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, June 2016

While I was off gallivanting around Angola in June, the threat of landmines continued in other parts of the Continent.  The total number mine action stories from the month is fairly limited, but they continue to show the trend of contamination lingering from long ago conflicts and the immediate fears of new use and new contamination from active wars.  In Angola, some of the battlefields I saw had classic tactics of position where one force probed and attacked from a fortified position, trying to outflank the other while protecting one’s own flanks.  The minefields on these battlefields followed predictable patterns along lines of defense.  The new uses in places like Mali and Nigeria reflect assymetrical warfare where small forces use mines to disrupt the movements of larger, better-armed forces.

 

Mali

Three deminers attached to the MINUSMA peacekeeping mission were attacked and killed in the northern city of Gao by members of Al Qaeda (All Africa).  The MINUSMA mission is the deadliest peacekeeping mission and in response, the mission commander has called for upgrades in the mission’s ability to detect and defend against improvised explosive devices and landmines, saying the threat from such weapons is “growing” (Newsweek).

 

Kenya

In Mandera, a landmine attributed to Al Shabaab injured several police officers who were riding in the lead car of a convoy (All Africa). In a similar attack in Garissa, an ambulance driver was killed and three medics injured as they were en route to pick up a patient.  The attack on the ambulance was also blamed on Al Shabaab (All Africa).

 

Angola

In 2013 Angola and Italy signed a cooperation agreement related to defense and international security, including landmine clearance.  In June, the Angolan Defence Minister traveled to Italy to review the status of that cooperation (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, a mine action representative from the government agency, CNIDAH, called on landmine victims to register themselves with CNIDAH to be able to access the services provided by the agency.  The representative also reported that over half a million square meters of land had been cleared in the province in 2015 by the national NGO, Terra Mae (All Africa).  The US Assistant Secretary for International Security and nonproliferation, Tom Countryman, met with the international demining NGOs supported by the US State Department in advance of our visit (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian general in charge of operations in the northeast of the country against Boko Haram asked the government to keep several roads in the area closed to civilian traffic due to landmines.  The House of Representatives is pressuring the military to open the roads to travel to allow displaced persons to return to their homes, but the general notes that the roads have not been surveyed or cleared fully and landmines and IEDs may remain (All Africa).

 

Cameroon

It may not matter to Boko Haram, but I applaud the Cameroon Bar Association’s condemnation of the Islamist group for multiple human rights violations, including the use of landmines, in its 2015 report on the human rights situation in the country (All Africa).

The effects of Boko Haram’s landmines on Cameroon were made clear when three Cameroonian soldiers were injured by a mine planted in the far north of the country (Cameroon Concord).

 

Zimbabwe

One of the benefits of landmine clearance programs is the jobs made available to residents of the mine-affected areas.  In Zimbabwe, the HALO Trust has trained and employs a large number of men and women who were born and raised in villages along the minefields on the border with Mozambique. In addition to the obvious benefits of clearing landmines, the additional cash in the local economies helps drive development through construction of homes and investment in the communities (Voice of America).

For those injured by mines, Zimbabwe Assembly member Newton Kachepa called on the Ministry of Health and Child Care to provide wheelchairs and prosthetic devices (Bulawayo 24).

 

Algeria

1,603 French-laid landmines were cleared from Algeria by the national army in May (Ennahar).

 

Libya

The current arms embargo imposed upon Libya includes restrictions on the import of non-lethal military hardware, such as mine detection equipment.  As the Libyan army advances against the Islamic State forces in the town of Sirte, IS-laid landmines are taking a heavy toll and the Libyan army has asked for the ban on mine detectors and similar items to be lifted (Libya Observer).

 

Michael P. Moore

July 27, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, December 2015

As we close out another year, there are reminders of how far mine action has come and of how much is left to be done.  We like to keep a “glass half-full” attitude, but admit some days that’s harder than others.  However, there are lots of good bits of news this month from Mozambique, South Africa and Senegal and elsewhere.

 

Mozambique

Once more with feeling: Mozambique is landmine-free.  Taking advantage of the annual Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, Mozambique confirmed its September announcement that all known anti-personnel landmines have been cleared from the country.  In addition 2015 was the first year in four decades in which not a single Mozambican was killed or injured by a landmine (All Africa).  However, other unexploded ordnance does remain in Mozambique and only now are the final steps being taken to clear the ammunition dump in Maputo that erupted in 2007 killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more.  APOPO, the Belgian charity that employs rats to detect landmines and other explosives is clearing the former dump and the government plans to turn the area into a park once all hazards have been removed (Treehugger).

 

Nigeria / Cameroon

We’re putting these two countries together as their current landmine issues arise from the concerted efforts against Boko Haram, an Islamist militia that is operating in the area where the borders of the countries come together.  A Boko Haram landmine was blamed for the deaths of two Cameroonian soldiers in the northern region of that country (All Africa).  In parts of northeastern Nigeria, landmines are threatening displaced persons who fled Boko Haram’s violence. According to sources, there have been “many” explosions as displaced persons return to their homes and try to plant crops.  In response, the Nigerian army is clearing mines, but is focusing on “schools, [health] clinics and roads” which leaves farmers in danger (All Africa).

 

Somalia / Kenya

The government launched a national plan, the “Badbaado Plan,” to address the explosive remnants of war and landmine contamination in the country.  The Plan will also help the country fulfill its clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  Currently, a HALO Trust implemented program on the border with Ethiopia and supported by the Government of Japan and the United Nations Mine Action Service is being held up as the model program to build the Plan around (All Africa).  The extent of contamination is great and due to the continuing conflict with Al Shabaab, is in constant flux.  Three landmines were cleared from the market in Bulo Burde town (Mareeg). Of course, Al Shabaab members are also often victims of their own explosives and five Al Shabaab fighters were apparently killed in southwestern Somalia by a landmine they were planting (Puntland Post).

In Kenya’s Lamu East sub-county, a Kenyan soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine blamed on Al Shabaab (Citizen TV).

 

Angola

Landmines were among the 395 explosives collected and destroyed from Uige by the National Demining Institute (All Africa). Another 200 explosive items were cleared by the newly-created national NGO, Terra Mae, from 121,000 square meters in Cunene Province (All Africa). In addition to the work of Terra Mae, the Angolan army cleared 341,000 square meters in Cunene Province in 2015.  Three landmine incidents were reported – with no mention of how many casualties – and almost 2,000 people participated in mine risk awareness sessions (All Africa).

Three high profile visitors to Angola, US Under Secretary of State, Rose Gottemoeller, and professional climbers Alex Honnold and Stacy Bare, helped to highlight the continuing landmine problem in the country (All Africa; Discovery).

 

Western Sahara

The annual meeting of mine action operators and stakeholders for Western Sahara was held at the UN mission in Tindouf.  Participants discussed ways to combat the threat of landmines from the 2,700 kilometer berm in the face of limited funding (All Africa).

 

South Africa

Much like in Mozambique above, a former munitions test site in the South African capitol Pretoria is to be re-developed.  The site, home to as many as 9,000 squatters, was the site of a World War II test site and munitions dump. Mechem, the South African demining firm associate with the national army, took responsibility for the clearance of the site and started with a visual inspection.  Mechem hired 20 individuals, provided them with training and then had them conduct a visual inspection of the site.  Those same individuals will be trained on demining procedures and be part of the team that allows the site to become a housing development (Defence Web).  The dangers from the estimated 10 tons of ordnance are well known; as recently as 2011 a father and his son were killed by a mortar detonated during a bonfire (All Africa).

 

Sudan

CNN profiled the trainer of mine detection dogs in Sudan, Dr. Muiz Ali Taha, and gave a nice description of how the dogs work.  Sudan’s mine contamination dates back to World War II and includes use in recent conflicts (CNN).

Geneva Call announced the destruction of the anti-personnel landmine stockpile held by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).  The SPLM-N signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment and has pledged not to use anti-personnel landmines in its conflict with the government of Sudan, currently raging in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.  One issue that the article does not address is the origin of the SPLM-N’s mines as both Sudan and South Sudan have declared that all stockpiled mines have been destroyed (Geneva Call).  It is possible that the SPLM-N’s stockpile is a remnant from long ago conflicts and as it was not in the control of the government, would not have been included in Sudan’s stockpile destruction.  But if that is the case, are there other such stockpiles in the country needing to be destroyed?

In Darfur, two men were killed while trying to collect firewood when their pack animal triggered an explosive device near Jebel Marra (Radio Dabanga).

 

South Sudan

The Japanese Ambassador to South Sudan visited an UNMAS project site, south of the capitol Juba, where UNMAS is using support from the Japanese government to clear minefields and raise awareness of the dangers of explosive devices.  Plans for the site, once clearance is complete, include agriculture and development (ReliefWeb).

 

Zimbabwe

Since the start of its program in November 2013, the HALO Trust has cleared 10,000 landmines from Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique.  While progress is excellent, roughly one kilometer of border is cleared of mines every month, HALO’s demining team would need to be increased to 600 from its current workforce of 150 if the entire border is to be cleared by 2025 (HALO Trust).

 

Mali

Mines Advisory Group has launched a mine risk education program in the Gao region of northern Mali with the support of the UN peacekeeping mission (Mikado Radio). In addition, the Mission facilitated the training of over 30 Malian security personnel on explosive risk and emergency first aid (MINUSMA).

 

Algeria

In 2015, Algerian authorities seized 123 landmines as part of the country’s ongoing efforts against terrorism (Global Post).  In addition, the country is facing a large smuggling and trafficking problem and two mines were seized along with substantial amounts of cannabis (All Africa).

 

Senegal

And to close out the year on some very good news, Handicap International has re-launched its landmine clearance program in Senegal’s Casamance region.  Though the program is starting small, HI expects to clear enough land to allow 60,000 Casamancais to live free of the fear of landmines (Handicap International).

 

Michael P. Moore

January 28, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, November 2015

Religion comes up surprisingly often in this blog about landmines.  This month’s news roundup includes several Islamist groups and mentions of two Popes.  I think this has more to do with the actors in the conflicts along the Sahel (and Pope Francis’s extraordinary visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic), than anything else, but I would like to hear others’ opinions.  We frequently attribute landmine use to Islamist groups in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and I often wonder if they get a disproportionate share of the blame.  Are some of the mine accidents attributed to these groups placed by non-Islamist groups or remnants from previous conflicts that had no specific religious ties?  If I knew, I would certainly attribute correctly.

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian Army claimed to have encountered many landmines left by Boko Haram as the Army cleared areas of northeastern Nigeria that had been held by the Islamist group.  The presence of landmines has been confirmed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the landmines have hindered the delivery of humanitarian assistance (All Africa). With the expulsion of Boko Haram, Nigerian legislators from the region have called upon the Nigerian Army to prioritize the clearance of landmines and other unexploded ordnance to allow displaced persons to return to their homes.  The legislators also sought assistance for victims of landmines (All Africa; Channels TV).

 

Uganda

The visit of Pope Francis to Uganda, part of a three-nation visit on the African continent, has led to reminiscences of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Uganda in 1993.  Included in John Paul II’s itinerary was Uganda’s western district of Kasese which in 1993 was contaminated with landmines remaining from the 1979 invasion by Tanzanian forces to oust Idi Amin (All Africa).  Fortunately, Uganda has cleared all of its known minefields so Pope Francis’s visit did not cause the concern that John Paul II’s had done.

 

Kenya

In Kenya, Pope Francis’s visit was preceded by a landmine blast in the northeast of the country, along the border with Somalia.  According to Kenyan media, five Kenyan soldiers were wounded by a landmine planted in the roadway during a patrol (Standard Media).  However, Al Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the blast, said at least eight Kenyan soldiers were killed in the attack (All Africa).  I’m not giving too much credibility to Al Shabaab’s claims, but think it is important to highlight that despite all of the efforts against the group, Al Shabaab continues to control significant portions of Somalia and in addition to its operation capacity, the group maintains a robust media function.  Defeating a group like Al Shabaab will require not just military measures, but also social actions to prevent the group from being able to communicate with its intended audience.  The inflation of casualties by Al Shabaab can be seen as an attempt to further show the group’s strength.

A child was injured by a piece of unexploded ordnance in Wamba.  The boy, a herder, wandered into an area in which British and Kenyan troops had been engaged in live-fire exercises.  After his injuries, the boy was evacuated to a regional referral hospital for surgery.  The evacuation was seen by some as an attempt to cover-up the injury, but the British Army commander has committed to cover all costs of care (All Africa).

 

Somalia

Mine action employees face a number of risks associated with their profession, most specifically from the mines that deminers clear.  In Senegal and Afghanistan, deminers have been kidnapped and held hostage and some have been killed.  However, Somalia poses its own threats.  A few years ago a mine risk educator was kidnapped and held by pirate factions until her rescue by US special forces.  This month, a United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) employee was killed in an apparent murder-for-hire scheme after the UNMAS employee got into an argument with the governor of Beledweyne region.  The governor and UNMAS employee were from different clans which may have complicated their relationship (Hiiraan Online, no link).

 

Mali

Four days after the assault on the Radisson hotel in the capital Bamako, a United Nations peacekeeper was killed near Timbuktu by a landmine planted in the road.  The peacekeeper was part of a convoy.  No word on any other injuries (Reuters).

 

Angola

750,000 square meters of land, contaminated by over 700 explosive remnants of war, including anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, has been cleared so far this year in Menongue, the capitol of Angola’s Kuando Kubango province.  The cleared land will be used to build houses for area residents (All Africa).

In Huila province, over a thousand kilometers of roads have been cleared in the last decade and over 127,000 explosive remnants of war were destroyed in the process. Also, nearly 2,000 persons with disabilities, including landmine survivors, benefited from social reintegration programs (All Africa).

 

Algeria

Between September and October, Algerian army engineering units cleared and destroyed more than 12,000 landmines dating back to the French colonial period.  In total, more than 800,000 mines have been cleared to date (All Africa; All Africa).

 

Egypt

The Sinai Peninsula continues to be flash point for an Islamist insurgency that arose after the military overthrew Mohamed Morsi’s government.  Near Arish, a group of Islamist gunmen attacked a family killing several members and when one member of the family rushed to the scene to try and help his relatives, he drove over a landmine, killing himself and a child (News 24). In Sheikh Zuwaid, two Bedouins, a mother and her child, were killed by a landmine supposedly planted to target Egyptian military forces (Al Bawaba).

 

Libya

The charges against Saadi Gaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, will likely include the distribution and use of landmines in defense of his father’s regime in 2011. Other charges include terrorism and the murder of the coach of Tripoli’s Al-Ittihad football club (Middle East Eye).  Dealing with those landmines is a priority for many organizations.  The Libyan Mine Action Center, with the support of UNMAS, will conduct an assessment of the Tawrgha neighborhood of Misrata and provide mine risk awareness to the residents (Relief Web).  In Benghazi, several Libyan soldiers were killed by landmines placed by Islamist groups as the soldiers advanced on positions in around the city (AFP).  And in Derna, three Islamic State members died when karma struck and they drove over a landmine placed other Islamic State members (Libya Observer).

 

Western Sahara

Serious flooding on both sides of the Moroccan-built berm in Western Sahara has likely displaced some of the millions of landmines that lie along the berm.  Plastic and other minimal-metal mines are prone to moving during floods and once the waters recede, mine action organizations will need to assess the likelihood that minefields have been disturbed (ICBL).

 

Sudan

Three children in North Darfur were killed by a grenade that they found and began to play with. Two other children were injured (Radio Dabanga). In the Jebel Marra region of Darfur, a man was killed and his wife maimed when the donkey he was riding on stepped on or kicked a piece of unexploded ordnance (Radio Dabanga).

 

Zimbabwe

To end on a piece of good news, Norwegian Peoples Aid announced that they have cleared their 1,000th landmine along Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique.  Hundreds of thousands of mines remain to be cleared by NPA is making good progress and looking to shift to new work sites (NPA).

 

Michael P. Moore

December 18, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 


The Month in Mines, July 2015

Mine action, including landmine clearance, victim assistance and information collection is an obligation of States that have signed the Mine Ban Treaty.  All too often, countries will ignore one or more of those obligations and this month is no different.  In Senegal, the government has dithered and almost willfully ignored its landmine clearance duties; in Uganda, the government, despite massive donations for reconstruction of the north after the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion, has ignored the basic needs of landmine survivors; and in Angola the government still lacks a precise understanding of its contamination despite a dozen years of data and information gathering.  Interestingly, efforts are underway in each of those countries to try and hold the governments accountable, whether by external actors, the landmine survivors themselves or the national agencies tasked with mine action.  Read on for a few silver linings.

Libya

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees warned about the dangers of landmines and explosive remnants of war, highlighting their threat to internally displaced persons, the number of whom has doubled since September (All Africa).  In Benghazi, two Libyan soldiers were killed and three others injured by a landmine as the official Libyan army battled elements of the Ansar al-Sharia group (World Bulletin).

Nigeria

Nigeria’s vice president, Yemi Osinbaio, visited the northwestern regions of the country affected by the conflict with Boko Haram.  Osinbaio pledged the government would “sweep off” the landmines laid by Boko Haram and demining would receive the “utmost priority” (All Africa).  Not long after Osinbaio’s visit, the army re-opened the road between the capital of Yobe state, Damaturu, and a major commercial centre in Borno state, Biu after clearing four artisanal landmines from the road (Daily Mail).

Kenya

Three people were killed and six more injured when a landmine exploded as a Kenyan police vehicle passed by. The blast, which occurred on the Lamu to Garissa road, was blamed on Al Shabaab and may have been triggered remotely (All Africa).

Angola

The government of Angola is committed to halving the poverty rate and has identified landmine clearance as a key enabler for boosting the agricultural sector (All Africa).  As part of this effort, the National Inter-sectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Aid (CNIDAH) is updating its database of mine-affected areas and areas that have already been cleared of mines.  Angola is half-way through a five-year strategic plan for landmine clearance and is seeking ways to strengthen that plan (All Africa).  To date, some 1.6 billion square meters of land and 619 kilometers of road in northern Angola has been cleared of landmines (All Africa) including 83 of 125 mine-affected areas in Cuanza Norte province (All Africa) and almost 100 kilometers of road in Lunda Sul province just this year (All Africa).

The US Army Research Office has been testing elephants’ ability to detect explosive residue by scent.  During Angola’s civil wars and immediately after, many elephants were injured by landmines, but in the years since, elephants have demonstrated an understanding of where the minefields are and are communicating to each other about where the mines are (NPR).

Egypt

In the Sinai peninsula, Egyptian soldiers were clearing landmines in and around the town of Rafah where Islamist rebels had laid booby traps and mines near the Sheikh Zuwaid police station (New York Times).  In response, the rebels launched an attack on the station and other military posts in the region using more mines and mortar shells (All Africa).  Official estimates of military and rebel casualties from the battles in Sinai are published by the government, but thousands of civilians have also been caught up in the conflict and an unknown number have been killed or injured by mines and other weapons (All Africa).

Sudan

The continuing conflict in southern Sudan has prevented landmine clearance and humanitarian assistance in the region.  The rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) has pledged to destroy its stocks of landmines in accordance with Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment (Sudan Tribune). To underscore the issue and the necessity for mine action in the region, five people were killed and 11 more injured when a truck struck a landmine in Sudan’s Blue Nile State (All Africa).

Uganda

A landmine survivors association in Northern Uganda has called upon the Ministry of Health and donor community to increase funding to the referral hospital in Gulu to strengthen the orthopedic department.  The hospital currently lacks the ability to manufacture or repair prosthetic devices for the more than 800 landmine survivors living in the vicinity (All Africa).  The poor quality of existing artificial limbs and the continuing negligence of the government towards landmine survivors and other persons with disability has led the survivors association to pursue legal action and a lawsuit against the government to demand better services and more accountability (Daily Monitor).

Namibia

The United States Navy is working with the Namibian Defence Force to increase Namibia’s capacity to clear explosive remnants of war.  Since 1995, the United States has support landmine clearance and EOD capacity building in Namibia and this month, the United States ambassador handed over $126,000 worth of materials to the Namibian Defence Force (All Africa).

Zimbabwe

Burma Valley, once a densely-mined region on Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique has now been cleared of all landmines by Norwegian Peoples Aid with support from the US and Norwegian governments. While Burma Valley represents only a small portion of the border minefields, it was seen as a priority clearance task due to the high volume of cross-border traffic that passed through the area (News Day).

Senegal

Thousands of landmines remain in Senegal’s Casamance region and while landmine clearance could be completed in six months, the government of Senegal lacks the political will to do so.  Many of the mines in the Casamance were not planted by the rebels as had previously been thought; instead most of the mines were laid by the Senegalese army around military outposts.  The national mine action authority, CNAMS, has been one of the biggest obstructions to mine clearance, preventing humanitarian demining organizations, like Norwegian Peoples Aid from contacting either the army or the rebels to try and determine the location of known minefields.  After a dozen Mechem deminers were kidnapped by one of the rebel factions, CNAMS halted all mine clearance work, except for the re-survey of a road construction project that had already been certified as landmine-free.  In frustration, Norwegian Peoples Aid, one of the leading demining organizations in the world, withdrew from Senegal which prompted the European Union to halt future funding of landmine clearance in Senegal (IRIN News).

South Sudan

Local rhythm and blues favorites, the Jay Family, have agreed to record a song about the dangers of landmines in South Sudan as part of the mine risk education programs of the United Nations and Danish Church Aid (Corporate Weekly).  As part of the victim assistance programming in the country, UNMAS and Handicap International hosted a training on bicycle and small motor repair for landmine survivors through the Yei Vocational Training Centre.  Trainees who developed promising business plans also received some start-up capital (Relief Web).

Mali

Cambodia has contributed a demining team to the United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, in northern Mali. The team conducts landmine clearance of known and suspected hazardous areas and is responsible for clearing suspicious items found on the roadways of the region.  Since its inception, MINUSMA has been targeted many times with landmines deliberately placed in the paths of convoys (MINUSMA).  One such attack occurred near the town of Kidal, injuring several French soldiers (Lignes Defense).

Tunisia

Three Tunisian soldiers were wounded by a landmine in the Kasserine region on the border with Algeria.  This region has seen many similar landmine explosions over the last couple of years (All Africa).

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

August 29, 2015


The Month in Mines, May 2015

Nigeria’s campaign against Boko Haram continues this month and with it numerous stories accusing the Islamists of landmine use.  The fighting in Mali and Somalia also continues with reports of injuries and usage by rebel groups.  In more positive news, Mozambique continues its progress towards mine-free status and Zambia’s president personally acquainted himself with the situation faced by survivors.  And in a classic piece of bad news / good news, Egypt announced new support for mine clearance in the northwestern deserts while also announcing new use by its army in the Sinai peninsula.

Nigeria

Let’s start with the following premise: I do not trust Nigeria’s military spokesman, Maj Gen Chris Olukolade.  Olukolade’s official pronouncements dismiss Boko Haram’s fighting prowess and consistent accuse them of human rights violations.  Yes, Boko Haram are awful and have committed many abuses, but if they are so bad and so weak, why has it taken so long for the Nigerian government to move against them and why are Chadian, Nigerien and Cameroonian soldiers needed to assist Nigeria’s troops, both the formal army and the informal vigilante groups?  As such, I’ve paid more attention to articles and reports that cite other sources when it comes to landmine use in northeastern Nigeria and the neighboring countries.

The Sambisa forest campaign stalled early in the month when three members of the local vigilante force were killed by a landmine.  After the blast, all Nigerian forces withdrew in advance of a more coordinated assault that would include Chadian forces (All Africa).  With the assault underway, allied forces were able to liberate many of the women and girls who had been captured by Boko Haram.  Unfortunately, the logistics of that liberation failed several of the women as some were crushed by military vehicles and three were killed by a landmine as they walked out of Sambisa and as many as 15 others were injured by mines (All Africa; New York Daily News).  As the offensive in Sambisa continued, a Nigerian soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine (All Africa).  Meanwhile, in Cameroon, villagers spotted Boko Haram members plant homemade landmines in the roadways (Cam-Pedia).

Libya

Mines placed near the New Dawn School in Sirte, Libya were cleared by the 166 battalion (Al Wasat) and in Benghazi, mines were cleared from a local chocolate factory (Al Wasat).  In Derna, one of the front lines in a war that whose actors continues to increase, two landmine blasts killed four people.  Two civilians triggered the initial explosion and then two soldiers triggered the second when they investigated the initial blast (KUNA).

Zimbabwe

In Mukumbura, the HALO Trust and government of Japan celebrated the conclusion of the mine clearance project in Mashonaland Central Province.  The project cleared a thousand landmines from 180,000 square meters and will allow free movement across the border with Zimbabwe and increased agricultural production (HALO Trust; News Day).

Sudan

The government of Sudan declared itself short of financial resources and announced that US $91 million would be needed to clear all of the landmines that remain in the country (KUNA).

Zambia

President Edgar Lungu announced that his government was developing a strategic plan to assist landmine survivors in the country.  As part of that effort, Lungu called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to conduct a survey of survivors to identify those who might be supported by the plan (ZNBC).  These remarks were made during Lungu’s visit to Ikeleng’I where he met many survivors and talked with them about their needs.  Lungu re-affirmed that all known landmines have been cleared in Zambia, but also noted that other explosive remnants of war may remain from areas used by various liberation forces during their wars against the colonial powers of Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  Assistance for survivors will include prosthetics and income-generating activities (Daily Mail).

Angola

Since 2002, Angola has cleared and destroyed over 400,000 anti-personnel landmines and nearly 200,000 anti-tank landmines and over 3 million other explosive remnants of war (All Africa).  In Bie Province, almost 10,000 mines have been cleared over that period, 80% of which were anti-personnel mines (All Africa).  Near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Norwegian Peoples Aid has cleared 43,000 square meters of land in Zaire province and another 450,000 meters are expected to be cleared by the end of the year (All Africa).  In southern Cunene province, the National Demining Institute destroyed over a thousand pieces of unexploded ordnance including landmines (All Africa).  Mine clearance in Huambo province has doubled in in 2015 from the pace seen in 2014 as over 81,000 square meters have been cleared since January compared to less than 39,000 over the same period in 2014 (All Africa).

To support its demining efforts, Angola trained 23 individuals to serve as quality management / quality assurance experts (All Africa).

Also in Angola, an expedition funded by the National Geographic Society launched to map and explore the headwaters of the Okavango River, the main river in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.  The Cuito river which feeds into the Okavango lies in southeastern Angola’s minefields which are only just being cleared.  However, as expedition leader Steve Boyes noted, as the HALO Trust clears land, Angolans used the newly cleared land for cassava cultivation which can damage the rivers’ ecology.  So while the landmines delayed development, there is now an urgency to put in place land use regulations and practices that would preserve the Okavango Delta (National Geographic).

Somalia

A long time ago, I read a piece entitled, “Not everything that goes boom is a landmine.”  In Somalia this month several explosions were blamed on “landmines” but in reading the reports, I believe the explosives used were not mines.

Tunisia

A landmine exploded as a cattle herd entered a minefield in Kef, on the border with Algeria, where Tunisia has been battling Islamist militants. No injuries were reported and Tunisia troops helped the shepherd and his herd out of the minefield (All Africa).

Namibia

Over the last 15 years, over 300 people have been killed or injured by landmines from the country’s Apartheid era, most in the Kvango region near the Angolan border.  In April two people were killed and two more injured by an explosive device.  In response, the national police have launched a mine awareness campaign (Namibian Sun).  The Namibian Defence Force also took part in an explosive ordnance disposal training hosted by the United States Navy (All Africa).

Kenya

In Yumbis near the Somalia border, Al Shabaab forces staged an ambush using a landmine which injured four police officers and when other officers responded, a gun battle broke out.  Al Shabaab greatly exaggerated the impact of the assault claiming to have killed dozens of police, but none of the police were killed in the initial attacks (All Africa).  Within a couple of days, two of the officers injured in the mine blast succumbed to their injuries (Citizen News).

Mali

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is the deadliest current operation with 35 peacekeepers killed since the start of the mission in 2013, 15 of whom were killed by mines (Vice News).  Responding to the attacks in northern Mali, the US State Department updated its travel warning to include reports on landmines and other dangers (State Department).  Those attacks continued in May: two peacekeepers were injured by a landmine in the Mopti region (MINUSMA) and three more were wounded by a mine on the Teherdge – Timbuktu road (Vice News).  Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the second attack (News 24).

Mozambique

The government of Japan donated demining equipment to help build residual explosive detection capacity in the country’s police force.  Once Mozambique declares itself mine-free later this year, the country will no longer need international mine action operators for mine clearance, but other explosive remnants of war may remain in the country so the ability of the police to respond to reports will be welcome (All Africa).

South Sudan

The government of South Sudan accused rebels loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar of using landmines to prevent the army from attacking Machar’s home town of Leer (The Insider).  South Sudan’s regional mine risk officer reported at least five landmine incidents in Central, Eastern and Western Equatoria States (Radio Easter).

Guinea-Bissau

The US State Department issued a new travel warning for Guinea-Bissau describing “thousands of landmines” across the country, highlighting the risk in rural areas north of Bissau (State Department).  Guinea-Bissau has declared itself free of anti-personnel landmines so these mines could be anti-tank mines.

Algeria

3,000 landmines, 90% anti-personnel, were cleared from Algeria’s borders in April. These mines date back to the liberation war with the French (APS).

Western Sahara

A family traveling near the city of Smara struck a landmine killing the mother and injuring the father and two children.  The father and son were sent to one hospital, the daughter another for their treatment (Adala UK).

Egypt

The government of Egypt, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced millions of dollars in new money to support clearance of the 17 million landmines that pollute Egypt’s northwestern desert, site of the World War II battle of El Alamein.  Since 1982, those mines have killed or injured more than 8,000 people and hinder all development of the region.  The clearance and investment will save lives and enable the construction of thousands of houses to reduce over-crowding in Cairo (Daily News Egypt).  Already the government has cleared 95 thousand acres of the El Alamein battlefield (Egypt Independent) and the government is procuring equipment to clear additional mines.  With these investments, Egypt could complete its landmine clearance in the northwestern desert in three years (All Africa).  Egyptian military sources also released a report documenting arms and explosives, including landmines, seized from militant rebels (Defense Ministry) and blamed the death of four Bedouins in Sinai province from an anti-tank landmine on those same militants (Washington Post).  And yet, in almost the same breath, the Egyptian army announced a new plan to “entrap” militants in Sinai using newly laid landmines around military checkpoints.  The plan has already claimed the lives of two militants who tried to attack a post in Sheikh Zuwayed city (Cairo Post).  Donors to Egypt’s demining activities should take a strong stance against any new mine usage in Egypt before they are asked to help clear those mines too.

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

June 14, 2015


The Month in Mines, December 2014

2014 had many high points and low points in the world of mine action.  Among the highs were the pledge by States Parties at the Third Review Conference to complete landmine clearance by 2025, the US announcements that it will no longer procure anti-personnel landmines and restrict use of existing mines to the Korean Peninsula, and the record low number of recorded casualties.  Some low points included the new use of landmines in the Libyan civil war, the decline in funding for mine action and the continuing obstacles faced by landmine survivors.  On the whole, the positive progress continues and there is hope as we move into a new year.  Before we close the door on 2014, let’s review what happened in December:

 

Angola

Two stories this month, including one by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) administrator, Helen Clark, provide a lot of context to the landmine situation in Angola.  Clark’s piece details the history of landmine use and mine action in the country describing the scale of landmines’ impact in the country, the number of casualties and the efforts to reduce the risk through mine-risk education and clearance.  The second article describes the competition between the United States and China for access to Angola’s markets and petroleum reserves, noting how the US’s support for demining is part of America’s investment in the country.  The article also reference’s the US’s past support for the rebel movement UNITA which was responsible for much of the landmine use in the country, many of which UNITA received from the United States (World Folio; World Folio).

As Helen Clark mentions, Angola is one of the most heavily mine-affected countries and the news from Angola in December shows the steady progress in the country towards changing that title.  Almost 600 explosive devices, including landmines were cleared from 50 kilometers of road in Bie Province (All Africa; All Africa), while some 9,000 residents of the province participated in mine-risk awareness sessions (All Africa).  200 hectares of Kwanza Norte (All Africa) and 1.4 million square meters of Cunene province were cleared of mines (All Africa); 10 kilometers of roads in Cabinda province were cleared (All Africa); and 900 explosive devices were cleared in Zaire province (All Africa).  This clearance work will increase agricultural outputs in affected areas (All Africa) and means that landmines and other explosive remnants of war are no longer the leading cause of disability, road accidents are.  The Health Minister, José Van-Dúnem, opened a new rehabilitation centre in Luanda, and said “there is a gigantic effort in demining so that landmines stop being a problem and we can just focus on the need to support those who got some disability due to the war” (All Africa) which suggests that survivor assistance has not received the same prioritization as landmine clearance historically, but as more and more mines are cleared, the needs of survivors will be addressed.

 

Mozambique

Like Angola, Mozambique is polluted by landmines from its liberation war with Portugal and then a long civil war after independence.  Since the end of the civil war in 1992, Mozambique has been steadily clearing the landmines and this month, Tete province on the Zimbabwean border was declared landmine-free, the eighth province to be cleared of mines.  Tete had been the most mined province in the country with 85% of all landmines in Mozambique in Tete.  Only five districts (out of 128 nationwide) in two provinces are still suspected of having landmines and the National Demining Institute anticipates all of Mozambique will be landmine-free by April 1, 2015 (All Africa).  Two challenges will remain for Mozambique after the last mine is cleared.  Thousands of Mozambicans have been disabled by landmines and many, including former soldiers, receive little or no support from the country despite the government’s obligations to its citizens (Al Jazeera).  The other challenge will be to find employment for the hundreds of deminers who have been working to free their country of landmines.  Some 200 deminers (out of 1,000 in total) are women, including former liberation war soldiers (like former Mozambican First Lady, Graca Machel), who have few employment alternatives once the demining is complete.  Demining is skilled labor and the humanitarian demining organizations have invested a tremendous about of time training and educating the demining teams and while some have received job re-training, more will need job placement assistance very soon.

 

Somalia

Three children from a shepherding family were killed and their mother injured by a landmine south of Burao in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland.  The mine, detonated by one of the family’s animals, was likely a remnant of Somalia’s civil wars of the 1990s (Somaliland Sun).

From the ongoing campaign to eliminate Al Shabaab, a number of attacks occurred as part of the asymmetrical tactics adopted by the Islamist group.  In the other semi-autonomous region of Puntland, three soldiers were killed and another four injured, two critically, by a landmine as Puntland forces drove Al Shabaab from its stronghold in the Gal-gala mountains (Somali Current). Elsewhere, landmine attacks targeted government forces in Barawe injuring five (Radio Goobjoog, no link), the Deputy Governor of Mudug region and his bodyguard were injured by a mine in Galkayo (Sabahi), and in Kismayo an unknown number of casualties were caused by a mine targeting Jubbaland forces (Kobciye).

 

Sudan

In Sudan an estimate 50,000 people have been disabled by conflict, many due to bombings and landmines, and prosthetic services are not always available where the amputees live.  In South Kordofan state, where the conflict between the government of Sudan and rebel forces is ongoing, there is only one fully functioning hospital, Mother of Mercy, and prosthetic services are provided by Ugandan doctors who travel to the hospital to take measurements and then produce the artificial limbs back in Uganda.  The Ugandan doctors then bring the prosthetics to Sudan for final fittings (Voice of America).

 

Mali

Peacekeepers with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) suffered two landmine incidents.  Both occurred near the MINUSMA base in Aguelhok in northern Mali and injured Chadian peacekeepers; three peacekeepers were injured in each incident.  Two men, found in possession of small arms and landmines, were arrested after the second incident (MINUSMA; MINUSMA).

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been active in the MINUSMA mission and provided mine-risk awareness sessions for the residents of Gao.  The awareness sessions focused on drivers who transport goods in and around northern Mali (MINUSMA).

 

Kenya

Kenyan security forces arrested two men, accusing them of trying to plant bombs in the road in Mandera town near the Dadaab refugee camps on the border with Somalia (Sabahi).

 

Algeria

Algeria’s mine action center and armed forces continue to clear the French-laid landmines from the eastern and western borders of the country.  In November almost 3,500 mines were cleared (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

Boko Haram in Nigeria is the worst conflict that no one is doing anything about.  According to a report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) Project, Nigeria is the second deadliest (Somalia is the most) conflict from explosives in Africa in 2014 (ACLED). Thousands of people have been killed, a mini-caliphate in northeastern Nigeria declared, hundreds of girls abducted.  Nothing. Next month Nigeria will hold presidential elections and neither the incumbent seeking re-election, Goodluck Jonathan, or his opponent seem willing to address this crisis.  Instead we hear the occasional report of an atrocity or receive a video from Boko Haram’s leader making threats against the government and the West.  Certainly Boko Haram is well armed (and this report from the Leadership newspaper suggests that Boko Haram are using landmines to defend their territory and has been in possession of heavy weaponry) and has established a very secure stronghold in near the Cameroonian border, but the Nigerian government and military has allowed this Islamist group to fester and consolidate power.  Probably a multi-national effort, including Cameroon and Chad which also borders on Boko Haram’s self-declared caliphate, will be needed to dislodge this threat.  The question is: when will the Nigerian government have the will to do so?

 

Zambia

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its travel advice for Zambia, removing any mention of landmines and instead referred to explosive remnants of war.  This reflects the fact that Zambia has cleared all known landmines from its territory in compliance with the Mine Ban Treaty but some risk from unexploded ordnance might remain along Zambia’s borders with Angola, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

 

South Sudan

Mine action teams have been active in South Sudan clearing roads and suspected hazardous areas in Unity, Upper Nile and Lakes States.  Four landmines were cleared from a community just west of the capital, Juba but insecurity in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States prevents a full mobilization (Relief Web).

 

Tunisia

One soldier was killed and another injured by a landmine in the Kasserine region near the Algerian border.  Islamists hiding out in the Kasserine mountains were blamed for the mine’s placement (Global Post).

 

Western Sahara

There is renewed concern that the conflict between the Sahrawi people and Morocco over the Western Sahara territory could restart after nearly 25 years.  In 1991, a ceasefire was brokered by the United Nations, one of the conditions of which was a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, the Sahrawi.  Morocco has not allowed the referendum to take place for fear that the Sahrawis will confirm their desire for independence.  Instead, Morocco has occupied the region and divided it with a wall, over a thousand kilometers long with millions of landmines to prevent Sahrawi refugees from returning to their homes from the camps in Algeria. Today, more than half the population of the camps are youths, born since the 1991 ceasefire and a growing number of these young men and women are willing to fight for their independence, rather than continue to wait for the referendum (Washington Post).

The leadership of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the nominal government-in-exile of the Sahrawi people in the Algerian camps is not reflective of its population. Mohamed Abdelaziz, SADR’s president, has been in power since 1976 and is the second-longest serving head of state (second only to Cameroon’s Paul Biya) and the only four men have served as prime minister of SADR during Abdelaziz’s rule, the latest in the post since 2003.  In any other country, this situation would be viewed as a dictatorship and the willingness to return to conflict with Morocco may reflect not only the sincere desire of the refugees to return to their homeland, but also disaffection with their long-serving leaders.

Michael P. Moore

January 13, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org