algeria.  The mountain ranges have been used as an operating base by Islamist rebels and the deceased soldier was honored with the title, “Martyr of the nation,” after his death (Al Bawaba).  A few days later a shepherdess was also killed by a landmine on a nearby mountain (News 24).

 

Algeria

During the Intersessional Meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, Algeria made the formal announcement that the nation had completed its landmine clearance obligations. One million mines in 93 separate hazardous areas have been cleared and 120 million square miles have been made available for productive use (Relief Web).

 

Uganda

In 2012 Uganda declared itself landmine-free but over the last several years 149 unexploded and abandoned explosives have been discovered in the region. Most of the devices have been discovered by farmers in their fields, but there is no clear reporting mechanism to alert authorities about these explosives.  The Gulu Amuru Landmine Survivors Association, composed of some 800 survivors injured by mines laid by the Lord’s Resistance Army, have called on the government of Uganda to take action to address the problem (PML Daily).

 

Mozambique

After declaring itself landmine-free in 2015, Mozambique discovered additional, previously unknown minefields.  In partnership with Norwegian People’s Aid Mozambique has now cleared the minefields removing over 100 antipersonnel landmines (Norwegian People’s Aid).

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

July 25, 2017

 

 


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