The Month in Mines, November 2017Posted: December 30, 2017 Filed under: Month in Mines | Tags: Africa, Angola, cluster munitions, Department of Defense, Egypt, landmines, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, The Gambia, Tunisia, Zimbabwe 1 Comment
On November 30th, the US Department of Defense reversed a Bush Administration policy on the use of cluster munitions. After using cluster munitions in Afghanistan and Iraq and seeing the impact of the weapons in Lebanon after their use by Israel, the Bush Administration, simultaneous to the negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, had decided the weapons had an inexcusable humanitarian impact due to their high failure rate and their threat to civilian populations after conflicts ended. The Obama Administration maintained the policy and increased support to Laos to clear the cluster munitions that had been dropped by the United States during the Vietnam War. Since 2008, the Pentagon has sought replacement weapons for cluster munitions and abided by the policy that the US military would not acquire any cluster munitions that have a failure rate greater than 1%. At the same time, the military would dispose of existing stockpiles of older cluster munitions that did not adhere to the 2008 policy. The new Trump Administration policy reverses the earlier policy and ignores the humanitarian consequences of the cluster munitions.
Citing the ongoing (never-ending) war on terror and unnamed, but “important changes in the global security environment,” the new policy specifically authorizes the use of cluster munitions with failure rates above 1%. The policy requires new cluster munitions to either have a self-destruct feature or a failure rate of 1% of less; however, the policy also allows field commanders to purchase and order cluster munitions that do not adhere to the policy’s requirements for new cluster munitions, thus rendering any such requirements moot. This change will provide political cover for any regime, including the Syrian government, to use and stockpile cluster munitions, saying that if the weapons are important to the United States, they are also important to us. This is the same argument that kept the Cuban and Georgian governments from joining the Mine Ban Treaty and means these inhuman weapons will likely continue to threaten civilian populations for years to come.
Now, longtime readers will know I have a cynical streak, but please hear me out. The 2008 Department of Defense policy had a significant impact on domestic producers of cluster munitions, specifically Textron, Inc. During the Obama Administration, Textron announced the closure of a cluster munition manufacturing plant in Massachusetts and a round of layoffs, saying that the 2008 policy made the weapons system unsustainable for the company. This was a good thing. However, in June 2017, the Trump Administration nominated Textron’s CEO, Ellen Lord, as undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, responsible for all military acquisitions, including cluster munitions under the new policy. During her confirmation testimony, no mention was made of any recusal of Ms. Lord from decisions related to Textron’s business interests, despite her position as head of acquisitions and Textron’s status as the 18th largest defense contractor in the world. And then, just four months after Lord’s confirmation, the Pentagon announces the change in policy including an option to purchase cluster munitions such as those Textron produces. Again, I may be cynical on these matters, but something feels a bit off here (Congressional Research Service Report # RS22907; USNI; Defense News).
On to the news from the Continent:
APOPO, the landmine clearance organization that uses rats to detect mines, is the fourth NGO operator to support the clearance efforts in Zimbabwe. APOPO has been assigned the minefields in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Clearance of the Park will provide security for the animals and enable greater use of the Park for eco-tourism. APOPO will start the work using traditional methods of mechanical and manual demining before introducing the rats (Relief Web).
Libya has emerged in the last couple of years as one of the most mine-affected countries with the Islamic State making extensive use of the weapons. Estimates of the total number of newly laid explosives are in the thousands and include extensive use of booby traps in residences (Asharq Al-Awsat). At least eight civilians were killed and another 11 wounded by landmines in October in the city of Benghazi (Netral News). Additional casualties were reported in November in Benghazi (Libya Herald; Libya Herald; Libya Herald). The British government donated US $4 million worth of demining equipment to assist with the clearance of Sirte; in addition to the equipment, the United Kingdom is providing training to Libyan military and police engineers (Xinhua). The British ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, also visited Benghazi and announced a donation of 1.2 million British Pounds to train clearance teams in Benghazi and launch a mine-risk education program (Libya Herald).
Four civilians were killed in northern Mali when the minibus they were riding in struck a landmine near Lellehoye in the Gao region (Anadolu Agency).
Tunisian anti-terror units killed an explosives expert and found at least one landmine ready for use (Xinhua).
With the recent government settlement to provide funding for the clearance of landmines and unexploded and abandoned ordnance from the 1960s Biafra war, there seems to be a new interest in the extent of contamination. Casualty figures are unclear, but over 18,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been cleared so far by one demining organization with another thousand items waiting disposal (People’s Daily).
The HALO Trust has cleared and destroyed over 1,000 anti-personnel mines from Menongue and Cuito Cuanavale in the first nine months of 2017 (EIN News). In Bie Province, the National Demining Institute (INAD) cleared over 200 ERW in a similar time period (All Africa).
British Member of Parliament Daniel Kawczinski called on the British government to hand over any minefield maps from the battle of El Alamein in World War II. Any maps from the battle would be significantly out of date and the shifting sands of the desert may have moved most of the mines from their original locations making the maps less helpful than might be hoped (Arab News). In previous reports, the British Ambassador has said that all such maps have been turned over the Egyptian authorities, but the detail of the maps was limited (The Monitor).
The Ministry of Defence has submitted a request to the Cabinet of the Gambia to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Gambia has already signed the Convention, but not yet completed the process of ratification (The Point).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
December 30, 2017
The Month in Mines, July 2017Posted: September 3, 2017 Filed under: Month in Mines | Tags: Africa, Algeria, Angola, Benin, landmines, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, The Gambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe 1 Comment
The Convention on Cluster Munitions gets a boost this month in advance of the anniversary of the Convention on August 1st. Two West African countries, Benin and The Gambia, ratified and made progress towards ratification, respectively. We also see disturbing news from Libya about the sheer scale of contamination there, but also recognition and support from the international community. So, another glass half-full month.
Some 4 million landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been cleared from South Sudan, but thousands more remain and new minefields are still being discovered. The conflict in South Sudan that began in December 2013 has hindered but not halted clearance operations. Today, 400 to 500 deminers, including many women, continue to work towards a mine-free South Sudan (All Africa).
The West Africa Network of Peacebuilding (WANEP), a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, called on the new government of the country to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Gambia is one of 17 countries to have signed the Convention but not yet ratify (All Africa).
Landmine explosions were heard in the Akhribish and Sabri areas of Benghazi as Operation Dignity forces loyal to General Haftar moved to consolidate their control over the city (Libya Observer). The engineering divisions of Operation Dignity continued to clear landmines and booby traps left by Islamic State fighters from Benghazi, but also warned civilians from attempting to return to their homes before clearance work was finished (Al Wasat). Despite the efforts of the engineers, two special forces soldiers were killed and three more wounded by a landmine near the Hotel Al Nuran in the Sabri neighborhood. A number of other mines and explosive devices were also found in the vicinity (Al Wasat). In total, 21 soldiers were killed by landmines and an unknown number injured in the Sabri neighborhood (Libya Herald). The engineering units have also been decimated by landmines with at least 43 killed and 27 injured by landmines. Another 19 civilians have been also been killed or injured in Benghazi (Xinhua), six just in Sabri (Al Wasat). Others have estimated that five civilians are killed or injured by landmines every day in Benghazi (Libya Herald). Libyans are not the only ones falling victim to mines in Benghazi. At least one Egyptian citizen was also injured (Libya Herald).
In Derna, two Libyan soldiers were killed by landmine (Al Wasat).
In Sirte, Operation Dignity forces have finished the demining of the main roads near the coastline allowing the re-opening of the beaches (Libya Observer). Over one and a half tons of landmines and abandoned ordnance was cleared and destroyed from Sirte (Libya Observer).
To improve capacity in Libya, the British government, through its Tripoli Embassy, is suppoting demining training for Libyan military engineers (Libya Observer). Representatives of the Libyan Mine Action Centre (LibMAC) have partnered with the United Nations Mine Action Services (UNMAS) and Handicap International to identify gaps in victim assistance (there are many) and create action plans to address them (UN Mission in Libya).
A minibus struck a landmine about 30 kilometers north of Mogadishu, killing two passengers and injuring 5 others (Xinhua).
In the Puntland region, two deminers were killed trying to defuse mines attributed to Al Shabaab (Horn Observer).
In the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland an eleven year-old boy from Las Anod town was killed by a landmine while he and other children were playing on the edges of the town (Somaliland Sun). A few days later, a second mine detonated in Las Anod killing one more and injuring 19 others (Somaliland Sun).
The Algerian National Police reported the seizure of 121 landmines in addition to other explosive devices and ammunition (Middle East Monitor).
The recent National Geographic expeditions and efforts by international conservation groups like Panthera confirm that much of the southeastern reaches of Angola are prime for conservation activities. With many endemic and endangered species, the need is great in this part of the country that was the site of much of the conflict during Angola’s civil wars. It is also a region where landmine clearance is taking place and the irony is that the presence of landmines, along with the remoteness of the region, have helped to prevent development and exploitation of the region’s natural resources. As the minefields are clear and as the Angolan government seeks to develop its tourism sector, conservation and preservation becomes a priority (Phys.Org).
At a national conference on mine action in Angola, the British ambassador to Angola reconfirmed his government’s support for a landmine-free Huambo province and announced contributions from the British and Japanese governments to support the efforts of the HALO Trust (Read Tru Africa).
In Cunene Province, over a decade of landmine clearance has resulted in the destruction of over a thousand landmines and 218,000 other ERW. In addition, nearly 100,000 residents have been educated on the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance (All Africa).
Women with disabilities in northwestern Uganda, including many landmine survivors, have organized to call attention to their land tenure rights and to call out the speculators who are trying to usurp those rights (Sunrise).
Benin ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, noting that the country has never possessed or used these weapons (The Monitor).
One child was killed and two others wounded when they picked up a piece of unexploded ordnance in the Konna area and began playing with it. The explosive, likely from the French assaults against Islamic State forces in 2013, detonated. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) works with the national army to raise awareness of the dangers of ERW, but clearance has been limited and none carried out in Konna (Mussoya).
Also in July a MINUSMA cargo truck struck a mine on the Ansongo-Menaka road injuring at least four persons (Studio Tamani).
A Darfuri teen from a camp for the internally displaced was put into a coma by the blast of a piece of unexploded ordnance after he picked it up and began to play with it. The teenager also lost several fingers and sustained facial injuries (Radio Dabanga).
37 years after Zimbabwe gained its independence, liberation war era landmines are still being cleared. The Zimbabwe National Army estimates that US $1 million is required to clear one square kilometer of land from mines and other ERW and while the government provides some support, more is needed (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company).
Michael P. Moore
September 3, 2017
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
The Months in Mines: April, May and JunePosted: July 25, 2017 Filed under: Month in Mines | Tags: Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, landmines, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, The Gambia, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara 2 Comments
My more astute readers will have noticed the distinct lack of traffic and content on this site. I apologize: things in my other worlds have gotten busier than I would have liked and I will try to get caught up again. I have posted a couple of items on the Red Mercury side of things, one on the report of a man trying to bring Red Mercury to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s offices in Atlanta (Campaign against Red Mercury) and the other about the people who keep trying to get me to buy the stuff (Campaign against Red Mercury). Also during this period I received a reminder that I have been writing this blog for six years, but I feel the urgency of the issue as sharply as I did when I first began. Without further ado or delay, the Quarter in Mines:
The Gambia is not considered a mine-affected country, but it is located immediately next to Senegal’s Casamance region which is a recognized mine-affected region and during Yahya Jammeh’s rule, The Gambia served as a refuge for rebels involved in the Casamance conflict. Since Jammeh departed The Gambia earlier this year, the space for free media has opened up and two landmine incidents have been reported which suggest the possibility of others which we simply didn’t hear about during Jammeh’s dictatorship. In the first incident, a farmer and his two sons were returning from collecting firewood when their donkey cart struck a mine on a road leading to the Casamance. All three were killed (All Africa). The second incident, which, like the first occurred in the Foni region, had no reported casualties, but seemed to spark a significant intelligence investigation (Freedom Newspaper).
Nigeria’s Army Chief of Staff acknowledged that landmine clearance of the Sambisa Forest, which had been used as a base by the Boko Haram rebels, had yet to begin in any meaningful manner. He called for donations of equipment and invited the international demining operators to support a clearance program (All Africa). In partial response, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) deployed an assessment team to Nigeria to evaluate the situation (All Africa). The threat from improvised and artisanal mines in Sambisa Forest is significant. At a crossroads, four mines were found and cleared (All Africa). In another incident, three civilian loggers were killed by a mine in the roadway when their truck struck the mine (National Daily).
In the south of the country, in the regions affected by the Biafra War in the 1960s, landmine survivors called upon the government for greater assistance and caches of mines and other abandoned ordnance are still being found (The Guardian).
In the good news column of the ledger, two regions, West Darfur’s Foro Baranga area and the Red Sea State were declared free of landmines (All Africa; All Africa). Clearance in the Red Sea State received substantial support from the government of Italy. Other eastern states in Sudan are expected to be cleared by the end of the year, thanks in part to continuing support from Italy, but the mine action program in Sudan remains woefully underfunded with less than 20% of the funds sought received (Italian mission to the UN). In somewhat surprising news – due to continuing sanctions on Sudan – the US government pledged US $1.5 million in support for mine action in Sudan during a donors conference (Journal du Cameroun).
In Darfur, UXO is the more significant problem. A teenager was killed by a suspected grenade when one of the two camels he was herding kicked the explosive (All Africa). While on patrol, ten peacekeepers from the United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were injured when their truck struck an explosive remnant of war (ERW) (Sudan Tribune). In a third incident a herder was killed and another injured by a piece of ERW. The man killed was buried on the site of the blast so severe was the damage and the man injured suffered loss of his legs (Radio Dabanga).
In the contested region of Abyei, the Ethiopian Demining Platoon assigned to the peacekeeping force there destroyed several small arms and hundreds of pieces of ammunition and explosives as part of ongoing efforts there (Sudan Tribune).
The government of Norway continues to support landmine clearance in Angola’s northern Malanje province. A new grant of US $470,000 to Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will help clear the village of Camalanga (Relief Web). NPA’s partner APOPO used rats to detect landmines in the village of Camatende, and the fields have been returned to productive use (Relief Web). NPA is also working to clear the village of Luquembo and have discovered five anti-personnel landmines already (Angola National Press).
In accordance with its recent report on landmine clearance to the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, Angola is developing a final request for extension of it Article 5 demining obligations. At current pace, the clearance will take at least another 25 years, but Angola has pledged to meet the global goal of clearance by 2025. To develop the request, Angola’s mine action authority hosted a national conference on demining and included donors, mine clearance organizations and other government agencies. During the conference, the Angolan government announced that US $200 million would be needed in international assistance to achieve a mine-free Angola by 2025 (New York Times, All Africa, Relief Web).
In addition to the problems facing the country from policital violence and civil conflict, the government of South Sudan also needs to complete the demarcation of its southern border with Uganda. Part of that process will include survey and landmine clearance (All Africa). To support mine clearance in South Sudan, several countries, including Cambodia, continue to send specialized peacekeeping forces (Khmer Times).
While support for mine survey and clearance is forthcoming, support for landmine survivors is very limited. In the capitol, Juba, survivors can obtain prosthetics from the Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre but orthopedic services are limited elsewhere in the country. With a quarter million ERW found and cleared so far in 2017, the threat from mines to the population is pervasive. Survivors from across the country have to travel to Juba and find the resources to support themselves for up to two weeks to have a prosthetic built and fitted for them (All Africa).
The heavily mine affected province of Matrouh – near the site of the World War II battle of El Alamein – reported zero landmine casualties in 2016, a stunning achievement made possible by the efforts of local activists and landmine survivors to raise awareness about landmines. Mine clearance and survivor support remain a challenge despite the efforts of the United Nations Development Programme, the government of Egypt and the limited number of donors, including Kuwait, which support clearance of Egypt’s northwestern deserts (Mada Masr, Al Ahram). Of course, Egypt’s landmine problem is not limited to the ERW from World War II. Extensive minefields remain on the Sinai Peninsula from the 1950s and 1960s conflicts with Israel. One Egyptian soldier was killed and three others injured when their vehicle struck a mine on Sinai, a mine that might be a decades old relic or the result of recent conflict with an Islamic State-linked group operating in Egypt (Al Bawaba).
Two children were killed by a landmine in the Middle Shabelle region when their auto rickshaw struck the explosive. Two other mines were found nearby (Xinhua Net). In the Lower Shabelle region, a minibus struck a mine killing at least 19 people and injuring others (Al Jazeera). And in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, two people were killed by a mine in the Galgala mountain area (All Africa). All three incidents were blamed on the Al Shabaab rebels without confirmation from the rebels themselves.
Three people affiliated with the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali were injured when their vehicle hit a mine in the northern Kidal region. A newly announced Islamist group, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, claimed responsibility for the blast (Stars and Stripes).
Until the outbreak of the Boko Haram rebellion and its spread in the aftermath of efforts by the government of Nigeria to eliminate the threat, Cameroon had not been considered a landmine-affected country. That has now clearly changed. The US government has donated mine-clearing equipment to Cameroon to address the threat (Journal du Cameroun) and multiple incidents confirm the threat. Three Cameroon soldiers were killed and at least five others injured in two separate landmine blasts (Anadolu Agency, Cameroon Concord) and six civilians were injured by a mine placed on a busy road (Journal du Cameroon). During a visit to a military hospital, Cameroon’s Defense Minister was able to meet with 21 soldiers who had been injured by landmines (Journal de Cameroun).
In the fighting for the cities of Sirte and Benghazi, Islamist rebels made extensive use of landmines and booby traps. Sirte has been liberated by the Libyan army under General Haftar and the fighting in Benghazi intensified during the quarter. The Danish Demining Group has received funding from the government of Great Britain to support landmine clearance and mine risk education in the country (Libya Observer).
In Sirte, the main roads into the city from the east and west have been re-opened following landmine clearance (Libya Observer). Within the city, mine clearance continued, but the risks remain. Two employees of the water utility were killed by a mine near a water storage tank (Libya Herald).
In Benghazi, at least 24 people, soldiers and civilians alike, were killed in the “Tree Street” district of the city in February and March, including a father and his son who were trying to return to their farm (Libya Herald). A mine planted at the former internal security building killed one soldier and injured two others (Libya Herald). In total, the Libyan National Army reported clearing 3,800 landmines from the center of Benghazi during its efforts to defeat the Islamist forces there (Xinhua Net).
In addition to the civilians and soldiers killed and wounded, two Libya National Army officers, a naval commander and a senior Special Forces officer were killed in separate landmine explosions (Libya Herald).
In the northern Mijek region, a shepherd was killed by a landmine after apparently hitting the explosive with a rock. The national mine action center had declared that part of the country landmine-free, but some of the desert regions are still contaminated as evidenced by this recent tragedy (Zouerate Media).
Over the course of the next 15 months, the Polisario Front, in fulfillment of its Deed of Commitment with Geneva Call, will destroy all stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines. Already the Front has destroyed 13,000 mines, but thousands remain in the stockpile (Geneva Call).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with the Ethiopian National Defence Forces to increase the capacity of Ethiopia’s military in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). This is part of a regional program to increase landmine clearance and EOD capacity in Africa and ICRC has supported similar work in Zimbabwe (International Committee of the Red Cross).
A Tunisian soldier died from injuries sustained in a landmine blast on Mount Ouergha on the border with Algeria. The mountain ranges have been used as an operating base by Islamist rebels and the deceased soldier was honored with the title, “Martyr of the nation,” after his death (Al Bawaba). A few days later a shepherdess was also killed by a landmine on a nearby mountain (News 24).
During the Intersessional Meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, Algeria made the formal announcement that the nation had completed its landmine clearance obligations. One million mines in 93 separate hazardous areas have been cleared and 120 million square miles have been made available for productive use (Relief Web).
In 2012 Uganda declared itself landmine-free but over the last several years 149 unexploded and abandoned explosives have been discovered in the region. Most of the devices have been discovered by farmers in their fields, but there is no clear reporting mechanism to alert authorities about these explosives. The Gulu Amuru Landmine Survivors Association, composed of some 800 survivors injured by mines laid by the Lord’s Resistance Army, have called on the government of Uganda to take action to address the problem (PML Daily).
After declaring itself landmine-free in 2015, Mozambique discovered additional, previously unknown minefields. In partnership with Norwegian People’s Aid Mozambique has now cleared the minefields removing over 100 antipersonnel landmines (Norwegian People’s Aid).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
July 25, 2017
The Month in Mines, March 2017Posted: April 17, 2017 Filed under: Month in Mines, Uncategorized | Tags: Africa, Angola, Egypt, landmines, Libya, Nigeria, Somaliland, The Gambia Leave a comment
So, the big news lately featured a certain second son of Princess Diana and his efforts on behalf of a landmine free world by 2025. At Kensington Palace on April 4th, Prince Harry delivered a powerful speech calling on people and nations to commit to a mine free world. Harry’s call, made personal by his own visits to minefields in Angola and Mozambique (and presumably by what he saw during his tour of duty in Afghanistan), was quickly answered by the British Minister for International Development, Priti Patel, who announced a three-fold increase in British funding for mine action (The HALO Trust; Mines Advisory Group). Many other countries have made similar pledges for new or sustained funding for mine action (Landmine and Cluster Munition Blog), but what I have not seen are pledges from the mine-affected countries to meet their obligations to clear minefields and support survivors. With new money available, mine-affected countries need to step up and meet the challenge.
For the first time, Somaliland’s parliament ordered the deportation of two foreigners who had “disrespected Islam.” Both of the individuals deported worked for the Danish Demining Group (DDG) which conducts community safety programs including mine risk education and small-scale clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa, Danish Demining Group).
In the far eastern section of The Gambia, just on the border of Senegal’s Casamance region, a landmine killed a father and his son. The area is known as a safe haven for Casamance rebel groups, but this is the first known mine in the area (Freedom Newspaper).
Two civilians were killed by a landmine pace in a village near the border with Israel on the Sinai Peninsula (Al Araby). Another landmine near the Suez Canal killed one person and injured four more. The mine was believed to have been a remnant from the war with Israel in the 1950s (Ahram). In a third incident on the Sinai Peninsula, three people, including two children, were killed and two others injured when their car stuck a mine (Ahram).
The government of Japan has made a US $550,000 grant to the HALO Trust to help clear the 20 remaining minefields in Huambo Province. Having already cleared 270 minefields, the HALO Trust is looking to finish the job in Huambo, once one of the most mine-affected areas of Angola (Relief Web).
A Cameroonian soldier was killed by a landmine in Nigeria’s Borno State. The soldier was part of the multi-national force fighting against Boko Haram and he was killed when his vehicle struck a mine in the roadway (Cameroon Concord). To support Nigerian capacity to clear landmines and other ERW, the United States government donated training aids and hosted a humanitarian mine action training program at the Nigerian Army’s military engineering school in Abuja (NTA).
Two Libyan soldiers were injured by a landmine attributed to the Islamic State in the liberated city of Sirte (Libya Observer). In Benghazi, a military deminer was killed in the line of duty and the Gawarsha neighborhood of Benghazi has been deemed too mine-contaminated to allow for the return of civilians (Libya Observer).
A dozen deminers from the Russian company, rsb Group, have been conducting mine clearance in the eastern part of Libya (The Trumpet).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
April 17, 2017
Month in Mines, July 2012 by Landmines in AfricaPosted: August 6, 2012 Filed under: Month in Mines | Tags: Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, landmines, Mali, Somalia, The Gambia, Western Sahara, Zimbabwe 3 Comments
The big disarmament news in July was United Nations negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty, negotiations which broke down when the United States declared (on the last day of course) that more time was needed for consideration of the terms of the Treaty. The small disarmament news was the accusation of new use of landmines in Mali by Islamist forces and more casualties across the continent. Unfortunately, whatever happened at the United Nations was not going to stop landmine and small arms casualties, even if all nations had been able to agree to the Treaty. However, positive signs were to be found in Angola and Zimbabwe as clearance efforts there continue. One day, the good news will far outweigh the bad.
Zimbabwe’s mine action community is heroically trying to catch up after more than a decade of isolation. Because of sanctions against the country – related to farm seizures by “war veterans” in 2000 and widespread violence against political opposition after the 2008 elections – military equipment and training has not been available to Zimbabwean engineering units, forcing a delay in the country’s mine clearance activities. With the sanctions lifted and an Article 5 mine clearance extension in place, Zimbabwe appears to be re-doubling its efforts to clear landmines in the country left over from the 1970s liberation war against the Rhodesian government. In July a partnership agreement was Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) to survey and demine the country’s border with Mozambique, a region that is under-developed due to the threat of landmines (All Africa). The agreement with NPA is in addition to the existing agreement between Zimbabwe and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) under which the ICRC has already trained dozens of Zimbabwean soldiers in mine clearance techniques. ICRC will also provide metal detectors, and trauma kits and other safety equipment to better protect and equip the Zimbabwean demining teams (ICRC).
Democratic Republic of Congo
After receiving an Article 5 extension to its deadline for clearing landmines, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is looking to other countries for assistance in meeting the revised deadline of January 1, 2015. To that end, a delegation of “senior staff” from the DRC’s national mine action authority traveled to neighboring Angola this month to exchange experiences and observe how Angola’s National Inter-Sectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Aid (CNIDAH) coordinates mine action. The teams traveled to several field sites to learn about “the activities of the State on the ground, the activities of national and international organizations working in the field of demining, as well as how it decentralizes the coordination at the provincial level” (All Africa).
Angola’s mine clearance continues at the slow and steady pace established by the country. In July, a government official announced that over 13 million square meters of roads (the article says kilometers, but I think it’s a type from translation), including secondary and tertiary roads in Cabinda province have been cleared of mines. The clearance will provide immediate economic benefits as goods and people will now move more freely through the province (All Africa). Also announced in July was the renewal of cooperation between the Japan Mine Action Service (JMAS) and National Demining Institute of Angola (INAD). Through JMAS, the Japanese government is providing US $1 million in bilateral assistance to Angola to support mine clearance while JMAS provides technical assistance through its network of former Japanese military experts (All Africa).
To date, all mine clearance in Angola has been performed by manual or mechanical means. In July, the mine action authorities in Angola confirmed partnerships to add animal detection to the toolkit used by Angolan deminers.
Through the Marshall Legacy Institute, trained demining dog handlers from Bosnia will train INAD staff on how to use dogs to detect landmines (no mention of where or how the dogs themselves will be trained, but I would assume that Angola will develop a local training and breeding facility) The Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) has brought several trained mine detection dogs from the Mine Detection Dog Center in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Angola. One in Angola, the dogs continued their training and bonding with their handlers to from a qualified mine detection team. The teams have already begun their work and cleared several thousand square meters to allow access to fresh water for a local community (Angola Press Agency; Marshall Legacy Institute, personal communication). Through Norwegian People’s Aid, APOPO will provide 40 mine detection rats. Mine detection rats have been used successfully for many years in neighboring (and also Lusophone) Mozambique. The Belgian government will provide the funding for the project which will hire 10 female handlers for the rats adding an additional gender component to the assistance (Norwegian People’s Aid). Both dogs and rats are used to survey minefields, which can then been cleared manually or mechanically, and also to verify that clearance has been completed by re-surveying cleared fields before they are released for use.
The humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, caused by extensive drought along the edge of the Sahara desert in western Africa, brought attention to the continuing threat of landmines in Senegal through an article in the Huffington Post. Handicap International has been active for more than a decade there clearing landmines, providing mine risk education, and facilitating the re-integration of survivors. The context of the article discussed the fragility of life in the Sahel which is only compounded by the presence of landmines that prevent people from using the limited arable land and traveling along the roads. Senegal is a relatively well-developed country in the Sahelian region and the implication was that in other countries, e.g. Niger, Mauritania and Mali, the mixture of drought and landmine contamination will prove fatal (much as it has in Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea).
Unfortunately, the Huffington Post article was followed by a report that demining in the landmine-affected Casamance region is slowing down due to a transition in the responsibility for demining from Handicap International to a South African firm (HI will continue to conduct mine risk education and victim assistance in Senegal). To date, HI estimates that only 10% of mine-affected areas have been cleared while at the same time, Casamance rebels continue to plant new landmines. Anne-Sophie Trujillo, HI’s director in Senegal expressed concern about Senegal’s ability to meet its 2016 deadline for mine clearance, saying emphatically, “demining will not finish by 2016” (All Africa).
At the end of July, a police vehicle traveling in a convoy with a Care International vehicle providing humanitarian assistance was targeted with a remote controlled landmine near the Dadaab refugee camp. Dadaab is home to tens of thousands of refugees from Somalia and Kenyan police and politicians have accused Al Shabaab of recruiting from within the camp. The police vehicle in the attack was following a Care van and deliberately targeted. After stabilization, the injured policemen were to be airlifted to Nairobi for treatment. The attack is part of a campaign of violence against Kenyan police and security who work in and around the camp (All Africa).
The Al Shabaab insurgency remains very active in Somalia attacking a number of targets through the use of landmines. In July, a meeting of the National Constituent Assembly was halted when a landmine detonated within the compound where the meeting was held (RBC Radio) and a former minister for humanitarian affairs was assassinated when a landmine destroyed the car he was riding in (All Africa). Not content with attacking only soft targets, Al Shabaab is accused of targeting Somali government soldiers in Mogadishu in the middle of the month (All Africa) and at the end of the month (All Africa). Ethiopian soldiers were targeted in Beledweyne town in central Somalia (All Africa) and Kenyan forces were attacked in southern Somalia (All Africa).
In response to the attack in Beledweyne, Ethiopian soldiers were accused of firing indiscriminately at civilians, killing at least 10 people, and arresting 200. According to Somali officials, “we don’t know where these people [the 200 arrested] were taken and held by the troops. We [are] shocked and terrified about the [Ethiopian] army’s behavior and actions” (All Africa). The Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia are operating completely independently of the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) backed AMISOM force. Kenya’s soldiers have been integrated into AMISOM, but not Ethiopia’s (Wikipedia). This is a problem because there is no oversight or control over the Ethiopian troops in Somalia and if the reports above are correct, the Ethiopians are engaging in human rights violations that need to be stopped. The UN and AU should act immediately to either bring the Ethiopian troops into the AMISOM force and therefore under the command and control of the AMISOM commanders or have Ethiopian withdraw its forces from Somali.
According to the Tuareg group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its ally the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) are using landmines for the first time in Mali. The mines are being placed around the northern town of Gao, near Timbuktu where MUJAO has been accused of destroying centuries-old shrines and centers of worship, to prevent the resident of Gao from fleeing. According to the MNLA, the Islamists want to use the population of Gao as human shields against a possible attack by a united West African force or the Malian army and to do so, they have used landmines to block any means of escape from Gao. How the Islamists obtained the landmines is not clear, but they could have been in the possession of the Tuaregs (the MNLA and the MUJAO were allied until recently against the Malian government) who looted them from Libya’s stockpiles during the fall of Gaddhafi’s regime there since the Tuaregs formed a large portion of the mercenaries in the Gaddhafi’s employ (Al Arabiya).
The government of the Gambia recognized the Day of the African Child on July 14th with the theme of the rights of children with disabilities (The Gambia has not ratified or acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in case you were curious [UN Enable]). The organizers of the commemoration noted that landmines are a major cause of disability in post-conflict countries and with the close proximity of the Gambia to the Casamance region of Senegal, the impact of landmines is well known to Gambians (All Africa).
Two young men were riding in a Land Rover when they ran over a landmine near the city of Smara. The driver died after two days in the hospital while the passenger remained in critical condition (Sahara Press Service).
Not to be outdone by a Belgian not-for-profit, the US Army has gotten into the business of training rats to detect landmines. Of course, they gave their project the nifty title, Rugged Automated Training System (R.A.T.S.) to make it sound more macho that it is. The “automated” in the title refers to the fact that unlike APOPO or even dog training programs, the Army’s system will be automated (not handler or trainer based) and “is designed to inexpensively train rats to detect buried explosives to solve an immediate Army need for safer and lower-cost mine removal.” The article goes on to say, “If we can demonstrate that rats can be trained inexpensively to be reliable detectors, then this method would not only lower costs for the Army but would also create new opportunities for using animals to detect anything from mines to humans buried in earthquake rubble” (Phys.Org). I believe APOPO has already proven this and perhaps the US Army should save a little time and hire a few of APOPO’s HeroRATS. Either that or brace itself for the patent lawsuit that APOPO has every right to file.
Michael P. Moore, August 6, 2012