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).

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The Month in Mines, August 2017

Twenty years ago this month, the world lost one of the most public opponents of landmines, Princess Diana.  While she is often credited with helping to bring about the global ban on anti-personnel landmines, the efforts that led to the Mine Ban Treaty started long before Princess Diana’s walk through an Angolan minefield or her meetings with Bosnian survivors.  What Diana’s involvement did do was ensure that the world was paying attention to the issue and when she died a couple of weeks before the international community met to vote on accepting or rejecting the Mine Ban Treaty, Diana’s memory loomed large over the proceedings.  Her “ghost” almost certainly helped to get the majority of the world’s nations to ban anti-personnel landmines, an effort that was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize shortly thereafter.

Since Diana’s death there have been other champions, perhaps the most famous being Paul Macartney and Heather Mills in the early 2000s and Princess Diana’s own son, Prince Harry.  As we look through this month’s news stories, we should also note that the lives of champions are not the ones most affected by mines; those are the unnamed thousands and millions of people living in mine-affected countries and regions.  The ones whose stories we often only learn about when they are cut short by these cruel devices.

As for this month’s round-up: Late again, I know.

 

Libya

Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Minister, pledged additional support to Libya’s reconstruction, including £3 million to clear landmines and other explosives from the recently-liberated city of Sirte and £1 million for demining training across the country (Daily Mail).  The need for such training is acute in Benghazi where months of clearance work has yet to fully remove all of the mines from the city.  One activist estimates that four or five civilians are killed or injured every day by mines and other explosive remnants of war in Benghazi (Libya Herald).  In more positive news in Benghazi, the port has been re-opened after landmines were cleared which had been blocking access (Arab 24).

 

Nigeria

The United States government has donated several landmine detectors and protective suits to the Nigerian army for use in the northeastern region of the country where Boko Haram has laid many mines (TVC News).

Of course, the Boko Haram conflict is not the only one in Nigeria’s past.  Just this month some 17,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) dating back to the Biafra war of the 1960s which had been cleared and stockpiled by Demining Concept Nigeria are now under the control of the Nigerian army.  The explosives were being stored in a densely populated part of the capitol of Imo State, posing a risk to the local population.  Another 44,000 bombs and UXO are believed to be polluting the city (Ripples Nigeria).

 

Angola

In Angola’s Cunene province, the national mine action authority, CNIDAH, is carrying out a mine risk awareness campaign in local schools and markets. So far, only 45 of Cunene’s 143 known minefields have been cleared (All Africa, News Ghana).

An estimated $275 million is needed to finish clearance of all known minefields in Angola.  Current funding is less than 20% of that amount and clearance of the minefields at Cuito Cuanavale, “the most-mined town in Africa,” has been halted due to lack of funds.  Twenty years after Diana’s visit, her memory can still generate a lot of column inches, but it might not achieve a landmine-free Angola (CNET; bonus points to CNET for quoting yours truly).

 

Zimbabwe

One person was injured when the road grader he was using struck an anti-tank landmine in Chiwetu area of Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe Daily).

The Zimbabwean army continues to clear mines laid by the Rhodesian regime during the liberation war.  To raise awareness about the work, the army hosts an annual gala with music in the mine-affected region and provides artificial limbs to survivors (The Herald). The awareness efforts are needed because, despite progress by the army, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid, 18 people have been killed by landmines since 2012, including some who are looking for the hoax substance, Red Mercury (The Herald).

 

Mali

The International Committee of the Red Cross trained 50 Malian doctors on war and trauma surgery, enabling them to treat landmine victims (ReliefWeb).

 

Kenya

Three civilians were killed by a landmine attributed to the Somalia rebel group, Al Shabaab, in northeastern Kenya.  Most of the explosives used by Al Shabaab are remote controlled, but this particular blast appeared to be activated when the mine was struck by their Landcruiser (Prensa Latina). A second, similar incident occurred injuring two people when their truck struck a mine in Lamu, Kenya (The Nation).

 

Sudan

A camel herder in north Darfur was killed along with two of his camels while his animals were grazing and one detonated a piece of UXO (Radio Dabanga) and in central Darfur, a 12 year-old boy was seriously injured when the UXO he was playing with exploded (Radio Dabanga).

 

Namibia

Some 30 pieces of abandoned ordnance were discovered in the Zambezi region dating back to the South African occupation of the country during the Apartheid era.  The local police have started the process to destroy the items (New Era).

 

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

October 12, 2017

 


The Month in Mines, July 2017

The Convention on Cluster Munitions gets a boost this month in advance of the anniversary of the Convention on August 1st.  Two West African countries, Benin and The Gambia, ratified and made progress towards ratification, respectively.  We also see disturbing news from Libya about the sheer scale of contamination there, but also recognition and support from the international community.  So, another glass half-full month.

 

South Sudan

Some 4 million landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been cleared from South Sudan, but thousands more remain and new minefields are still being discovered.  The conflict in South Sudan that began in December 2013 has hindered but not halted clearance operations. Today, 400 to 500 deminers, including many women, continue to work towards a mine-free South Sudan (All Africa).

 

The Gambia

The West Africa Network of Peacebuilding (WANEP), a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, called on the new government of the country to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  The Gambia is one of 17 countries to have signed the Convention but not yet ratify (All Africa).

 

Libya

Landmine explosions were heard in the Akhribish and Sabri areas of Benghazi as Operation Dignity forces loyal to General Haftar moved to consolidate their control over the city (Libya Observer). The engineering divisions of Operation Dignity continued to clear landmines and booby traps left by Islamic State fighters from Benghazi, but also warned civilians from attempting to return to their homes before clearance work was finished (Al Wasat). Despite the efforts of the engineers, two special forces soldiers were killed and three more wounded by a landmine near the Hotel Al Nuran in the Sabri neighborhood.  A number of other mines and explosive devices were also found in the vicinity (Al Wasat). In total, 21 soldiers were killed by landmines and an unknown number injured in the Sabri neighborhood (Libya Herald).  The engineering units have also been decimated by landmines with at least 43 killed and 27 injured by landmines.  Another 19 civilians have been also been killed or injured in Benghazi (Xinhua), six just in Sabri (Al Wasat). Others have estimated that five civilians are killed or injured by landmines every day in Benghazi (Libya Herald). Libyans are not the only ones falling victim to mines in Benghazi. At least one Egyptian citizen was also injured (Libya Herald).

In Derna, two Libyan soldiers were killed by landmine (Al Wasat).

In Sirte, Operation Dignity forces have finished the demining of the main roads near the coastline allowing the re-opening of the beaches (Libya Observer). Over one and a half tons of landmines and abandoned ordnance was cleared and destroyed from Sirte (Libya Observer).

To improve capacity in Libya, the British government, through its Tripoli Embassy, is suppoting demining training for Libyan military engineers (Libya Observer).  Representatives of the Libyan Mine Action Centre (LibMAC) have partnered with the United Nations Mine Action Services (UNMAS) and Handicap International to identify gaps in victim assistance (there are many) and create action plans to address them (UN Mission in Libya).

 

Somalia

A minibus struck a landmine about 30 kilometers north of Mogadishu, killing two passengers and injuring 5 others (Xinhua).

In the Puntland region, two deminers were killed trying to defuse mines attributed to Al Shabaab (Horn Observer).

In the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland an eleven year-old boy from Las Anod town was killed by a landmine while he and other children were playing on the edges of the town (Somaliland Sun). A few days later, a second mine detonated in Las Anod killing one more and injuring 19 others (Somaliland Sun).

 

Algeria

The Algerian National Police reported the seizure of 121 landmines in addition to other explosive devices and ammunition (Middle East Monitor).

 

Angola

The recent National Geographic expeditions and efforts by international conservation groups like Panthera confirm that much of the southeastern reaches of Angola are prime for conservation activities.  With many endemic and endangered species, the need is great in this part of the country that was the site of much of the conflict during Angola’s civil wars.  It is also a region where landmine clearance is taking place and the irony is that the presence of landmines, along with the remoteness of the region, have helped to prevent development and exploitation of the region’s natural resources.  As the minefields are clear and as the Angolan government seeks to develop its tourism sector, conservation and preservation becomes a priority (Phys.Org).

At a national conference on mine action in Angola, the British ambassador to Angola reconfirmed his government’s support for a landmine-free Huambo province and announced contributions from the British and Japanese governments to support the efforts of the HALO Trust (Read Tru Africa).

In Cunene Province, over a decade of landmine clearance has resulted in the destruction of over a thousand landmines and 218,000 other ERW.  In addition, nearly 100,000 residents have been educated on the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance (All Africa).

 

Uganda

Women with disabilities in northwestern Uganda, including many landmine survivors, have organized to call attention to their land tenure rights and to call out the speculators who are trying to usurp those rights (Sunrise).

 

Benin

Benin ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, noting that the country has never possessed or used these weapons (The Monitor).

 

Mali

One child was killed and two others wounded when they picked up a piece of unexploded ordnance in the Konna area and began playing with it.  The explosive, likely from the French assaults against Islamic State forces in 2013, detonated.  The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) works with the national army to raise awareness of the dangers of ERW, but clearance has been limited and none carried out in Konna (Mussoya).

Also in July a MINUSMA cargo truck struck a mine on the Ansongo-Menaka road injuring at least four persons (Studio Tamani).

 

Sudan

A Darfuri teen from a camp for the internally displaced was put into a coma by the blast of a piece of unexploded ordnance after he picked it up and began to play with it.  The teenager also lost several fingers and sustained facial injuries (Radio Dabanga).

 

Zimbabwe

37 years after Zimbabwe gained its independence, liberation war era landmines are still being cleared. The Zimbabwe National Army estimates that US $1 million is required to clear one square kilometer of land from mines and other ERW and while the government provides some support, more is needed (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company).

 

Michael P. Moore

September 3, 2017

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


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

 

 


Big Winner in the Trump Budget? ISIS.

At an event hosted by the United States Institute of Peace and the HALO Trust earlier this month, a State Department official, Jerry Guilbert, told the audience that the Trump Administration’s foreign policy priority is defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) and that the focus of US support for mine action would be clearance of land liberated from ISIS.  Guilbert mentioned increase support for clearance in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen and repeated that mine action funding would advance national security and foreign policy interests.  The release of the Trump Administration’s budget confirms this shift in resources.

On the surface, the allocation for mine action under the Trump Administration is increased by 6% over the last confirmed Obama budget, from $185 million to $196.9 million.  But the distribution of the budget is very different and reflects the “America First” mandate as described by the State Department.

Region  FY16 Actual
(in thousands)
 FY18 Request
(in thousands)
% Change
Africa  $                 12,600  $                 13,000 3%
East Asia & Pacific  $                 41,085  $                 23,000 -44%
Europe & Eurasia  $                   8,530  $                 10,000 17%
Near East  $                 30,900  $                 88,900 188%
South & Central Asia  $                 25,090  $                 24,000 -4%
Western Hemisphere  $                   3,500  $                 20,000 471%
Discretionary  $                 45,874 $                           0 -100%
Management  $                 17,421  $                18,000 3%
Totals  $              185,000  $              196,900 6%

Whereas the Obama administration focused on Cold War legacies and matching resources to the needs, the Trump Administration is focused on ISIS-affected countries and current threats.  The US Ambassador to Cambodia had given a hint of this change in focus in an interview in Phnom Penh a couple of weeks ago and the proof is here.  Mine action support in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) is basically halved, dramatically reducing Obama’s recent commitment to clearance in Laos.  At the same time, support for mine action in Iraq and Syria increases 350% from $23 million to $81.5 million.  Guilbert had mentioned additional support for Libya and Yemen, but funding for Yemen is flat (well, the Trump Administration did just promise $100 billion in new Saudi armaments to continue the war there, so it’s probably a net negative) and funds for Libya are reduced from $2.5 million to $1 million.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the funding appears to be flat ($12.6 million to $13 million), but again the allocation changes greatly.  Support for mine action in Angola is cut by more than half and Senegal would receive no support because neither country figures into conversations of national security or fighting Islamist terror groups.  Those funds are re-allocated to other countries. A positive is to see Chad get a $1 million allocation as is the quadrupling of funds for the Democratic Republic of Congo (form $500K to $2 million).  Countries of the Sahel affected by Al Qaeda also had flat (Somalia) or increased funds (Mali, Mauritania, Niger).  Nigeria, despite the presence of Boko Haram, receives nothing, so clearly all Islamists are no equal in how they figure into the Trump Administration’s prioritization scheme.

Also, spare a thought for the Vulnerable Populations Funds, like the Leahy War Victims Fund which was one of the first sources of landmine victim assistance support.  In the Trump Administration budget, the Special Populations Funds are eliminated and replaced with this:

DISABILITY PROGRAMS SEC. 7047. (a) ASSISTANCE.—Funds appropriated by this Act under the heading “Economic Support and Development Fund” may be made available for programs and activities administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to address the needs and protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities in developing countries.

The Trump Administration’s budget for mine action reflects its singular foreign policy priority: ISIS.  For Syria and Iraq, this is good news (or at least the parts of Iraq liberated from ISIS; the rest of Iraq may not benefit.  And it is unclear how mine clearance will be handled in Syria since the US does not have the ability to operate there in any significant manner), for the rest of the world not so much.  By allocating the budget according to foreign policy priorities and not humanitarian needs, the Trump Administration has dealt as serious blow to the vision of a landmine free world in 2025.

Michael P. Moore

May 24, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 


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

 


Trump Administration proposes 10% reduction in Mine Action support

Today is the International Day for Mine Action and Awareness.  From Great Britain, we are looking forward to new commitments to the the goal of a landmine-free world by 2025, but in the United States, the proposed budget from the Trump Administration threatens that goal.

The Trump Administration’s FY18 budget includes a nearly US $3 billion cut in State Department funding (Politico).  That includes a 10% reduction in the line for Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism and Demining Programs, from $505 million in FY17 to $451 million in FY18:

Capture

According to the Administration, this reduction will have “minimal impact” upon programming.  Well, what would “minimal impact” look like?  Let me paint one scenario.

According to the State Department’s 2016 report on mine action, “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” the State Department invested $154.6 million in landmine clearance and risk education activities across dozens of countries.  However, $63.2 million went to just five countries (Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Laos and Syria).    If we assume that the commitments for these five countries will remain unchanged (because the Obama Administration made landmine clearance a priority for Colombia and Laos; and the Trump Administration’s rhetoric suggests that Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will remain priority areas as part of the fight against Islamic State), the 10% cut, or $15.5 million, will be made across the rest of the portfolio.  Support for African countries (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe) totaled only $13.5 million and any reduction there, especially with emerging needs for mine action support in Mali and Nigeria, could hamper clearance efforts.

Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, spoke of the importance of landmine clearance in Iraq as a means of helping people return to their homes after the ouster of the Islamic State from Mosul (State Department). Mine action has been used as a soft power tool; peacebuilding efforts in Burma, Colombia and Senegal have benefited from US commitments to mine action.  The US support for landmine and UXO clearance in Southeast Asia has helped heal some of the wounds from the US involvement in the wars of Vietnam and Cambodia. But the current Administration values “hard power” in the form of the military over soft power efforts like mine action, despite Tillerson’s remarks.

Cutting mine action funding would be short-sighted and leave many thousands of people exposed to the threat of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  At a time when other countries and actors are re-affirming the pledge to a mine-free world by 2025, the US should improve upon its past investments, not reduce them.

Michael P. Moore

April 4, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org