At this year’s Academy Awards, the Danish film, “Land of Mine,” was one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Picture. “Land of Mine” (Under Sandet in Danish) lost to the Iranian film, “The Salesman,” but garnered quite a bit of attention for its subject: in the days after World War II, the Danish government forced German prisoners of war to clear the landmines placed on Danish soil during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. I haven’t seen it yet, but as a fact-based account, I am looking forward to this film. Other the flip side and made of pure hokum, is “Mine” starring Armie Hammer as a US military sniper who steps on a landmine and hears the fateful, “click,” as the mine arms itself. Hammer then has to survive for 52 hours on the same mine as he waits for rescue. We’ve covered this before, but landmines don’t go “click,” they just explode. Having them go click may be a good trick for heightening narrative tension, but it is also supremely lazy writing.
Check out “Kilo Two Bravo.” Like “Land of Mine,” “Kilo Two Bravo” is based upon real events, specifically the experiences of a British army unit in Afghanistan which, during a routine patrol of a dry riverbed near the Kajaki dam, wanders into a minefield. The mines don’t go click. They wait like silent predators, unseen and unmarked, until they are disturbed. The filmmakers treat the landmines like monsters in a horror movie which is what “Kilo Two Bravo” is: a modern monster movie with tragic, terrible and real outcomes. The soldiers try desperately to save one another and incur additional injuries in the process, but steadfastly refuse to withdraw until they are all rescued. The audience knows the mines are there but it is still a shock when they detonate because landmine explosions are inherently shocking. Writing gimmicks are not needed to heighten the tension, the facts of the situation facing the characters creates its own tension. A very good, if tough movie, which shows the true horror of these weapons.
A woman living on the border with Zimbabwe was gardening in her yard when she detonated a landmine that had been left behind when the area was a military base in the Apartheid era. The woman was injured in the arm and face. This incident followed one a year earlier when a person was killed salvaging scrap metal in the same area (All Africa).
A suspected landmine from the Lord’s Resistance Army severely injured six children in Pader District who found the explosive and were striking it with sticks (All Africa).
A Biafran War-era landmine was discovered in Ebonyi state, sparking panic that it might be an improvised explosive device (IED), until the item’s actual provenance was confirmed by local police. The police also searched the nearby area but found no other explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa).
In further news of relics from long ago wars, herders in Kenya’s Samburu county found two bombs in an area that had been a British army training post during the colonial period. The bombs were reported to the police who collected them for destruction. There have been many such discoveries of abandoned munitions in the area, some made by children tending herds (All Africa).
Five Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine in the central Mopti region of the country (Agence France Press). Three other Malian soldiers were killed and fourth injured by a landmine as the soldiers traveled to the northern city of Gao (The News).
One child was killed and seven others wounded by an ERW. The children found the item in the woods near their home which is southwest of Algiers and was thought to be a stronghold for Islamist rebels during Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s (Maghreb Emergent).
In much better news for Algeria, the nation declared that all known border minefields and anti-personnel landmines have been cleared, fulfilling the Mine Ban Treaty obligations under Article 5. During the course of the work, almost 9 million mines were destroyed and 62,000 hectares of land were cleared. Algeria joins Tunisia as the second North African state to achieve this milestone (Africa Times).
A military messenger was killed by a landmine in the western part of the city of Benghazi (Al Wasat). Landmine and ERW clearance in Benghazi has been extremely dangerous and several deminers from military engineering units have been killed and injured by explosives laid by Islamic State members as booby traps (Arab 24). An explosive booby trap claimed the life of a special forces volunteer when he was searching and clearing a house in Benghazi (Al Wasat). As Libyan forces made progress towards liberating Benghazi, a brigade commander was killed in the Ganfouda neighborhood (Libya Herald). A second unit commander was killed by a landmine just as the army declared Ganfouda liberated, leaving only “mopping up” operations to fully secure the city of Benghazi (Libya Herald)
Twenty years ago this month, a divorced mother of two boys took a walk through a field. Photos show her walking alone, although there were large contingents of deminers and reporters close by. This brief walk, maybe a couple hundred meters and just a minutes, showed that humanitarian demining worked and could be trusted to make land safe for even the most famous woman in the world, Princess Diana. The government of Angola, the HALO Trust (Diana’s host for that walk), and diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, gathered to recognize the anniversary of Diana’s minefield walk and re-commit to a mine-free Angola. The United States committed an additional US $4 million to landmine clearance as the participants in the event recognized that landmines still pose a danger to Angolans, as evidenced by the death of a child from an anti-tank mine a couple months earlier in a town just a few kilometers away (HALO Trust, Relief Web)
Elsewhere in Angola, a mine-risk education campaign in southern Cunene province targeted school children and shoppers at local markets to reduce the likelihood of accidents (ANGOP).
In the World War II battle of El Alamein, the tank battalions of Great Britain and Germany famously faced off, but they were not alone. On the German side could be found many Italian soldiers, and the legacy of that Italian involvement is still being recognized. A decade ago, an Italian Air Force officer found minefield maps that were shared with the Egyptian government and some amateur and professional Italian historians are scouring wartime diaries and journals to uncover more information that may be of help to the Egyptian government in its demining efforts. Now, satellite images are being used to further refine the information in those maps as battlefield locations are pinpointed (The Daily Beast).
Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation announced the establishment of a national center for mine action that will clear 150,000 acres of landmines from the northern coast. The center will also provide mine risk education and support survivor assistance with the creation of a prosthetics facility (Daily News).
A man was killed by a landmine when his car struck the mine near the village of Jreyfiya (Sahara Confidential).
Since the outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013, the contamination from ERW has increased, especially in Bentiu and Upper Nile States. Equatoria State remains heavily contaminated from ERW from the civil wars when South Sudan was still a part of Sudan (Eye Radio).
Michael P. Moore
February 28, 2017
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
I think it’s the little touches in landmine stories that really get to me. In this month’s news, the fact that the reporter felt the need to confirm that when two herders were killed by a piece of unexploded ordnance, “their animals did not survive the explosion either.” In Morocco the fact that a young man’s “kicking” of a landmine set it off, provides a visual. Or in Zimbabwe, a young survivor and his girlfriend cannot marry because he lacks the money to pay for the wedding. These small flourishes show the humanity and the human tragedy of landmines.
In response to the Boko Haram insurgency, several vigilante groups emerged from the local populations in northeastern Nigeria to support the Nigerian army in the campaign against the Islamist group. In February, five members of the one vigilante group, euphemistically called the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), were killed and another four injured when their truck struck a landmine left by Boko Haram (All Africa). Four Nigerian soldiers were also injured in a separate incident (All Africa). Cameroonian soldiers are also active against Boko Haram and while Cameroon’s forces have been clearing mined roads and dismantling suspected bomb-making facilities, one Cameroonian soldier was killed and another eight injured when their truck struck a mine on patrol in Nigeria (All Africa).
In 2015 the HALO Trust cleared and destroyed more than 4,000 mines and 25,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the southern town of Cuito Cuanavale (All Africa). In Bie Province, landmine clearance is preparing some 250 hectares of land for industrial development and economic diversification (All Africa). In Cuando Cubango, the deputy governor witnessed the destruction of several explosive devices and noted how demining enables agricultural expansion and market access (All Africa).
Two members of the Islamist group, Ansar Dine, were killed when they drove over a landmine planted by other members of the group. The vehicle was headed towards Kidal and had four pieces of ordnance in the back which might have contributed to the deaths of the occupants (Mali Web). In northeastern Mali, Malian soldiers were victims of a landmine and firearms attack which killed four – it is not clear from the report how many casualties are attributable to either the mine or the guns (The Chronicle). In Mopti in central Mali, three Malian soldiers were killed and two more wounded by a landmine (BBC). Near Gao, another Islamist was killed by the mine he was trying to plant with the intention of attacking a Malian army convoy (Mali Actu).
Five people were injured, one seriously, when a Moroccan man kicked a landmine in the southern city of Laayoune (Morocco World News).
The Gulu Landmine Survivors Association (GLSA) in Northern Uganda has petitioned the government for victim assistance support. Most survivors are living in poverty and prosthetics are prohibitively expensive. Monica Pilloy, the chair of the GLSA, notes that Ugandan soldiers are entitled to pensions and compensatyion for injuries, but civilian victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army, despite the international attention and support for reconstruction, have received little (Uganda Radio Network).
In western Kasese district, the Kayondo Landmine Survivors Association called on the government for amendments to national legislation to reflect the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Uganda has ratified (Crooze).
One child was killed and eight others injured when they played with a piece of unexploded ordnance in Kampala. The football pitch where the boys were playing is opposite an old military barracks (News 24).
The 426 kilometer stretch of Zimbabwe’s northwestern border with Mozambique, from Mukumbura to Rwenya, is labelled as “minefield # 2.” 130 kilometers have been cleared, removing over 162,000 anti-personnel landmines. The balance remains to be cleared with the HALO Trust and Zimbabwe’s National Mine Clearance Squadron splitting the duties (Zimbabwe Nation). The presence of the landmines means that the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border hasn’t been formally fixed and efforts by the African Union Border Commission have been stymied (The Chronicle). The HALO Trust’s work is supported, in part, but the Japanese government and during a visit to the minefield, the Japanese ambassador to Zimbabwe called for more awareness of the landmine problem in Zimbabwe and more support from the donor community. Literally putting his money where his mouth is, the ambassador also announced an additional US $635,281 for the project (News Day). The Zimbabwean parliament has recognized that demining is underfunded and the committee responsible for defense activities has called for additional funds. With only US $100,000 provided by the government, some members of parliament have suggested taking up a collection among themselves to support the work (News Day).
“Minefield # 1” is near Victoria Falls in the northeast of the country and the National Mine Clearance Squadron had sole responsibility for its clearance. Declared clear in 2015, over 26 thousand mines were destroyed (Harare 24). The third major minefield (not sure if it is formally known as “Minefield # 3”) is along the southern border, near Sango Border Post, where Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa share a border. One area of the minefield, Gwaivhi community, is a place “where you can hardly find a family that has not been affected in one way or the other by the landmines. Some families lost their members while others have been maimed. Other families lost their livestock. The area is not suitable for human habitation and therefore has no settlements but those on the periphery of the area have been affected.” Zimbabwe army engineers are clearing the minefield and in 2015 the Defence Minister provided 15 artificial limbs to survivors from the community (Sunday News).
The US Army’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) sent two US Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) trainers and a corpsman to work with and train Tanzanian soldiers on EOD techniques as part of the regional command’s capacity building program (AFRICOM).
A South African man was seriously injured by a piece of unexploded ordnance that he had somehow acquired from an army training ground near his home. The range is well marked and fenced, but still poses a danger to local residents (Defence Web).
The Libyan army has liberated areas of Benghazi and has warned local residents about the possibility of landmines and other explosive devices. The army’s engineering teams were sweeping the Laithi neighborhood and asked residents to accompany engineers in order to access homes and secure personal possessions (Al Wasat). The dangers from ERW were made clear when one soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine in Benghazi, the second such incident in less than a week (Arabs Today).
Two herders were killed along with five of their camels by a piece of unexploded ordnance in Darfur’s East Jebel Marra (Radio Dabanga).
To combat landmines and ERW elsewhere in Sudan, the government of Italy donated 250,000 euros to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) program in Sudan. the funds will be used to clear 900,000 square meters in Kassala state and provide mine risk education to 5,000 people (United Nations).
Burundi / Rwanda
Both Burundi and Rwanda have declared themselves to be anti-personnel landmine free after completing clearance. Neither army should have these weapons in their arsenal, but allegations that surfaced this month should raise questions about their use. Some Burundian rebels were interviewed by United Nations monitors in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rebels claimed that they had been trained in the use of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines by Rwandan army regulars to be able to overthrow the government of Pierre Nkurunziza, the Burundian president who recently ran for a third term in violation of the constitution (Voice of America).
In Somaliland, a young man who overcame the loss of both arms and his sight to a landmine explosion to attend college and complete his degree has resorted to asking for charity in a newspaper article (Somaliland Informer).
Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), which has been conducting mine risk education programs in Western Sahara for many years, has recently commenced landmine clearance activities in the region. With two teams now working in the country, NPA is hoping to contribute to a mine-free Western Sahara (NPA).
Two archaeologists were killed and third wounded at the Tel al-Dafna site near the Suez canal. The area had been subject to extensive landmine use in the Egypt-Israel wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 and the archaeologists apparently set off a mine during their excavations (Mada Masr).
Michael P. Moore
March 28, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
As we close out another year, there are reminders of how far mine action has come and of how much is left to be done. We like to keep a “glass half-full” attitude, but admit some days that’s harder than others. However, there are lots of good bits of news this month from Mozambique, South Africa and Senegal and elsewhere.
Once more with feeling: Mozambique is landmine-free. Taking advantage of the annual Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, Mozambique confirmed its September announcement that all known anti-personnel landmines have been cleared from the country. In addition 2015 was the first year in four decades in which not a single Mozambican was killed or injured by a landmine (All Africa). However, other unexploded ordnance does remain in Mozambique and only now are the final steps being taken to clear the ammunition dump in Maputo that erupted in 2007 killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. APOPO, the Belgian charity that employs rats to detect landmines and other explosives is clearing the former dump and the government plans to turn the area into a park once all hazards have been removed (Treehugger).
Nigeria / Cameroon
We’re putting these two countries together as their current landmine issues arise from the concerted efforts against Boko Haram, an Islamist militia that is operating in the area where the borders of the countries come together. A Boko Haram landmine was blamed for the deaths of two Cameroonian soldiers in the northern region of that country (All Africa). In parts of northeastern Nigeria, landmines are threatening displaced persons who fled Boko Haram’s violence. According to sources, there have been “many” explosions as displaced persons return to their homes and try to plant crops. In response, the Nigerian army is clearing mines, but is focusing on “schools, [health] clinics and roads” which leaves farmers in danger (All Africa).
Somalia / Kenya
The government launched a national plan, the “Badbaado Plan,” to address the explosive remnants of war and landmine contamination in the country. The Plan will also help the country fulfill its clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty. Currently, a HALO Trust implemented program on the border with Ethiopia and supported by the Government of Japan and the United Nations Mine Action Service is being held up as the model program to build the Plan around (All Africa). The extent of contamination is great and due to the continuing conflict with Al Shabaab, is in constant flux. Three landmines were cleared from the market in Bulo Burde town (Mareeg). Of course, Al Shabaab members are also often victims of their own explosives and five Al Shabaab fighters were apparently killed in southwestern Somalia by a landmine they were planting (Puntland Post).
In Kenya’s Lamu East sub-county, a Kenyan soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine blamed on Al Shabaab (Citizen TV).
Landmines were among the 395 explosives collected and destroyed from Uige by the National Demining Institute (All Africa). Another 200 explosive items were cleared by the newly-created national NGO, Terra Mae, from 121,000 square meters in Cunene Province (All Africa). In addition to the work of Terra Mae, the Angolan army cleared 341,000 square meters in Cunene Province in 2015. Three landmine incidents were reported – with no mention of how many casualties – and almost 2,000 people participated in mine risk awareness sessions (All Africa).
Three high profile visitors to Angola, US Under Secretary of State, Rose Gottemoeller, and professional climbers Alex Honnold and Stacy Bare, helped to highlight the continuing landmine problem in the country (All Africa; Discovery).
The annual meeting of mine action operators and stakeholders for Western Sahara was held at the UN mission in Tindouf. Participants discussed ways to combat the threat of landmines from the 2,700 kilometer berm in the face of limited funding (All Africa).
Much like in Mozambique above, a former munitions test site in the South African capitol Pretoria is to be re-developed. The site, home to as many as 9,000 squatters, was the site of a World War II test site and munitions dump. Mechem, the South African demining firm associate with the national army, took responsibility for the clearance of the site and started with a visual inspection. Mechem hired 20 individuals, provided them with training and then had them conduct a visual inspection of the site. Those same individuals will be trained on demining procedures and be part of the team that allows the site to become a housing development (Defence Web). The dangers from the estimated 10 tons of ordnance are well known; as recently as 2011 a father and his son were killed by a mortar detonated during a bonfire (All Africa).
CNN profiled the trainer of mine detection dogs in Sudan, Dr. Muiz Ali Taha, and gave a nice description of how the dogs work. Sudan’s mine contamination dates back to World War II and includes use in recent conflicts (CNN).
Geneva Call announced the destruction of the anti-personnel landmine stockpile held by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N). The SPLM-N signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment and has pledged not to use anti-personnel landmines in its conflict with the government of Sudan, currently raging in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. One issue that the article does not address is the origin of the SPLM-N’s mines as both Sudan and South Sudan have declared that all stockpiled mines have been destroyed (Geneva Call). It is possible that the SPLM-N’s stockpile is a remnant from long ago conflicts and as it was not in the control of the government, would not have been included in Sudan’s stockpile destruction. But if that is the case, are there other such stockpiles in the country needing to be destroyed?
In Darfur, two men were killed while trying to collect firewood when their pack animal triggered an explosive device near Jebel Marra (Radio Dabanga).
The Japanese Ambassador to South Sudan visited an UNMAS project site, south of the capitol Juba, where UNMAS is using support from the Japanese government to clear minefields and raise awareness of the dangers of explosive devices. Plans for the site, once clearance is complete, include agriculture and development (ReliefWeb).
Since the start of its program in November 2013, the HALO Trust has cleared 10,000 landmines from Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique. While progress is excellent, roughly one kilometer of border is cleared of mines every month, HALO’s demining team would need to be increased to 600 from its current workforce of 150 if the entire border is to be cleared by 2025 (HALO Trust).
Mines Advisory Group has launched a mine risk education program in the Gao region of northern Mali with the support of the UN peacekeeping mission (Mikado Radio). In addition, the Mission facilitated the training of over 30 Malian security personnel on explosive risk and emergency first aid (MINUSMA).
In 2015, Algerian authorities seized 123 landmines as part of the country’s ongoing efforts against terrorism (Global Post). In addition, the country is facing a large smuggling and trafficking problem and two mines were seized along with substantial amounts of cannabis (All Africa).
And to close out the year on some very good news, Handicap International has re-launched its landmine clearance program in Senegal’s Casamance region. Though the program is starting small, HI expects to clear enough land to allow 60,000 Casamancais to live free of the fear of landmines (Handicap International).
Michael P. Moore
January 28, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org