The Month in Mines, February 2014

Unfortunately, the shortest month of the year did not bring less news about landmines on the Continent.  In addition to the stories below, there has been a renewed push for the United States to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty with a symposium in Washington, DC at which the Mozambican Ambassador to the United States, Her Excellency Amélia Matos Sumbana, invited the United States to join the Mine Ban Treaty and send an official representative to the Third Review Conference in Maputo in June.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Congolese militia leader, Bosco Ntaganda, appeared in the International Criminal Court at The Hague for an evidentiary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to prosecute him for war crimes committed in Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Ntaganda, popularly known as “the Terminator” and associated with the M23 militia recently defeated in DRC, faces 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity.  While the official charges include rape, murder and recruitment of child soldiers, the ICC prosecutors included Ntaganda’s use of landmines as evidence of his attacks on civilians.  Militias under Ntaganda’s command would place landmines in villages rendering those places unsafe for return after looting (All Africa).

In February, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and National Mine Action Centre of DRC announced the completion and results of the national landmine contamination survey.  The survey identified 130 suspected minefields in eight of DRC’s 11 provinces; the total contaminated area is equivalent to 250 football fields which makes the scale of contamination relatively small.  However, almost all of the minefields block access to agricultural lands, depriving local communities of their livelihoods.

To date, 8 million square meters of land has been cleared of mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) and now, just 1.5 million square meters remain.  Based upon the survey results, DRC could be “mine impact free” by 2019 if some US $20 million were to be allocated for the effort.  There have been 2,500 landmine casualties in DRC and with this information, future victims can be spared (Relief Web).

Sudan

Five people, including a volunteer with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, were killed and another 19 injured, six of whom were also volunteers with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, when their vehicle ran over a landmine in Sudan’s South Khordofan State.  In a bitterly ironic twist, the volunteers were on their way to provide medical treatment to civilians injured by gunmen in an attack on the town of Karida.  In South Khordofan, some one million Sudanese are isolated by conflict and unable to access humanitarian aid and the landmine blast occurred just as rebels in southern Sudan and the government in Khartoum began a new round of peace talks, the first in about a year.  The landmine also highlighted the fact that Sudan has one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in Africa and that with the blockades of humanitarian aid to South Khordofan, many other landmine survivors may not be able to access the rehabilitation services they need in the aftermath of their injuries (All Africa; Ahram; International Committee of the Red Cross; All Africa).

Angola

In a model of South-South collaboration, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) and Angola’s National Institute of Demining (INAD), with support from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), signed a cooperation agreement on the removal of landmines.  Cambodian and Angolan deminers will share experiences to better serve their respective populations (All Africa).  The agreement came as INAD announced plans to demine over 20 million square meters of land in Cunene province, focusing on secondary and tertiary roads and land designated for housing project (All Africa).  INAD also described its efforts to clear landmines from the transborder conservation area of Okavango-Zambia, with seven demining brigades deployed to Cuando Cubango province which is part of the conservation area (All Africa).

 

Western Sahara

 

The Coordinator of the International Campaign against the Moroccan Wall in Western Sahara, Dr. Sidi Mohamed Omar, traveled to Austria to meet with the Austrian Parliament and supporters of Western Sahara’s independence.  Austrian members of Parliament were “shocked” by the presence of the wall and the millions of landmines that divide Western Sahara; others called it “shameful” (All Africa).

 

Mozambique

 

In an update on the demining progress in Mozambique, the National Demining Institute’s (IND) head of operations declared that 500 suspected hazardous areas across 19 districts remain.  Five of Mozambique’s 11 provinces have been completely cleared and 5.6 million square meters are all that remains to be cleared; in 2013, Mozambique cleared over 9 million square meters.  The occasion for the remarks was a seminar to develop a national victim assistance plan for the almost 2,500 landmine survivors in the country who will continue to need support after the demining tasks are finished, hopefully this year (All Africa).

Mali

In addition to the Cambodians participating in exchanges with Angola, 328 members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) have joined the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali where they will be responsible for demining, ordnance disposal and airport maintenance (Phnom Penh Post).

Unfortunately, the Cambodian team was not in place in time to prevent the landmine incident that took place near the Kidal airport in northern Mali.  Two Malian employees of the organization Medecins du Monde were injured after their vehicle struck the mine.  The injured were transported to Bamako for treatment (Reuters).

Tunisia

Another landmine detonated on Tunisia’s Mount Chaambi in the Kasserine region by the Algerian border.  No injuries or casualties were reported from the blast which occurred as an armored military vehicle passed by the mine.  The mine was not believed to have been newly laid (Tunisia Live).

Kenya

A six year old boy was killed by a piece of unexploded ordnance, described as a landmine, he stepped on at the military training ground in Baringo County.  It is not clear if the boy accessed a prohibited site (and if so, how) or if the explosive had been found outside the training grounds (Standard Media).

Chad

Five people were killed and another 15 injured when the nine vehicles they were riding in drove into a minefield.  The anti-personnel mines in the field were powerful enough to damage the first two vehicles, but not to severely injure those inside.  But, when the passengers got out of the vehicles to inspect the damage, they realized only too late the extent of their danger.  Terrified to move after their fellow travelers were killed or injured, one person was able to call Chad’s National Demining Center (NDC) for help.  An emergency response team from the NDC and Mines Advisory Group set off with some 400 liters of water for the ten-hour journey to the minefield.  The response team, with medics drove through the night to reach the survivors.

Stop and think about that.  Fifteen people injured by mines, four killed (the fifth would succumb after the response team arrived), and an unknown number of others spent the night in an active minefield, waiting for rescue.

Upon arrival, the response team provided first aid and then helped to transport the wounded get into ambulances for a two hour drive to the clinic.  The next day, the government of Chad provided a plane to carry the injured to hospitals in the capitol, Ndjamena.  The response team completed the task of marking the minefield for future clearance and removed the two damaged vehicles (Trust).

Algeria

The Algerian army reported clearing almost 3,700 landmines in January placed by the French army during the liberation struggle in the 1950s and 1960s.  The mines were removed from minefields along the eastern and western borders of the country (Ennaha).

Zimbabwe

A parliamentary report on the financial situation of Zimbabwe’s police and military shows massive underfunding of priority projects.  In addition to soldiers losing healthcare coverage due to failure of the army to pay debts, only a quarter of the requested US $2 million budget for demining was allocated.  With such a reduced budget, Zimbabwe will fail to meet its Article 5 landmine clearance deadlines under the Mine Ban Treaty.  Without the support of the ICRC, Norwegian People’s Aid and the HALO Trust, the country would be even further behind in its mine clearance obligations.  The poor financial situation is the result of sanctions against the Zimbabwe government in response to election violence and land seizures and a dwindling tax base and the national economy has faltered (Mail and Guardian).  Of course, the government was able to find US $1 million to pay for Robert Mugabe’s 90th birthday party (Voice of America).

Somalia

A landmine blast in Beledhawo town killed three people and injured many more.  The mine appeared to be targeting government troops and may have been detonated remotely (All Africa).  In Kismayo, four civilians were injured by a landmine near one of the city’s mosques (Hiiraan Online).

In a ray of hope, the disabled community, including landmine survivors, is organizing as civil society in Somalia emerges.  The Institute of Education for Disabled People in Somalia, an organization founded in 1993 which has survived two conflict-ridden decades, called on the government to include disability on the development agenda for Somalia and provide reintegration services for all persons with disability.  As an example, the African Education Trust provided vocational training to 115 disabled Somalis, all of whom were able to find work after the conclusion of the training program.  The Somali government needs to also address physical accessibility of official buildings (All Africa).

South Sudan

Normally we don’t cover cluster munitions or other weapons, just landmines, but a recent turn of events in South Sudan requires some discussion.  This month, UNMAS confirmed the presence of cluster bombs on the Juba – Bor road in Jonglei state.  The bombs in question are air-dropped cluster bomblets which could have been dropped by either a plane or a helicopter.  South Sudan has reported in the past that it does not possess any cluster munitions and the rebel groups in Jonglei state lack the aircraft to have used the bombs.  The South Sudan army’s spokesperson declared “We (do not) have the capacity to deliver these weapons. We have no capacity to use them, transport them or even stockpile these weapons.”

There were credible reports of Ugandan helicopters in the area two months before the cluster bombs were discovered and UNMAS confirmed that the bombs were dropped less than two months before their discovery.  Uganda has made conflicting claims about the possession of a cluster munitions stockpile, but Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Development Programme has evidence that air-dropped cluster munitions of the same type found in South Sudan were used in Northern Uganda during the conflict with the LRA.  Now, here’s why I want to highlight this story: “Uganda denied that its armed forces ever used cluster munitions and said the LRA was responsible.”  The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has never, ever had the ability to use cluster munitions.  The LRA did use landmines, but never had any aircraft or artillery to deliver cluster munitions (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; ENCA; All Africa).  The Ugandan army and government often use the LRA as a bogeyman or cover for all kinds of illegal activities, including smuggling and human rights abuses.  Whenever the Ugandan government faces questions from outside about its military activities, Uganda would bring up the LRA as an excuse.  That won’t fly here.  The cluster bombs were probably dropped by the Ugandan air force on South Sudanese rebels in violation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions which Uganda has signed (but not yet ratified).  There were accusations that in 1998 Uganda used landmines during its invasion of DRC when Ugandan and Rwandan soldiers fought for possession of the city of Kisangani (which was part of the survey mentioned above…).  No concrete evidence was ever found, but Uganda’s denials then were as hollow as their denials of cluster munitions use are now.

Michael P. Moore

March 6, 2014


Off-Topic: What the response to Invisible Children’s video says about the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine

Apologies for the absence of citations and sources in this post, am traveling and have limited connectivity – MPM, 3/18/12.

Lost within all the kerfuffle about the veracity of the claims made in the “Kony 2012” video produced by the NGO Invisible Children and the subsequent hospitalization of Invisible Children’s co-founder and the video’s director, Jason Russell, for “exhaustion” is a discussion of the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine.  In the video, Invisible Children urges the United States to take action to capture Joseph Kony and the other leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army and deliver them to the International Criminal Court to face the charges they have been indicted for.  I’m not going to wade into the discussions of the veracity of Invisible Children’s claims; those have been handled elsewhere by luminaries such as Alex de Waal and Rosebell Kagire.  Instead, I want to address the R2P context in which Invisible Children is acting and how the uproar against Invisible Children’s actions demonstrate the flaws in the R2P doctrine and the weakness of legitimacy for the International Criminal Court. 

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005. R2P is an outgrowth of previous civil-society driven international initiatives such as the Mine Ban Treaty and international justice precedents like the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the special courts set up by the international community in the wake of crimes against humanity in Rwanda, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Bosnia-Herzegovina.  R2P is to security what the ICC was to justice: when a nation’s judicial system is inadequate or unable to fairly try cases of crimes against humanity, the ICC will step in; when a nation’s military and police force is unable or unwilling to provide security to the citizens of that nation, the international community will step in.  Both the ICC and R2P represent fundamental challenges to a nation’s sovereignty, essentially saying the in order for a nation to maintain its sovereignty, that nation must provide security and justice for its citizens.  The ICC has been criticized in many corners as a paternalistic and “Western” entity, imposing “Western” concepts of justice on the developing world.  The ICC has also been criticized for only bringing indictments against Africans and not against any criminals from other continents. 

First, I think it’s important to point out that Invisible Children and the related organization Resolve (formerly Resolve Uganda) have managed to spark a global conversation about the LRA and Joseph Kony.  I am writing this from India and saw editorials in the newspapers here on the #Kony2012 campaign.  Invisible Children produced a widely seen internet video, dominated Twitter and got Africans and Africanists around the world to write article, editorials and blog posts on the subject.  In a matter of days, Invisible Children demonstrated to power of social media to raise awareness and communicate a specific message to a worldwide audience.  Activists should study how Invisible Children was able to do this and take from them the lessons learned.  Simply put, Invisible Children have figured out how to make a social media campaign effective and established a model for future campaigns.  I can’t help but think part of the criticism of Invisible Children is born of jealousy and frustration on the part of activists and Africanists who for decades were trying to bring greater attention and action to Northern Uganda in response to the LRA with measured and well-argued campaigns and then saw the ease with which Invisible Children was able to almost instantly seize the world’s attention. 

Second, this is not the first time an innovative campaign has been centered on the Lord’s Resistance Army.  In 2010, Resolve drafted the Lord’s Resistance Army >Capture and Assistance Act< and then targeted the members of the Foreign Affairs committee of the House of Representatives.  Staging what they called the “Hometown Shakedown,” Resolve volunteers camped out at the district offices of the members of the committee to shame them into passing the bill which, because it dictated foreign policy to the President, fundamentally violated the role of the House of Representatives as described in the Constitution.  Let me say that again because it’s so important: Resolve got the US Congress to pass a bill dictating US foreign policy in contravention of the separation of powers in the Constitution.  What’s more, the bill was passed by the full House once the Committee had approved it and then President Obama signed it into law.  Resolve re-wrote the Constitution to get the US government to address its issue, the continued existence of the Lord’s Resistance Army.  I have been stunned that other organizations have not realized the full measure of what Resolve was able to accomplish and used similar methods to get Congressional committees and the Congress as a whole to draft and send bills to the President for signature. 

When he signed the LRA act into law, Obama committed the US to developing and implementing a strategy to capture Joseph Kony and bring to an end the LRA rebellion.  This is the US military intervention discussed in the Invisible Children video that has raised so much attention and concern.  Currently 100 US Special Forces soldiers are embedded with the Ugandan army providing intelligence and logistical support for the pursuit of Kony and the LRA. 

Now, let’s get into the tricky part.  This intervention and the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 both fall under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, even though the US and NATO did not specifically invoke the doctrine.  The R2P doctrine states that when nations are unable or unwilling to provide security for their citizens, then the international community has the moral obligation and the legal authority to step in and provide the necessary security.  In this formulation, Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic were unable to prevent the predations of the LRA; Libya was unwilling to protect its citizens and even seemed on the verge of massacring tens of thousands of Libyans in Benghazi. As a result, the United States and the international community had the responsibility to intervene in these conflicts. 

The problem is that intervention under R2P eliminates the possibility of “African solutions for African problems” which is half of the critique of Invisible Children’s position; the other half of the critique is the simplicity of Invisible Children’s position.  The simplicity of Invisible Children’s presentation belies the fact that Invisible Children is advocating for the exact same response to the LRA that the International Crisis Group (ICG) has advocated for; Invisible Children’s argument was cruder and more visceral, but underneath, they are the same plans and no one has critiqued ICG, therefore the intervention proposed by Invisible Children may have some validity.  The other side of the critique, the question of R2P versus “African solutions to African problems,” is an important argument that needs to be had.  “African solutions to African problems” and R2P would seem to be mutually exclusive and that is the problem: either R2P is a valid doctrine and the international community has the responsibility to intervene or R2P is an invalid doctrine and conflicts, no matter how violent and how terrible, should be resolved by the participants or their neighbors. 

The African Union has, in recent years, become more active in peacekeeping missions, but does not have a peace-making ability.  In theory, the African Union has a Peace and Security Committee which could take on a peace-making role, but no military or security forces have been pledged for that purpose.  One place where the African Union and other countries have made interventions that could be considered an application of the R2P doctrine is Somalia.

Beginning in 2006 with the US-backed invasion of Somalia by the Ethiopian Army, Somalia has been the site of African interventions under an R2P-like mandate.  In 2006, the Ethiopian army entered and occupied large sections of southern Somalia to oust the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).  Ethiopia justified its actions by saying the ICU was not providing security to Somalis and was violating the human rights of Somalis, especially women.  Ethiopia was initially successful in removing the ICU from power, restoring nominal control of the country to the UN-sponsored Transitional Federal Government (TFG) (and by control I mean that the TFG controlled only those parts of the capitol of Mogadishu where African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi were stationed, an extremely limited geography).  However, Ethiopian forces soon became the target of an insurgency campaign from Islamist forces reconstituted under the title “Al Shabaab,” or “The Youth.”  Al Shabaab was successful in harassing Ethiopian soldiers and supply lines, eventually forcing Ethiopia to withdraw. 

In 2011, Kenya invaded Somalia in response to a spate of kidnappings along the Indian Ocean coast at hotels near the Kenya – Somalia border.  Because the TFG in Somalia was unable to exert any pressure against Al Shabaab outside of Mogadishu (or frankly even within Mogadishu), Kenya was forced to act to protect its tourism industry.  Shortly after Kenya’s invasion, the African Union peacekeepers launched an offensive against Al Shabaab forces in Mogadishu and then Ethiopia once again invaded.  A three-pronged assault seems to be having the desired effect of weakening Al Shabaab and driving it from Mogadishu and from Al Shabaab stronghold of Baidoa.   While neither Kenya nor Ethiopia have specifically invoked R2P as the justification for their interventions, they have used language consistent with the R2P doctrine, just as the US and NATO did with Uganda and Libya. 

In theory, African states could invoke R2P and intervene in their neighboring states as was done in Somalia by Kenya and Ethiopia.  However, in the case of the LRA, the only forces that ever pursued Kony and the LRA are Uganda’s army and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel movement in Sudan that has emerged as the governing party of South Sudan.  Since these forces were also the immediate targets of the LRA, they could not be accused of acting in an altruistic manner.  In Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are also acting out of their own self-interests and not on the basis of R2P doctrine although they use R2P language to support their invasions.  R2P is not about protecting one’s own security (that’s the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive action), instead R2P is about protecting the security of the citizens of the nation in which the intervention takes place.  So, the example of Somalia is an example of an “African solution to African problems,” but it is not R2P; Kenya’s and Ethiopia’s interventions have also been highly criticized because the two countries are acting in their own self-interest and not in the interest of Somalis. 

This I think is the real fear with R2P as a doctrine for militarized peace-making: countries could invoke R2P when they are serving their own self-interests.  For example, in Libya NATO could be accused of acting to protect oil supplies instead of Libyans.  Or, as was done in Iraq after the invasion by the US, the US changed the rhetoric on the reasons for invasion from the threat of weapons of mass destruction to a desire to bring democracy to Iraq.  LRA watchers are afraid that the US’s intervention is the first of many such interventions through the US Army’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), interventions that will supersede African nations’ sovereignty and serve only the US’s interests in the region.  Then R2P would be invoked to provide international cover for the US’s actions.    

So, where does that leave us?  I think that much of the response and critique to Invisible Children is a rejection of the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect.  The simplicity of Invisible Children’s presentation didn’t help their argument, but that’s not the origin of the problem.  I think R2P and the ICC do not have broad support within the countries they are supposed to be protecting.  Instead they are viewed as Western institutions that serve Western interests.  Invisible Children and the “Kony 2012” video are merely the NGO equivalents; serving their own interests while denying agency and sovereignty to those affected.  The “Kony 2012” video has sparked international interest, but the discussion needs to be about the concept of international intervention, such as those proposed under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine; if those interventions are valid then Invisible Children is just guilty of being crass.  If interventions under R2P are not valid, then the “Kony 2012” video should spark a broader conversation about R2P and perhaps create a structure under which militarized peace-making interventions might be acceptable, if ever.

Michael P. Moore, March 18, 2012


Will Uganda meet its Article 5 De-mining Deadline of August 1, 2012?

Earlier this year, Uganda and South Sudan began a collaboration to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance from their shared border.  This region was affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion which was active in this region in the 1990s and early in the 2000s.  Since 2006, the LRA has been based outside of Uganda in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, so there has been no new landmine contamination from the rebels in the last five years.  The Danish Demining Group will lead the clearance effort on behalf of the two governments who are represented by police and military units from Uganda and the Mine Action Programme for South Sudan.  The clearance activities “will cover 54 kilometres… in Amuru District, and is expected to be complete between November and December this year” (The Daily Monitor).

I’ll start by saying, this is good news.  Any landmine clearance is very good news, just as the assistance that the United States Army is providing to Uganda and other governments in central Africa to rid the world of Joseph Kony and the LRA is good news.  But, these things could be better.  The US could link its intelligence and logistical support to fight the LRA with mandatory reforms of the Ugandan military and electoral systems, both of which are problematic, instead of unconditionally supporting an undemocratic regime and an army with a history of corruption and human rights abuses.  By the same token, the mine clearance efforts in northern Uganda’s Amuru District could have been started much sooner so that Uganda would ensure compliance with its Article 5 demining obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.

At the 2009 Cartegena Summit on a Mine-Free World, Uganda requested and received a three-year extension of its Article 5 demining obligations until August 1, 2012.  In approving the request, the Conference of States Parties “noted that Uganda found itself in a situation wherein less than two months before its deadline Uganda was still unclear whether it would be able to complete implementation of article 5.1 of the Convention by its deadline. The Conference further noted that Uganda itself had acknowledged that the late commencement of operations and establishment of a mine action programme contributed to this situation” (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf). Despite the warning, Uganda has only just started demining activities in Amuru District, more than two years after the extension had been approved, and with only seven months left in which to complete the demining. 

In November 2011, the Ugandan Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Musa Ecweru, told the 11th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Phnom Penh that Uganda was committed to meeting its demining deadline and would seek the assistance of Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) to meet that goal (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).  However, the most recent reports from Uganda suggest that NPA assistance has not been secured and Danish Demining Group has replaced NPA as Uganda’s mine clearance partner.

Based upon the reports of the Danish Demining Group, demining will not be completed until November or December 2012, three months or more after the demining deadline has passed for Uganda (The Daily Monitor).  Uganda would therefore be non-compliant with the Mine Ban Treaty.   Uganda’s Internal Affairs Minister, Mr Hillary Onek, who launched the collaboration with South Sudan and Danish Demining Group, should be aware of the fact that Uganda faces non-compliance and rather than blaming the LRA for placing the mines, should accept responsibility for the delay in launching the demining activities.  Uganda will either need to speed up the demining process by putting more resources at the disposal of the deminers or request another extension of the deadline. The Mine Ban Treaty community should also put pressure on Uganda to do everything possible to avoid non-compliance with this important obligation.

Michael P. Moore, February 15, 2012


Uganda: Neither Mine-Free or Mine-Safe in 2012

According to statements by the Government of Uganda and by published reports, Uganda will complete the demining of all known minefields by August 2012.  Uganda is focusing its demining activities in the northern district of Kitgum, along the border with Sudan, in areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion.  Certainly the LRA rebellion contributed a significant amount of Uganda’s landmine contamination, but, as even Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni acknowledged during his recent re-election campaign, Uganda has been the subject of 26 rebellions in addition to the LRA rebellion since 1986 when Museveni came to power; after Museveni himself had led a five-year rebellion in the heart of the country. There is known landmine contamination in the west and northwest of the country that the government attributes to the Allied Democratic Force and the West Nile Bank Front rebellions, but demining will not take place in these areas because the contamination is labeled as “nuisance” mines rather than an organized deployment of mines in a minefield. 

The Government of Uganda and its mine action authority, the Uganda Mine Action Center, are to be commended for their work in support of the development of the Mine Ban Treaty and for their aggressive approach to the Agoro Hills and Ngomoromo minefields in Kitgum District.  Although the Government of Uganda was an early and ardent supporter of the Mine Ban Treaty, the country did not begin demining activities as required by Article 5 of the Treaty until 2006 when the LRA withdrew from Uganda and the violence abated.  Because of this late start to demining, Uganda was not able to meet the Treaty-mandated deadline for clearance and so requested and received an extension until August 1, 2012 to complete mine clearance.  With less than a year to go until that deadline, UMAC remains confident that the demining activities proposed and approved in the extension request will be completed.

Landmine Use in Uganda

The first documented use of landmines in Uganda that I have been able to find dates to 1979 and has been acknowledged by the Government of Uganda.  In 1979, the Tanzanian Peoples Defence Force and the Ugandan rebel movement, the Peoples Resistance Army, under the command of Yoweri Museveni, attacked and defeated the forces loyal to then-President Idi Amin.  The TPDF and PRA drove Amin’s forces across the country into the far northwestern region of the country, the West Nile, where Amin was from and where he crew his strongest support.  As Amin’s forces withdrew across the Nile River, they laid landmines to protect their retreat and prevent any further advance of the TPDF and PRA.  For most of the next 15 years, the mines laid by Amin’s loyalists were the only landmines in northern Uganda.

Shortly after Amin’s defeat, new elections took place in Uganda in 1980, elections that were most likely rigged and returned former President Milton Obote to power.  In response, Museveni launched his “bush war” and began a five-year civil war against Obote’s regime.  Now, while Obote’s regime would not be the most unbiased observer, the accusations of Obote’s ministers that Museveni’s National Resistance Army was using landmines were supported by stories filed by Reuters and other news agencies documenting the mining of roads around Kampala by rebels destroying trucks, buses and ambulances traveling between Kampala and other towns in central Uganda.  In 1985, towards the end of the civil war, the National Resistance Army was reported to have used landmines to protect its bases in western and southwestern Uganda (Fort Portal and Mbarara, respectively) whilst continuing to harass Ugandan army forces by mining the roads around Kampala. The United States government was reported to have provided Obote’s government with helicopters so that the Ugandan army could travel safely through the country and avoid the dangerous roads. 

The use of mines by the National Resistance Army would have mimicked similar usage by rebels in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, rebel movements that Museveni had either trained with (Mozambique) and / or expressed admiration for (Zimbabwe, at the time at least). 

In 1994, after the breakdown of the Betty Bigombe-mediated talks between the Government of Uganda and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, the LRA received material, financial and technical support from the Government of Sudan.  Sudan’s support of the LRA is often seen as a direct response to Uganda’s support of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army led by John Garang, a friend and former classmate of Museveni’s.  The LRA received landmines from Sudan and began to use them widely,  to sow fear by placing them in and around homes and to protect their fighting forces from counter-attack or pursuit.  The LRA is associated with landmine contamination in the modern districts of Gulu, Amuru and Kitgum.

Two other rebel forces, the Allied Democratic Force and the West Nile Bank Front, also used landmines in the 1990s.  The ADF used mines in Kasese district and western Uganda – very near to where the NRA’s headquarters were located in the early 1980s – and the WNBF used mines in the West Nile region to the far northwest of the country – the same place where Amin’s forces used mines in 1979.  Therefore, landmine contamination in western Uganda and northwestern Uganda covers multiple periods and conflicts.

In the 1990s, the Ugandan army denied any usage of landmines even though the country possessed landmine manufacturing facilities.  In 2000, the Ugandan army was accused of using mines in the battle with Rwandan forces over the town of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but no credible reports of mine use by the Ugandan army can be found after Museveni and the NRA seized power in 1986.

Demining Activities Insufficient

The history of mine usage in Uganda shows that a much greater portion of the country is likely affected by landmines than just those districts affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion which were the focus of activities in Uganda’s approved Article 5 extension request.  In the extension request, the government of Uganda recognized the presence of “nuisance” mines in western Uganda, but the government attributes this contamination to the ADF rebels and makes no mention or acknowledgement of the accusations of mine use leveled against the NRA in the same region.  Uganda had been subject to a comprehensive mine survey, but the government rejected the findings of the survey, recognizing landmine contamination only in areas where the contamination could be directly tied to LRA activity.  Landmines continue to be found elsewhere in western and northwestern Uganda and Handicap International UK has recently launched a victim assistance and mine-risk education program in western Uganda to address this on-going threat.

In addition, because of the five-year civil war between the NRA and Obote’s regime in the early 1980s, I believe there is likely landmine contamination in the much more densely populated regions of central Uganda, around Kampala in the so-called Luwero Triangle.  The NRA was accused of mining roadways to distribute transit and harass Obote’s army and residual mines may remain from those activities, but Museveni’s government has not taken responsibility for, or even acknowledged the possibility of the NRA’s use of mines during their war.  The focus on the LRA’s landmine activities is part of a broader pattern of the Museveni regime to blame “bandits” and “hyenas” for problems in the country, without recognizing that his own past as a rebel leader might play some part.

Verdict: Landmine Contamination and Casualties will Continue in Uganda

In reviewing the progress of demining in Kitgum District’s Agoro and Ngomoromo hills, I believe the government will achieve the stated goal of clearing the minefields described in the Article 5 extension request.  The government has hired 39 of the 40 deminers that were planned for in the request and Norwegian People’s Aid was able to provide the “Mine Wolf” demining vehicle from Sudan to expedite clearance of large areas.  To date, no significant delays have been met although the government has continued to seek additional funding for the clearance activities. 

However, the presence of “nuisance” mines in western Uganda, the continued discovery of landmines in western, northwestern and northern districts, and the possible presence of mines in central Uganda mean that Uganda may achieve its stated goals of clearing specific minefields, but that won’t render the country mine-free or mine-safe by the August 1, 2012 deadline.  If suspected hazardous areas are not cleared through technical survey, Uganda will continue to experience casualties for many years to come.

Michael P. Moore, August 24, 2011