Not everything that goes boom is a landmine

A year ago, the Control Arms Foundation of India, a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), hosted a workshop for Indian journalists entitled, “Not Everything that Goes Boom is a Landmine.”  The workshop was intended to brief journalists about the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and inform journalists about how those treaties define anti-personnel landmines and asked the journalists to be careful when they attributed an explosion to a landmine (Kangla Online).  The general point to be made is that there are a *lot* of explosive remnants of war: anti-personnel landmines, anti-tank landmines, grenades, mortars, unexploded bombs, cluster munitions, rocket-propelled grenades, homemade or “improvised” explosive devices, etc., and only anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are subject to global bans or regulation.  Also, the use of the term “landmine” is inflammatory, specifically because of the stigma against their use as a result of the Mine Ban Treaty so descriptions of their use can (and often are) used to sully the reputations of opponents.

I am reminded of this warning because of two recent items I have read.  The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) was declared free of anti-personnel landmines by Norwegian Peoples Aid last year, but in the 2013 Portfolio of Mine Action Projects, the organization Demeter Deminage has requested about US $360,000 to conduct demining activities in Kimongo (UNMAS).  In northern Uganda, the declaration of landmine-free status has been challenged by members of the local government who reported that Ugandan and Danish deminers are still active in Pader district.  The presence of those deminers was taken to mean that landmines were still extant in the region (Acholi Times).  In both declarations, Congo’s and Uganda’s, the context was very specific: the countries have been cleared of anti-personnel landmines as defined by the Mine Ban Treaty, but other explosive hazards, including anti-vehicle mines, are still present in the countries.  So the fact that demining activities continue is a positive sign that while one threat, anti-personnel landmines, has been eliminated, work continues to address others.

In addition to these two specific items, I have noticed that reporting on explosive devices in Somalia has changed.  I used to see frequent references to “landmines” and “remote-controlled landmines” but recently, any references to explosive items uses the term, “roadside bomb” or simply “explosive device.”  When the type of explosive is specified, invariably it is a grenade and the description of the attack, e.g., items are “thrown,” are consistent with grenades.  The reduction in the use of landmines could be the result of Al Shabaab’s loss of territory and shift in tactics (from ambushes to assassinations), but I think there is also a refinement in the descriptions being used by reporters in Somalia (who are some of the bravest people in the world, by the way).  The explosive devices used by Al Shabaab fall more broadly under the term “improvised explosive device” rather than “landmines” and since they are (mostly) remote-controlled, such devices do not meet the “victim-activated” qualification of anti-personnel landmines under the Mine Ban Treaty.  Are there anti-personnel landmines in Somalia?  Yes, many; but they are mostly the remnants of earlier conflicts and not a widely used weapon in the current one.

Michael P. Moore

January 11, 2013

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The Month in Mines, November 2012, by Landmines in Africa

Landmines were both a local story and a global story in November.  On the global level, the First Committee of the United Nations met to discuss disarmament issues and held its annual vote on universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty.  Also in the November, the Review Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons addressed issues related to its Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) which includes landmines.  At the end of the month, in anticipation of the 12th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) published the annual Landmine Monitor report, the de facto monitoring and verification mechanism for the Mine Ban Treaty.  These events provided an opportunity for states and non-governmental organizations to present information about landmine issues.  On a local level, landmine casualties continue to plague many nations including Somalia, Angola, Uganda and the Sudans.  Positive progress was seen in Libya, the Republic of Congo and in Egypt.

 

Somalia

In what just may be the first time since I started compiling these monthly summaries, there were no reports of landmine casualties in Somalia.  I did notice that Shabelle Media has started to use the term, “road-side bomb” more frequently in places where it used to say, “remote-controlled landmine,” but I think the change is also due to the change in the conflict in Somalia.  We are seeing more grenade attacks on soft targets and assassinations than landmine attacks.  This is due to the fact that Al Shabaab controls less and less territory and is not trying to defend territory; instead, Al Shabaab is trying to stoke fear through killings of journalists, leaders and random civilians.  Also, the AMISOM troops are sweeping former Al Shabaab controlled areas and clearing landmines.  Several have been found in the streets of Kismayo after the departure of Al Shabaab and these have been cleared, allowing for use of the roadways (All Africa).

 

Angola

The National Inter-sectorial De-mining and Humanitarian Assistance Commission (CNIDAH) launched a nationwide census of landmine victims as part of the strategy to create a comprehensive victim assistance plan.  Previous estimates of the number of Angolan landmine survivors has been as high as 80,000 and this census will provide the first accurate estimate of the number.  So far, 3,000 survivors have been identified in five provinces with another 14 to be surveyed (All Africa).

 

Libya

Handicap International (HI), operating in Libya since August 2011, conducted a public demolition of nine tons of ERW, representing 5,500 individual pieces of mortars, landmines, unexploded bombs and other expended and unexpended ammunition.  The demolition was the result of months of collecting materials and took three hours to complete.  HI has also been busy with mine risk education reaching tens of thousands of individuals with the message of the dangers of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  However, HI’s Chief of Operations in Libya, Paul McCullough, said “after eight months of EOD operations we’ve still not broken the back of the clearance” in Libya and committed to continue working until “a manageable residue is left for” Libya’s national mine action authority to complete (Libya Herald).

 

Mozambique and Zimbabwe

In an interview with Radio Free Europe, Guy Willoughby, a co-founder of the HALO Trust remarked that while in most countries the number of landmines is in the tens of or hundreds of thousands, “There will be a million land mines to still clear on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border.”  Both countries are working to survey the region, but the number staggers (Radio Free Europe).

Mozambique, once one of the most mine-affected countries in the world, is making remarkable progress towards becoming mine-free.  To date, 97 of Mozambique’s 128 districts have been cleared or confirmed as mine-free.  While the border with Zimbabwe remains to be cleared, there is hope that a project believed to require decades of work, just might be completed by March 2014 (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).

 

Congo (Brazzaville)

Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) conducted a survey of the Republic of Congo and based upon that survey has declared Congo to be free of anti-personnel mines.  There had been suspected contamination around the Cabinda enclave (part of Angola that is wholly surrounded by the Congo and has been subject to a long-running rebellion).  Congo requested an extension to its Article 5 mine clearance obligations (the request was submitted after the initial deadline had passed) and the NPA survey was designed to fulfill the obligations of the extension request (Norwegian People’s Aid).

 

South Sudan

Three children were killed and a fourth gravely injured by a landmine that was found in a swampy area in Warrap State.  The incident has prompted authorities in the state to conduct more mine risk education activities to prevent future casualties (Oye! Times).

To help South Sudan build its capacity to manage the land mine threat, the Canadian Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force funded a team from South Sudan to visit the mine action authority in Afghanistan.  The South Sudanese team observed mine clearance activities and had the opportunity for peer to peer learning (Norwegian People’s Aid).

As the dispute between South Sudan and Sudan over the status of the Abyei region continues, the United Nations Security Council authorized a six-month extension of its peacekeeping force there.  As part of the re-authorization, the Security Council its concern about “the residual threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war in the Abyei Area, which hinders the safe return of displaced persons to their homes and safe migration” and demanded “that the Government of Sudan and the Government of South Sudan facilitate the deployment of the United Nations Mine Action Service to ensure JBVMM [Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism] freedom of movement as well as the identification and clearance of mines in the Abyei Area and SDBZ [Safe Demilitarized Border Zone].” So that settles that.  It is unfortunate that demining has become politicized in the border disputes between Sudan and South Sudan, but by preventing demining in Abyei, Sudan can effectively prevent South Sudanese people from returning to the area for fear of landmines and establish new “facts on the ground” in Sudan’s favor (All Africa).

Mine risk education continues throughout South Sudan in sometimes constrained circumstances.  A local NGO, the Sudan Integrated Mine Action Service (SIMAS), uses red painted stones to mark minefields instead of the formal warning signs found elsewhere.  SIMAS conducts outreach to pastoral groups to inform them of the significance of the painted stones and the potential risks of entering a minefield, which all too many South Sudanese are familiar with.  To date some 1.8 million people, over 20% of the country’s entire population, have received mine risk education information in South Sudan, but pastoral and traditional societies have been more difficult to reach due to their mobility and suspicions of outsiders.  SIMAS has been able to earn their trust and is actively educating “children and adults in cattle camps, returnees at way stations coming back from Sudan, and other displaced persons” (UN Mission in South Sudan).

 

Sudan

Two boys, one 12-years old and the other 7, were injured when the landmine they had been playing with in South Kordofan State exploded.  They were taken to a local hospital for treatment (Nuba Reports).

 

Uganda

Corruption in Uganda has become so rampant that the United Kingdom has suspended foreign aid payments amid accusations that “funds from several European countries had been funnelled into the private bank accounts of officials in prime minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s office” (The Guardian).  Unfortunately, corruption has also affected landmine survivors in Uganda.  According to the State Minister for the Elderly and Disabled, Mr Sulaiman Madada, Uganda is committed to supporting landmine victims but the funds allocated for that support were “misappropriated.”  Because of corruption, survivors are unable to get prosthetic limbs or participate in economic re-integration programs.  Mr. Madaba says, “We need to work together and ensure all money is used for its intended purpose.”  No, Mr. Madaba.  The government needs to stop stealing from its most impoverished citizens.  There’s no “we” in this problem (The Daily Monitor).

 

Western Sahara

Two Saharawis were injured by a landmine in Smara.  The landmine was likely placed by Moroccan forces who use landmines to prevent movement of the Polisario Front, the main political entity of the Saharawi people (All Africa).  In London, the NGO Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), which has been working in Western Sahara for many years to provide services to landmine victims and provide mine risk education, made a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group on landmines.  During the presentation, AOAV director, Steven Smith said “The Western Sahara is one the most heavily mined territories in the world with over 2,500 people killed in antipersonnel mine blasts” and noted the importance of providing services to landmine survivors (All Africa).

 

Egypt

The German, Italian and British governments have combined to provide $25 million to clear 190,000 feddans (roughly 80,000 hectares) of landmines by 2016.  The area to be cleared consists of portions of the El Alamein battlefield from World War II.  There are an estimated 17.2 million mines in the Western Desert where El Alamein lies, some 15% of the total number of landmines globally (All Africa).

 

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s presidential election provided an opportunity to interview members of the Sierra Leone Flying Stars Amputee Football Club.  The link between the footballers and the election was tenuous, but the resilience of these young men and their efforts to overcome injury should always be celebrated (Al Jazeera).

 

International

In November the First Committee of the United Nations, the group of the whole which is responsible for considering disarmament issues, voted on a resolution entitled, “Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction.”  The resolution, or one very similar, is voted on each year and is seen as a bellwether of non-states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.  This year’s resolution was approved with a vote of 152 in favor and none opposed, but 19 states abstained (no word on which states were simply out of the room at the time of the vote).  Three states which abstained from the vote, Egypt, Libya and Morocco, took the opportunity to explain why they had abstained and why they also remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty regime. These explanations can be used by the Mine Ban Treaty’s universalization advocates to address those concerns and try to get the states to accede to the Treaty.  Tanzania also took advantage of the vote to promote its work and support for APOPO’s use of rats for mine clearance activities (United Nations).

 

The High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) met in Geneva for 6th Conference on Protocol V on ERWs, the 14th Conference on Amended Protocol II (which covers landmines and was a fore-runner to the Mine Ban Treaty), and a two-day Meeting of States Parties to the Convention.  Since many countries who are not party to the Mine Ban Treaty are parties to the CCW, like Pakistan and the United States, meetings of the CCW are important opportunities for landmine advocates in NGOs and states to address issues already raised in Mine Ban Treaty meetings, like victim assistance.  Rather than paraphrasing, let me quote the report on the meeting written by Katherine Prizeman of Disarmament Dialogues:

Although no “new,” groundbreaking issues related to Protocol V were highlighted or resolved this session, the continued interest and enthusiasm around its universalization and robust implementation are important for both the disarmament and human rights communities as advocates and diplomats alike work to prevent gross human suffering during acts of warfare. It is essential that HCPs, in the context of Protocol V as well as the broader CCW framework, address not only the devastating humanitarian effects of such weapons during conflict, but also post-conflict and even during times of peace. As was noted by UNMAS and other delegations, unplanned explosions of munitions and ammunition sites are increasing risks and deserve attention at all times. Damage from unplanned explosions at munitions sites is far more costly than implementation of generic preventative measures that seek to curb this threat.

Many lessons can be drawn from the work on Protocol V of the CCW, namely the central role of victim assistance, the strong emphasis placed on national reporting and corresponding national templates, and the robust and regular exchange of information and best practices in an issue-specific format. With many other related processes underway in the disarmament and human rights fields, including the ongoing arms trade treaty (ATT) process and the Programme of Action on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs), the hope is that CCW practices based on the values of transparency and accountability will inspire these parallel processes. Such core principles must be an inherent part of any successful arms control, disarmament, or humanitarian instrument seeking to make a concrete difference on the ground. (Global Action to Prevent War Blog).

 

The ICBL published the 14th edition of the Landmine Monitor covering activities in 2011 and highlighting some exciting progress on Mine Ban Treaty issues.  Three states, Israel, Libya and Myanmar, used landmines in 2011, and non-state actors in six countries, Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand and Yemen, also used mines.  However, the editor of the Monitor said, “Active production of antipersonnel mines may be ongoing in as few as four countries” and no exports of landmines from those countries has been documented in several years.  Therefore the number of new mines available for use is very small and existing stockpiles continue to be reduced in accordance with the Treaty.  Two dozen non-state actors (rebel groups) have signed Deeds of Commitment which state that the groups will abide by the terms of the Mine Ban Treaty, further reducing the demand for landmines. The good news was tempered by the facts that the number of confirmed landmine casualties had increased slightly for the second straight year and that funding for victim assistance is at its lowest level in a decade and a full 30% less than the year before (All Africa). Also in the bad news column, Canada, the country which hosted the negotiations for the Mine Ban Treaty (which is also known as the Ottawa Treaty in recognition for where it was signed), cut its funding for mine action almost in half, from $30 million to $17 million (Ottawa Citizen).

 

United States

Last, AFRICOM continues to host trainings for African militaries in humanitarian mine action.  The curriculum currently covers demining, ordnance identification, explosives safety and theory, metal detector operations, demolitions, physical security, stockpile classes, medical training and one-man drills, but the director of the program for AFRICOM expressed interest in adding victim assistance and mine risk education to the subject topics.  As the director said, the humanitarian mine action program is “not very expensive… [and] is the most effective and has the greatest chance to build actual capacity in the country.”  To participate in the training program, which has so far engaged militaries in Chad, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, nations must request support through the Department of State (AFRICOM http://www.usaraf.army.mil/NEWS/NEWS_121130_dmn.html).

 

Michael P. Moore

December 11, 2012


Demining Extensions Granted to Eritrea and the Republic of Congo

On December 2, the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty approved Article 5 extension requests to Eritrea and the Republic of Congo, giving both countries additional time to complete their Treaty-mandated demining obligations.  Eritrea’s request was an interim one, seeking additional time (until February 1, 2015) to fully assess the extent of anti-personnel landmine contamination in the country and develop a comprehensive plan to eliminate that contamination through demining.  The Republic of Congo’s request was for two years and would cover demining of suspected areas; however, Congo’s original Article 5 deadline was November 1, 2011 and the extension was not approved until December 2.  Therefore Congo was in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty for the entire month of November 2011, the first violation of the Treaty’s Article 5 obligations by any state.

 

Eritrea

I discussed Eritrea’s extension request in an earlier post (Landmines in Africa), but it’s worth describing in full again.  Eritrea’s anti-personnel landmine contamination was first documented in a 2002-2004 Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) conducted by UNDP with the support of the Survey Action Center.  More than 900 suspected hazardous areas were identified by the LIS, areas which need to be re-surveyed by technical and non-technical means to confirm the presence or absence of anti-personnel mines.  Eritrea’s extension request assumed that a great many of the suspected hazardous areas identified by the LIS are in fact contaminated by other explosive remnants of war (not anti-personnel mines) or not contaminated at all.  The extension request therefore sought the time needed to obtain a precise picture of the anti-personnel landmine contamination, and then before the end of the extension period, Eritrea would submit a comprehensive plan for demining all mined areas.  Thus, the approved extension request represents an interim request.

During the initial extension period, Eritrea will engage in manual demining activities of already identified minefields and some of the minefields that are confirmed during the survey process.  The cost of survey and demining in the extension period is $8.5 million for all activities throughout the period, of which Eritrea will provide $4.8 million and the international community has been asked to provide the balance.  This leads to the main concern about Eritrea’s extension request: the fact that international operators have been absent from Eritrea since 2005 (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).  

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in their commentary on the extension request refers to the expulsion of mine action operators from Eritrea after 2005 (the AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit [ISU] was more politic and merely referred to the “absence” of international mine action operators). ICBL considers the expulsion of international mine action operators – granted, many of whom are members of the ICBL – as an area of concern for Eritrea in its ability to obtain the needed funds from the international community to complete the interim extension period, as well as the fact that mine action standards and best practices have changed since 2005 when Eritrea last had the opportunity to learn from external actors.  Specifically, ICBL questions Eritrea’s land release methodology since land release is a relatively new technique, not one that Eritrea has ever demonstrated facility with (ICBL).

In approving the extension request, the Meeting of States Parties encouraged Eritrea to seek out the assistance of international mine action operators to build the technical capacity of the Eritrean Demining Authority.  The States Parties also encourage Eritrea to develop its fundraising plan as soon as possible to secure the needed funds from the international community to cover the extension period and to set up the funding for the next extension period (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).

 

Republic of Congo

I had also discussed Republic of Congo’s extension request in a previous post (Landmines in Africa), and won’t go into the details of the request here, if only because Republic of Congo (Congo) didn’t bother to go into much detail themselves.  The 11MSP approved a 14 month extension, until January 1, 2013, but that just papers over the following facts:

  1. Congo’s request failed to adhere to the standards or format for Article 5 extension requests as established at the Seventh Meeting of States Parties.
  2. Congo is the first state to violate the Article 5 demining obligations mandated by the Mine Ban Treaty. 
  3. The previous fact is worth re-iterating: Congo is the first state to violate the Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty.

By approving the extension request, the States Parties have created a dangerous precedent and recognized it.  In their approval the States Parties declared, “In the context of the seriousness regarding non-compliance by the Republic of Congo with respect to its obligations…, the States Parties agreed to work collectively in a spirit of cooperation to correct this situation and prevent it from occurring again” (emphasis added) (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).   

The ICBL noted the violation, calling it “deeply regrettable” noting that Congo “failed to confirm the nature and extent of antipersonnel mine contamination let along to start clearance” (ICBL). However, unlike the response to the Treaty violations of Belarus, Greece, Turkey and the Ukraine when those states failed to destroy their stockpiles of mines as mandated by Article 4 (ICBL 2009; ICBL 2010; IRIN News; The Monitor), the response to Congo’s violation was muted.  My question to the States Parties is this: why not let Congo be in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty?  Why not hold Congo up as an example to other states as Belarus, Greece, Turkey and Ukraine were?  In the most recent Landmine Monitor report, the continued noncompliance of these states was repeated and highlighted (The Monitor, pdf); then, Turkey’s announcement at the 11MSP that it had completed its stockpile destruction and was now in compliance with the Treaty was “welcomed” (ICBL).

It seems to me that Turkey positively responded to the criticism it faced from being in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and sought to avoid further stigma by destroying its stockpiles.  Why not do the same with Congo?  Reject the half-hearted attempt at an extension request and declare Congo in violation of the Mine Treaty.  The States Parties could then offer the financial and technical assistance Congo needed to get back in compliance with the Treaty, rather than approving a flawed extension request, opening the door for more such violations and requests.

In general, I am opposed to any extension of the demining deadline.  The ten year limit was agreed upon as being long enough to address the most contaminated states (e.g., Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia), while also short enough to force countries to act in an expeditious manner.  As ICBL has noted, “only those States Parties facing exceptional circumstances should be seeking an extension” (ICBL), but most of the extension requests I have seen have been requested because the requesting states have delayed the start of survey and demining activities (this is the case for Algeria, Eritrea and the Republic of Congo).  Except when ongoing security concerns prevent demining (as has been the case in the eastern districts of the Democratic Republic of Congo or throughout Afghanistan), any delays in demining will lead to preventable, foreseeable and unconscionable injuries and deaths.  All landmine casualties that occur after the expiration of the initial ten-year mine clearance period are avoidable tragedies.  Granted, a state like Angola has such a degree of anti-personnel mine contamination that the process of demining could take longer than ten years (hence the extension process), but the act of marking and defining the contaminated areas should be possible in much less than ten years, preventing any new casualties after the deadline.  I would have let the Republic of Congo languish in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and use them as an example to others: do not delay or every new casualty will be on your hands and conscience.

Michael P. Moore, December 8, 2011


Unmet Obligation: Delays in Demining in the Republic of Congo

The Republic of Congo (ROC, sometimes referred to as Congo-Brazzaville) is facing a November 1, 2011 deadline for meeting its Article 5 mine clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  For many years, ROC asserted that it was either not mine-affected or any mine-contamination was limited to the area along the border of Angola’s Cabinda enclave.  This, despite many years of civil war and the presence of other unexploded ordnance including cluster munitions.  Now, with the Article 5 deadline looming, the Republic of Congo is finally acknowledging landmine contamination and the need for demining.

At the 2009 treaty review conference in Cartegena, ROC claimed that it would be able to meet its Article 5 demining obligations, but worrying signs were there.  Mines Advisory Group, the only international mine action operator active in ROC had conducted some inconclusive surveys but instead of being able to conduct further surveys, ROC officials declared suspected areas of mine contamination to be mine-free.  The Republic of Congo has no mine action authority and the only trained Congolese deminers are a dozen or so soldiers trained by MAG (The Monitor).  This low capacity belies the extent of UXO contamination, with MAG able to report almost a million pieces of UXO destroyed between 2007 and 2009, including almost 5,000 anti-personnel mines.  In November 2010, demining just began at the main airport outside Brazzaville, described as “a powder keg” and posing “a great threat to the surrounding population” (IRIN News).

In June 2011, at the intersessional meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, the Republic of Congo offered a brief update (AP Mine Ban Convention, PDF).  In that update, ROC revealed that it would not meet the November 1, 2011 deadline for completing demining and, in fact, said that the state did not know the extent of landmine contamination in the country and still needed to develop the capacity to survey suspected hazardous areas. 

The Republic of Congo repeatedly mentioned the need for international support, either from GICHD or from international donors in order to be able to meet its obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty. In the intersessional update ROC offered vague plans for drafting maps and conducting a survey of suspected hazardous areas with the assistance of the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).  Such a survey would allow ROC to eliminate suspected hazardous areas through land release or identify areas for mine clearance activities.  ROC’s representative then declared that February 28, 2012 should be considered the true deadline for meeting the Article 5 demining obligations and that ROC would submit a formal extension request at the next Meeting of States Parties, a meeting that won’t begin until November 28, 2011; four full weeks after the expiration of ROC’s treaty-mandated deadline.

I believe the Republic of Congo simply waited too long before it began to address the landmine contamination within its borders.  The work of Mines Advisory Group in ROC demonstrated that landmine contamination existed, but when MAG wanted to survey suspected hazardous areas, government officials declared those areas mine-free; possibly to avoid having to demine such areas.  Any possible landmine contamination was blamed on the civil conflicts in Angola and dismissed as spillover from the Cabinda enclave (200 or miles from the capitol, Brazzaville), but the presence of landmines at the Maya Maya airport within Brazzaville’s limits belie such claims. 

Landmine contamination had long been suspected in and around Brazzaville as a result of the conflicts in the city during the civil wars in the 1990s, but never investigated (or admitted to in the possible case of government use).  Had the Republic of Congo confronted this possibility earlier, it may have been able to meet its Article 5 demining obligations, but until technical and non-technical surveys are completed – and whether or not the surveys can be completed by the proposed new deadline of February 28, 2012 should be questioned – the actual scope of contamination won’t be known and a comprehensive plan, as required for any Article 5 Extension Request, cannot be completed.

Similarly to Eritrea’s Article 5 Extension Request, the Republic of Congo is asking for more time to determine the extent of the landmine problem.  Unlike Eritrea, ROC has not recognized that the proposed surveys may mean extensive demining will be required and ROC does not seem to be positioned to develop a plan of action.  I believe the reviewers of the Republic of Congo’s Article 5 Extension Request, if and when one is actually submitted, should press the Congolese government very strongly to recognize what its treaty obligations mean and call attention to the fact that ROC waited until less than 6 months remained of the ten-year demining period to begin a formal survey process.  How many deaths or injuries due to landmines occurred because the Republic of Congo delayed in trying to meet its Article 5 obligations?  Even one is inexcusable.

Michael P. Moore, September 13, 2011