The Month in Mines, May 2015

Nigeria’s campaign against Boko Haram continues this month and with it numerous stories accusing the Islamists of landmine use.  The fighting in Mali and Somalia also continues with reports of injuries and usage by rebel groups.  In more positive news, Mozambique continues its progress towards mine-free status and Zambia’s president personally acquainted himself with the situation faced by survivors.  And in a classic piece of bad news / good news, Egypt announced new support for mine clearance in the northwestern deserts while also announcing new use by its army in the Sinai peninsula.

Nigeria

Let’s start with the following premise: I do not trust Nigeria’s military spokesman, Maj Gen Chris Olukolade.  Olukolade’s official pronouncements dismiss Boko Haram’s fighting prowess and consistent accuse them of human rights violations.  Yes, Boko Haram are awful and have committed many abuses, but if they are so bad and so weak, why has it taken so long for the Nigerian government to move against them and why are Chadian, Nigerien and Cameroonian soldiers needed to assist Nigeria’s troops, both the formal army and the informal vigilante groups?  As such, I’ve paid more attention to articles and reports that cite other sources when it comes to landmine use in northeastern Nigeria and the neighboring countries.

The Sambisa forest campaign stalled early in the month when three members of the local vigilante force were killed by a landmine.  After the blast, all Nigerian forces withdrew in advance of a more coordinated assault that would include Chadian forces (All Africa).  With the assault underway, allied forces were able to liberate many of the women and girls who had been captured by Boko Haram.  Unfortunately, the logistics of that liberation failed several of the women as some were crushed by military vehicles and three were killed by a landmine as they walked out of Sambisa and as many as 15 others were injured by mines (All Africa; New York Daily News).  As the offensive in Sambisa continued, a Nigerian soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine (All Africa).  Meanwhile, in Cameroon, villagers spotted Boko Haram members plant homemade landmines in the roadways (Cam-Pedia).

Libya

Mines placed near the New Dawn School in Sirte, Libya were cleared by the 166 battalion (Al Wasat) and in Benghazi, mines were cleared from a local chocolate factory (Al Wasat).  In Derna, one of the front lines in a war that whose actors continues to increase, two landmine blasts killed four people.  Two civilians triggered the initial explosion and then two soldiers triggered the second when they investigated the initial blast (KUNA).

Zimbabwe

In Mukumbura, the HALO Trust and government of Japan celebrated the conclusion of the mine clearance project in Mashonaland Central Province.  The project cleared a thousand landmines from 180,000 square meters and will allow free movement across the border with Zimbabwe and increased agricultural production (HALO Trust; News Day).

Sudan

The government of Sudan declared itself short of financial resources and announced that US $91 million would be needed to clear all of the landmines that remain in the country (KUNA).

Zambia

President Edgar Lungu announced that his government was developing a strategic plan to assist landmine survivors in the country.  As part of that effort, Lungu called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to conduct a survey of survivors to identify those who might be supported by the plan (ZNBC).  These remarks were made during Lungu’s visit to Ikeleng’I where he met many survivors and talked with them about their needs.  Lungu re-affirmed that all known landmines have been cleared in Zambia, but also noted that other explosive remnants of war may remain from areas used by various liberation forces during their wars against the colonial powers of Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  Assistance for survivors will include prosthetics and income-generating activities (Daily Mail).

Angola

Since 2002, Angola has cleared and destroyed over 400,000 anti-personnel landmines and nearly 200,000 anti-tank landmines and over 3 million other explosive remnants of war (All Africa).  In Bie Province, almost 10,000 mines have been cleared over that period, 80% of which were anti-personnel mines (All Africa).  Near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Norwegian Peoples Aid has cleared 43,000 square meters of land in Zaire province and another 450,000 meters are expected to be cleared by the end of the year (All Africa).  In southern Cunene province, the National Demining Institute destroyed over a thousand pieces of unexploded ordnance including landmines (All Africa).  Mine clearance in Huambo province has doubled in in 2015 from the pace seen in 2014 as over 81,000 square meters have been cleared since January compared to less than 39,000 over the same period in 2014 (All Africa).

To support its demining efforts, Angola trained 23 individuals to serve as quality management / quality assurance experts (All Africa).

Also in Angola, an expedition funded by the National Geographic Society launched to map and explore the headwaters of the Okavango River, the main river in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.  The Cuito river which feeds into the Okavango lies in southeastern Angola’s minefields which are only just being cleared.  However, as expedition leader Steve Boyes noted, as the HALO Trust clears land, Angolans used the newly cleared land for cassava cultivation which can damage the rivers’ ecology.  So while the landmines delayed development, there is now an urgency to put in place land use regulations and practices that would preserve the Okavango Delta (National Geographic).

Somalia

A long time ago, I read a piece entitled, “Not everything that goes boom is a landmine.”  In Somalia this month several explosions were blamed on “landmines” but in reading the reports, I believe the explosives used were not mines.

Tunisia

A landmine exploded as a cattle herd entered a minefield in Kef, on the border with Algeria, where Tunisia has been battling Islamist militants. No injuries were reported and Tunisia troops helped the shepherd and his herd out of the minefield (All Africa).

Namibia

Over the last 15 years, over 300 people have been killed or injured by landmines from the country’s Apartheid era, most in the Kvango region near the Angolan border.  In April two people were killed and two more injured by an explosive device.  In response, the national police have launched a mine awareness campaign (Namibian Sun).  The Namibian Defence Force also took part in an explosive ordnance disposal training hosted by the United States Navy (All Africa).

Kenya

In Yumbis near the Somalia border, Al Shabaab forces staged an ambush using a landmine which injured four police officers and when other officers responded, a gun battle broke out.  Al Shabaab greatly exaggerated the impact of the assault claiming to have killed dozens of police, but none of the police were killed in the initial attacks (All Africa).  Within a couple of days, two of the officers injured in the mine blast succumbed to their injuries (Citizen News).

Mali

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is the deadliest current operation with 35 peacekeepers killed since the start of the mission in 2013, 15 of whom were killed by mines (Vice News).  Responding to the attacks in northern Mali, the US State Department updated its travel warning to include reports on landmines and other dangers (State Department).  Those attacks continued in May: two peacekeepers were injured by a landmine in the Mopti region (MINUSMA) and three more were wounded by a mine on the Teherdge – Timbuktu road (Vice News).  Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the second attack (News 24).

Mozambique

The government of Japan donated demining equipment to help build residual explosive detection capacity in the country’s police force.  Once Mozambique declares itself mine-free later this year, the country will no longer need international mine action operators for mine clearance, but other explosive remnants of war may remain in the country so the ability of the police to respond to reports will be welcome (All Africa).

South Sudan

The government of South Sudan accused rebels loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar of using landmines to prevent the army from attacking Machar’s home town of Leer (The Insider).  South Sudan’s regional mine risk officer reported at least five landmine incidents in Central, Eastern and Western Equatoria States (Radio Easter).

Guinea-Bissau

The US State Department issued a new travel warning for Guinea-Bissau describing “thousands of landmines” across the country, highlighting the risk in rural areas north of Bissau (State Department).  Guinea-Bissau has declared itself free of anti-personnel landmines so these mines could be anti-tank mines.

Algeria

3,000 landmines, 90% anti-personnel, were cleared from Algeria’s borders in April. These mines date back to the liberation war with the French (APS).

Western Sahara

A family traveling near the city of Smara struck a landmine killing the mother and injuring the father and two children.  The father and son were sent to one hospital, the daughter another for their treatment (Adala UK).

Egypt

The government of Egypt, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced millions of dollars in new money to support clearance of the 17 million landmines that pollute Egypt’s northwestern desert, site of the World War II battle of El Alamein.  Since 1982, those mines have killed or injured more than 8,000 people and hinder all development of the region.  The clearance and investment will save lives and enable the construction of thousands of houses to reduce over-crowding in Cairo (Daily News Egypt).  Already the government has cleared 95 thousand acres of the El Alamein battlefield (Egypt Independent) and the government is procuring equipment to clear additional mines.  With these investments, Egypt could complete its landmine clearance in the northwestern desert in three years (All Africa).  Egyptian military sources also released a report documenting arms and explosives, including landmines, seized from militant rebels (Defense Ministry) and blamed the death of four Bedouins in Sinai province from an anti-tank landmine on those same militants (Washington Post).  And yet, in almost the same breath, the Egyptian army announced a new plan to “entrap” militants in Sinai using newly laid landmines around military checkpoints.  The plan has already claimed the lives of two militants who tried to attack a post in Sheikh Zuwayed city (Cairo Post).  Donors to Egypt’s demining activities should take a strong stance against any new mine usage in Egypt before they are asked to help clear those mines too.

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

June 14, 2015


The Month in Mines, April 2015

Twice a year, upon release of the annual Landmine Monitor report around December 1st and the annual celebration of International Day for Mine Action and Awareness on April 4th, countries and organizations take the opportunity to recommit themselves to mine action.  Several of this month’s stories come from events commemorating Mine Action day, but entirely too many also come from the fact that landmines continue to plague Africa and the world, ten years after the first International day and almost 20 years after the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty.  Landmine use appears to be on the increase, a sad way to increase awareness of the need for mine action.

Libya

Ten landmines were cleared from the road leading to Airport Road in Benghazi and a spokesperson for the army warned of the possibility of additional mines in the area from fighting earlier in the conflict (Al Wasat). In Ajdabiya, one soldier was killed and four others wounded by landmine (Al Wasat).

Despite the insecurity in the country, the United Nations Mission in Libya and the Libyan Mine Action Centre hosted an event for International Mine Action Day (UNSMIL).

LibMAC Director: “Despite the difficult times Libya is still going through it has set forward this event as a signal to the International community of the LibMAC’s respect to the International agreements, treaties and conventions believing in its moral and humanitarian responsibility towards its citizens in ridding areas most affected from mines and ERWs. "

LibMAC Director: “Despite the difficult times Libya is still going through it has set forward this event as a signal to the International community of the LibMAC’s respect to the International agreements, treaties and conventions believing in its moral and humanitarian responsibility towards its citizens in ridding areas most affected from mines and ERWs. “

Democratic Republic of Congo

The head of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, called achieving landmine-free Congo “a duty.”  Kobler noted that there were almost 30 landmine casualties in the DRC and over 2,500 survivors.  One-eighth of the mine-affected land in DRC was cleared in 2014 with over 15,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), including landmines, destroyed (MONUSCO). The contamination in DRC is concentrated in a few regions. According to the group, Africa for Mine Action, 40% of Ituri Province is contaminated with landmines and after years of work, only three provinces in the entire country have been declared landmine-free (Radio Okapi).

Three deminers with the South-African firm, Mechem, were kidnapped from near the eastern city of Goma. While some reports erroneously labelled the deminers as United Nations peacekeepers, the three men, two Congolese and one from abroad, were released after about a week.  The kidnappings occurred as tensions between DRC and Rwanda were high with a Congolese soldier injured in an exchange with Rwandan troops and the re-emergence of the Allied Democratic Force, a rebel group committed to overthrowing the Ugandan government and responsible for brutal attacks in the 1990s and early 2000s (World Bulletin; Agence France Presse; News 24). The men were kidnapped while looking into reports of an anti-tank landmine and in total, three such mines were discovered near Goma the same week as the abductions.  The mines appear to be new ones and would represent the first new usage of mines in DRC since 1999 (State Department; Radio Okapi).

Central African Republic

During an April 4th event, the head of the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) confirmed that there were “no real threats of landmines” in the country.  MINUSCA teams has recovered landmines from “public places” and displacement camps, but these mines were in stockpiles and not deployed (All Africa).

During the recent conflict in the Central African Republic, Seleka rebels had attacked members of the Ba’aka ethnic group in the belief that Ba’aka members had mythical Red Mercury.  The Ba’aka village is now under the fulltime protection of government soldiers (Mint Press News).

Angola

Making quick and steady progress in Bie Province, Angola and the HALO Trust announced the clearance of three minefields covering 10.5 hectares (All Africa). This clearance and other projects across the country facilitate rapid development such as the National Urbanisation and Housing Programme which seeks to build one million new houses in the country. To date, over 80,000 have been built and the Minister of Urbanisation and Housing called for more landmine clearance to allow more houses to be cleared (All Africa).

Somalia

In the capitol, Mogadishu, three men were caught trying to bury a landmine in Howlwadag district.  The mine was cleared and the road made safe (Warar Media).

Sudan

In commemoration of International Mine Action Day, the UNAMID peacekeeping mission in Darfur and its partner The Development Initiative (TDI) hosted an awareness session.  In 2014, TDI completed assessments of 217 villages, cleared 183 dangerous areas and destroyed over 3,000 pieced of unexploded ordnance.  TDI and its local partners have provided mine risk education to over 600,000 people in Darfur, a necessary act in a region which has seen at least 150 ERW incidents which have killed 105 people and injured 215, many of them children (All Africa).

In South Kordofan state where the government is fighting a rebel group, a landmine detonated during the national election day killing three people and injuring another three (Radio Tamazuj).

That conflict in South Kordofan has been associated with many accusations of human rights violations and war crimes. In April, Human Rights Watch reported on confirmed evidence of cluster munitions use by the government, identifying the remnants of six cluster bombs.  This is the second accusation of cluster munition use by Sudan, the first was in 2012, and monitors suspect that Sudan both stockpiles and produces the weapon.  Both times, the targets of the cluster munition use appear to be civilians which would be a war crime (Sudan Tribune).  Of course, the Sudanese government has rejected the reports, calling them “fabricated and baseless” and the fight against the rebels in South Kordofan “does not need such bombs” (Anadolu Agency).

Nigeria

The campaign against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria continued with fighting focused around Borno State and the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram is believed to be based.  Boko Haram appears to have used landmines extensively to prevent any direct assault upon its position.  Seven Nigerians, six soldiers and one “civilian vigilante” were injured by a landmine placed by Boko Haram near the town of Baga (All Africa).  When Nigerian forces launched an attack on Sambisa Forest, one soldier and three vigilantes were killed by a mine and the Nigerian soldiers retreated to a point, just five kilometers from Boko Haram’s main camp in the forest (All Africa).  After these two incidents, the Nigerian army brought out mechanized minesweepers to help clear roads and paths for further attacks against Boko Haram (All Africa). This begs the question, if Nigeria had such equipment already, why did they wait until several soldiers had been killed or injured by mines before using them?  Especially since Boko Haram has long been rumored to be using landmines as part of its defense.

Tunisia

Eleven landmines were cleared by Tunisian forces during a recent operation on Mount Salloum in the Kasserine region on the Algerian border.  A twelfth mine detonated without causing an injuries (All Africa).

Mali

Mali continues to be in the midst of a terrible landmine epidemic as a result of continuing conflict there that has shattered most of the northern region of the country.  Since 2013 more than 325 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Mali (MINUSMA).  Two incidents targeted peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission, MINUSMA.  The first injured two peacekeepers and the second another seven; both incidents occurred as peacekeepers were escorting convoys near Kidal (Global Post; MINUSMA).  Two Malian soldiers were injured by a landmine near the town of Diabaly which is the further south a landmine attack has been recorded in the course of the current conflict (Reuters).  In Aguelhok, MINUSMA peacekeepers arrested three men who were accused of planting landmines (MINUSMA).  Near the town of Gossi, two civilian women were killed by a mine (Defence Web), but that incident was dwarfed by one on the road from Gossi to Gao.  Two men on a motorcycle placed a mine in the road and a bus carrying people to people to the weekly market hit the mine, killing at least three people and injuring another 28 (Agence France Presse; Global Post).

South Sudan

In an April 4th event for International Mine Action Day, the South Sudan Vice President called landmines “one of the biggest obstacles to development in the country.”  At the same event, the head of the South Sudan Demining Commission accused the rebel Sudanese People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/IO) of using landmines in the current conflict (Radio Tamazuj).  In response the SPLM/IO’s Mine Action Program denied using landmines and in turn accused the government of South Sudan of using mines, reporting at least 60 separate incidents of landmine use by the government (Radio Tamazuj).  So the government denied the SPLM/IO’s accusations and reported discovering nine mines placed by the SPLM/IO, two of which destroyed vehicles (Citizen News).

This has been the pattern of the conflict in South Sudan since violence broke out in December 2013.  The two sides have traded accusations of war crimes and treaty violations when in fact, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional body of governments of East Africa, has documented violations by both sides in roughly equal numbers.  The government of South Sudan, the SPLM/IO and the many, many militias associated with each are all complicit in the continuation and escalation of the conflict.  In the end, it is the people of South Sudan who are made to suffer by their leaders’ callous indifference.

Algeria

The Algerian People’s National Army has cleared over 720,000 landmines from seven provinces.  72 municipalities had been contaminated by mines and 46 have been cleared so far with demining crews active in four (Ennahar).

Zimbabwe

The United States government has been increasing its investment in demining of Zimbabwe.  In FY2013, the US provided $500,000, in FY 2014 $750,000 and this year, $1 million.  The landmine contamination in Zimbabwe prevents agricultural development and has injured more than two thousand people since the war ended in 1980 (US Embassy in Harare).  With US government support, the HALO Trust has already cleared 5,000 mines, but with an estimate 1.5 million to go, a lot of work remains (HALO Trust).

Chad

Handicap International recently sent a team to the Moyen-Chari region of Chad to conduct some initial surveys and do some community liaison activities including mine risk education. During the trip, the team found multiple areas where munitions were abandoned after the wars in the 1980s.  The mines in this part of the country have impeded road works and agricultural development and injured dozens of people (Handicap International).

Zambia

And last, one of the countries at the forefront of the fight against landmines and cluster munitions continues to support those affected by landmines, even after the last mine has been cleared.  The government of Zambia re-affirmed its commitment to support landmine survivors.  According to the Foreign Minister, Zambia will conduct a needs assessment and then come up with a suitable and sustainable victim assistance program (Daily Mail Zambia).

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

May 20, 2015


The Month in Mines, March 2015

Since this blog started almost four years ago, we’ve documented possible new use of landmines in Tunisia, Mali and Libya.  This month there are allegations of new use of mines in Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan and cluster munition use in Libya.  Sadly, these allegations are probably true and more reflective of the fact that conflict appears to be increasing on the continent.  Across north Africa and the Sahel, conflicts are becoming more entrenched as the Arab Spring revolutions spark counter-revolutions.  This blog, by the very nature of its subject, tends toward a “heart of darkness” narrative for the continent, but don’t let that dissuade you.  We are eternal optimists here.  Despite the Boko Haram rebellion in Nigeria, March witnessed a peaceful and democratic transition of power.  Tunisia continues to strengthen the institutions of democracy.  In Somalia, there are calls for the hosting of international football matches and demands by the national football association that peacekeeping forces vacate the national stadium in Mogadishu to allow this.  There is much more good news coming from the continent than bad, but the landmine story is one of positives and negatives, as this month’s reports show.

Nigeria

The Nigerian armed forces, along with those of Cameroon, Niger and Chad, have moved against the Boko Haram insurgency which is based in the northwest of the country, near Nigeria’s borders with the other countries in the coalition.  The military actions have sparked massive displacement of civilians from the region.  50,000 people in Niger have been displaced, including the majority of the population of the town of Bosso, who remain displaced due to the presence of landmines in the town (All Africa).  In the town of Diffa, two Nigerien soldiers were killed and a third injured by a Boko Haram-placed landmine (Reuters). In Kolofata in Cameroon, Boko Haram has been placing landmines in the roadways to prevent movement by Cameroonian forces.  Cameroon’s military possesses mine detection gear and training obtained from both the United States and Russia, but that has not prevented some landmine casualties to date (Voice of America).

In Nigeria itself, the displaced of Borno state are being advised against returning to their homes.  Authorities have accused Boko Haram of planting landmines in public places and poisoning water sources and those authorities have called for clearing of mines and testing of water sources to ensure safety before the displaced are allowed to return (This Day Live; All Africa).  This process will take some months, long after the elections which were delayed in order for the Nigerian military to take the offensive.  To participate in the national elections, the state governments would need to open polling at the displacement camps, some of which are in Niger (All Africa).

Angola

In Angola’s Cunene province, 95 explosive devices, including landmines were cleared between September 2014 and February 2015.  The clearance organization also called for more survey work to determine the scale of contamination (All Africa).  This work was part of the 5.3 million square meters of Cunene cleared of landmines in 2014; an activity the government calls crucial for agriculture and development (All Africa).  And just as demining is crucial for agriculture, peace is crucial for demining and in 2015, the continued peace in Cunene province will allow an estimated 18.9 million square meters to be cleared of mines (All Africa).  In Bie province, the end of the rainy season signals the start of the demining season, which allows for infrastructure development (All Africa).  In Cuando Cubango province, the HALO Trust reflected upon more than a dozen years of work and celebrated the 27th anniversary of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, one of the largest and last conventional battles fought in sub-Saharan Africa.  In the course of their labors in the province, the HALO Trust has cleared more than 31,000 anti-personnel landmines and 13,000 anti-tank landmines (All Africa).

Libya

A few months ago, we reported on the confirmed new use of landmines in Libya (Landmines in Africa).  In March, Human Rights Watch reported on the evidence that cluster munitions have also been used on at least two occasions in Libya since the start of the current conflict.  The munitions were discovered by militias associated with the Libya Dawn alliance which is fighting against the Libya Dignity alliance led by General Haftar.  Haftar and Libya Dignity are associated with the officially recognized government of Libya and have received support in the form of airstrikes from Egyptian forces.  Libya Dawn accused the Libyan air force of using cluster munitions, but, of course, the Libyan air force has denied possessing the weapons (All Africa).

Western Sahara

In the desert on the western (liberated) side of the berm in Western Sahara, a shepherd was killed by a cluster munition when it detonated (Sahara Press Service).  This was just one of the 2,500 landmines and UXO casualties in Western Sahara over the last 40 years.  In partial response, the Polisario Front, which is the official government of the Sahrawi people, destroyed a stockpile of anti-personnel landmines in March in accordance with its pledges under the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment.  Over the last decade, the Polisario Front has destroyed more than 10,000 stockpiled mines (Geneva Call).

Sudan

In North Darfur, four children were killed and another five injured as they played with and attempted to set fire to a piece of unexploded ordnance they found. In the disputed province of Abyei, four more children were killed by a landmine while they were out hunting (Radio Dabanga).  Also in Darfur, five militia men aligned with the government in Khartoum were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine near Jebel Marra (All Africa).

Zambia

Zambian forces will be contributing peacekeepers to the UN mission in the Central African Republic and have received a donation of landmine detection and clearance equipment from the United States (All Africa).

Tunisia

Near the Libyan border, Tunisian forces seized an arms cache that included machine guns, rockets and landmines (Al Arabiya).  Along the Algerian border, where the government has been fighting Islamists for many months, one Tunisian soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine. The landmine was attributed to those same Islamists who have also been responsible for many similar incidents (Reuters).

Somalia

The government of Japan is one of the largest donors to mine action and in March announced a US $3 million contribution for work in Somalia to include clearance, capacity building for the Somali Explosive Management Authority and a survey of hazards along the Somalia-Ethiopia border (Mareeg).  In the coastal town of Marca, the African Union peacekeeping force was targeted by a landmine which killed at least two civilians.  In the aftermath of the blast, peacekeepers also fired indiscriminately on persons in the area, likely causing further casualties (All Africa).  In Bay region, five Al Shabaab members died when the landmine they were attempting to plant in the roadway detonated (Wacaal Media).

Egypt

In the Sinai peninsula, three Egyptian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine placed in the road (News 24).

South Sudan

Seven people were killed and a child injured when an unsecured stockpile of munitions detonated in Unity State.  Doctors without Borders warned of other stockpiles in the region from fighting between the government and rebels in 2014 (New York Times).

A spokesperson for the rebels, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO), Col. Ngundeng, accused the South Sudan government and its army of using landmines supplied by Uganda.  The accusations, which state that the South Sudan army is using anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines, would represent a significant violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and Col. Ngundeng noted that several civilians have been injured by the weapons (Nyamilepedia). The accusations were given credibility when the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which is tasked with monitoring the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed between the rebels and the government, quoted an officer from the South Sudan army as saying that South Sudan has used anti-personnel landmines around Nassir town in Upper Nile State.  The government refuted the statement by the soldier, and called for external observers but the security situation does not allow for such a mission at this time (Bloomberg).

Senegal

Vermont National Guard members helped build a training facility for landmine clearance in Senegal as part of a continuing partnership between the Vermont Guard and the Senegalese army (US Army).

Mali

Three members of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist movement in Mali, were killed by a landmine near Kidal (Reuters).  Also in northern Mali, two French soldiers were injured when their vehicle struck a mine (All Africa).  In the Malian capitol, Bamako, deminers working for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali were killed when a gunman opened fire on a nightclub, killing five people and injuring at least eight.  The attack targeted foreigners in the country with French, Belgian and Swiss among the casualties (News 24).

Uganda

Landmine survivors in northern Uganda have been offered vocational training to enable them to provide for themselves.  The Uganda Landmine Survivors Association, with support from Britain’s Department for International Development, offered training in hair dressing, knitting and metal fabrication, the result of which has been that at least four survivors now have the capacity to support themselves and their families (Acholi Times).

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 28, 2015


The Month in Mines, December 2014

2014 had many high points and low points in the world of mine action.  Among the highs were the pledge by States Parties at the Third Review Conference to complete landmine clearance by 2025, the US announcements that it will no longer procure anti-personnel landmines and restrict use of existing mines to the Korean Peninsula, and the record low number of recorded casualties.  Some low points included the new use of landmines in the Libyan civil war, the decline in funding for mine action and the continuing obstacles faced by landmine survivors.  On the whole, the positive progress continues and there is hope as we move into a new year.  Before we close the door on 2014, let’s review what happened in December:

 

Angola

Two stories this month, including one by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) administrator, Helen Clark, provide a lot of context to the landmine situation in Angola.  Clark’s piece details the history of landmine use and mine action in the country describing the scale of landmines’ impact in the country, the number of casualties and the efforts to reduce the risk through mine-risk education and clearance.  The second article describes the competition between the United States and China for access to Angola’s markets and petroleum reserves, noting how the US’s support for demining is part of America’s investment in the country.  The article also reference’s the US’s past support for the rebel movement UNITA which was responsible for much of the landmine use in the country, many of which UNITA received from the United States (World Folio; World Folio).

As Helen Clark mentions, Angola is one of the most heavily mine-affected countries and the news from Angola in December shows the steady progress in the country towards changing that title.  Almost 600 explosive devices, including landmines were cleared from 50 kilometers of road in Bie Province (All Africa; All Africa), while some 9,000 residents of the province participated in mine-risk awareness sessions (All Africa).  200 hectares of Kwanza Norte (All Africa) and 1.4 million square meters of Cunene province were cleared of mines (All Africa); 10 kilometers of roads in Cabinda province were cleared (All Africa); and 900 explosive devices were cleared in Zaire province (All Africa).  This clearance work will increase agricultural outputs in affected areas (All Africa) and means that landmines and other explosive remnants of war are no longer the leading cause of disability, road accidents are.  The Health Minister, José Van-Dúnem, opened a new rehabilitation centre in Luanda, and said “there is a gigantic effort in demining so that landmines stop being a problem and we can just focus on the need to support those who got some disability due to the war” (All Africa) which suggests that survivor assistance has not received the same prioritization as landmine clearance historically, but as more and more mines are cleared, the needs of survivors will be addressed.

 

Mozambique

Like Angola, Mozambique is polluted by landmines from its liberation war with Portugal and then a long civil war after independence.  Since the end of the civil war in 1992, Mozambique has been steadily clearing the landmines and this month, Tete province on the Zimbabwean border was declared landmine-free, the eighth province to be cleared of mines.  Tete had been the most mined province in the country with 85% of all landmines in Mozambique in Tete.  Only five districts (out of 128 nationwide) in two provinces are still suspected of having landmines and the National Demining Institute anticipates all of Mozambique will be landmine-free by April 1, 2015 (All Africa).  Two challenges will remain for Mozambique after the last mine is cleared.  Thousands of Mozambicans have been disabled by landmines and many, including former soldiers, receive little or no support from the country despite the government’s obligations to its citizens (Al Jazeera).  The other challenge will be to find employment for the hundreds of deminers who have been working to free their country of landmines.  Some 200 deminers (out of 1,000 in total) are women, including former liberation war soldiers (like former Mozambican First Lady, Graca Machel), who have few employment alternatives once the demining is complete.  Demining is skilled labor and the humanitarian demining organizations have invested a tremendous about of time training and educating the demining teams and while some have received job re-training, more will need job placement assistance very soon.

 

Somalia

Three children from a shepherding family were killed and their mother injured by a landmine south of Burao in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland.  The mine, detonated by one of the family’s animals, was likely a remnant of Somalia’s civil wars of the 1990s (Somaliland Sun).

From the ongoing campaign to eliminate Al Shabaab, a number of attacks occurred as part of the asymmetrical tactics adopted by the Islamist group.  In the other semi-autonomous region of Puntland, three soldiers were killed and another four injured, two critically, by a landmine as Puntland forces drove Al Shabaab from its stronghold in the Gal-gala mountains (Somali Current). Elsewhere, landmine attacks targeted government forces in Barawe injuring five (Radio Goobjoog, no link), the Deputy Governor of Mudug region and his bodyguard were injured by a mine in Galkayo (Sabahi), and in Kismayo an unknown number of casualties were caused by a mine targeting Jubbaland forces (Kobciye).

 

Sudan

In Sudan an estimate 50,000 people have been disabled by conflict, many due to bombings and landmines, and prosthetic services are not always available where the amputees live.  In South Kordofan state, where the conflict between the government of Sudan and rebel forces is ongoing, there is only one fully functioning hospital, Mother of Mercy, and prosthetic services are provided by Ugandan doctors who travel to the hospital to take measurements and then produce the artificial limbs back in Uganda.  The Ugandan doctors then bring the prosthetics to Sudan for final fittings (Voice of America).

 

Mali

Peacekeepers with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) suffered two landmine incidents.  Both occurred near the MINUSMA base in Aguelhok in northern Mali and injured Chadian peacekeepers; three peacekeepers were injured in each incident.  Two men, found in possession of small arms and landmines, were arrested after the second incident (MINUSMA; MINUSMA).

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been active in the MINUSMA mission and provided mine-risk awareness sessions for the residents of Gao.  The awareness sessions focused on drivers who transport goods in and around northern Mali (MINUSMA).

 

Kenya

Kenyan security forces arrested two men, accusing them of trying to plant bombs in the road in Mandera town near the Dadaab refugee camps on the border with Somalia (Sabahi).

 

Algeria

Algeria’s mine action center and armed forces continue to clear the French-laid landmines from the eastern and western borders of the country.  In November almost 3,500 mines were cleared (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

Boko Haram in Nigeria is the worst conflict that no one is doing anything about.  According to a report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) Project, Nigeria is the second deadliest (Somalia is the most) conflict from explosives in Africa in 2014 (ACLED). Thousands of people have been killed, a mini-caliphate in northeastern Nigeria declared, hundreds of girls abducted.  Nothing. Next month Nigeria will hold presidential elections and neither the incumbent seeking re-election, Goodluck Jonathan, or his opponent seem willing to address this crisis.  Instead we hear the occasional report of an atrocity or receive a video from Boko Haram’s leader making threats against the government and the West.  Certainly Boko Haram is well armed (and this report from the Leadership newspaper suggests that Boko Haram are using landmines to defend their territory and has been in possession of heavy weaponry) and has established a very secure stronghold in near the Cameroonian border, but the Nigerian government and military has allowed this Islamist group to fester and consolidate power.  Probably a multi-national effort, including Cameroon and Chad which also borders on Boko Haram’s self-declared caliphate, will be needed to dislodge this threat.  The question is: when will the Nigerian government have the will to do so?

 

Zambia

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its travel advice for Zambia, removing any mention of landmines and instead referred to explosive remnants of war.  This reflects the fact that Zambia has cleared all known landmines from its territory in compliance with the Mine Ban Treaty but some risk from unexploded ordnance might remain along Zambia’s borders with Angola, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

 

South Sudan

Mine action teams have been active in South Sudan clearing roads and suspected hazardous areas in Unity, Upper Nile and Lakes States.  Four landmines were cleared from a community just west of the capital, Juba but insecurity in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States prevents a full mobilization (Relief Web).

 

Tunisia

One soldier was killed and another injured by a landmine in the Kasserine region near the Algerian border.  Islamists hiding out in the Kasserine mountains were blamed for the mine’s placement (Global Post).

 

Western Sahara

There is renewed concern that the conflict between the Sahrawi people and Morocco over the Western Sahara territory could restart after nearly 25 years.  In 1991, a ceasefire was brokered by the United Nations, one of the conditions of which was a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, the Sahrawi.  Morocco has not allowed the referendum to take place for fear that the Sahrawis will confirm their desire for independence.  Instead, Morocco has occupied the region and divided it with a wall, over a thousand kilometers long with millions of landmines to prevent Sahrawi refugees from returning to their homes from the camps in Algeria. Today, more than half the population of the camps are youths, born since the 1991 ceasefire and a growing number of these young men and women are willing to fight for their independence, rather than continue to wait for the referendum (Washington Post).

The leadership of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the nominal government-in-exile of the Sahrawi people in the Algerian camps is not reflective of its population. Mohamed Abdelaziz, SADR’s president, has been in power since 1976 and is the second-longest serving head of state (second only to Cameroon’s Paul Biya) and the only four men have served as prime minister of SADR during Abdelaziz’s rule, the latest in the post since 2003.  In any other country, this situation would be viewed as a dictatorship and the willingness to return to conflict with Morocco may reflect not only the sincere desire of the refugees to return to their homeland, but also disaffection with their long-serving leaders.

Michael P. Moore

January 13, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


When language gets in the way of good news: Is Zambia “landmine-free”?

In recent months, we’ve discussed Zambia and noted that there appears to be confusion over whether or not there are any landmines in Zambia.  Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Bob Mtonga, a Zambian physician and disarmament advocate, and he explained to me the situation which is this: to the best of anyone’s knowledge, all known landmines have been cleared from Zambia.  However, because landmine use in Zambia was “nuisance” mining without any specific pattern, there remains the possibility that previously unknown and undocumented landmines could be found in Zambia.  This possibility prevents the Zambian government from making any statements, definitive or otherwise, about whether or not Zambia is landmine-free.  Which is understandable.  If Zambian officials declared the country landmine-free and someone where to discover or be injured by a mine, then the credibility of the government and the landmine clearance process could be called into question.

However, the government’s equivocation on the subject and silence when asked directly leads to fears that the country still has a landmine problem.  Already, in response to the uncertainty, the British government has revised its travel advice for Zambia which could impact tourism in the country.  So, what can a country do in this situation?  And, can a country ever announce that it is truly landmine-free?

To be clear, there is no reason to believe that there are any landmines in Zambia.  There have been no confirmed reports of landmine incidents for five years and the government maintains an explosive ordnance disposal unit to respond to any potential issues.  But what Zambia’s situation shows is the problem with how we talk about landmine clearance and what it means to be “landmine free.”

Allowing my inner lawyer out, there are really three standards that can be applied to a country: “landmine-free,” “landmine impact free,” and “compliant with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty.” “Landmine-free” means just that: there are absolutely no landmines in a given area, usually a country. It is an absolute and probably only reflects countries in which landmines have never been used.  It also encompasses all landmines, anti-personnel and anti-vehicle.  “Landmine impact free” and “compliant with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty” have very specific definitions which may or may not meet the absolute standard of “landmine-free.”

Compliance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty means that all known anti-personnel landmines have been cleared from a country.  A country can still have known anti-vehicle mine contamination and be compliant with the Article 5 because the Mine Ban Treaty’s obligations are specific to anti-personnel landmines.  Compliance only affects the 162 countries party to the Mine Ban Treaty.

Landmine impact free (as defined in the International Mine Action Standards) can mean that a country may still have landmines, anti-personnel or anti-vehicle, but such mines do not have a negative socio-economic effect on communities.  Countries not party to the Mine Ban Treaty can (and often do) aspire to being landmine impact free.

“Compliant with Article 5” and “landmine impact free” are both time-specific descriptions.  Because compliance with Article 5 means only known landmines are cleared, a country that has previously declared itself compliant with Article 5 can identify previously-unknown minefields and still be compliant.  This happened in Burundi and Germany and the governments then proceeded to clear the newly discovered minefields.  Because landmine impact free refers to the absence of negative socio-economic effects on communities, there is the possibility that changes in a community would change the effect existing landmines have on that community.  For example, a particular community could exist for some time next to a marked and known minefield but when that community grows in population and begins to need additional agricultural land to support itself, the community might encroach upon the minefield because there is no other available land for farming.  By definition, a country that has completed landmine clearance under Article 5 is landmine impact free.

So where does that mean for Zambia?  Zambia is in compliance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty.  Zambia is landmine impact free.  Is Zambia absolutely landmine free?  Maybe, maybe not; but Zambia should be proud of clearing all known landmines and fulfilling its obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty and should not be silent about it.  Zambia’s foreign minister Harry Chiluba has been traveling throughout the country to reassure Zambians that there are no known landmine dangers in the country and that should any threats be discovered, the government will respond swiftly and fulfill its obligations to survivors and victims of mines.  Thus, Zambia is doing everything it can to live up to the aspiration of being landmine free.

Michael P. Moore

November 17, 2014

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, September 2014

Possible new use of landmines accompany the continuing conflicts in Mali, Libya and Somalia.  Elsewhere on the continent, landmines claimed lives in Egypt, Western Sahara and Guinea-Bissau.  Landmine survivors in Uganda are participating in economic development programs while Zimbabwe confesses to insufficient funds to aid its survivors.  Plus ça change…

 

Egypt

North Sinai is, for one of the most restive areas in the world, surprisingly absent from conversations about current conflicts.  According to the Egyptian government, almost one thousand people have been killed in “terrorism acts” in Egypt since 2011 with a significant number of those deaths occurring in the Sinai Peninsula.  Used as a smuggling route and training ground for Islamist groups, Sinai is relatively lawless except for a few government controlled posts and the border region with Israel and the Gaza Strip.  In September, a landmine killed eleven Egyptian soldiers and wounded two others.  Blaming Islamists for the attack, Egyptian security forces struck back killing, injuring and arresting “extremists” in a series of retaliatory raids (All Africa; All Africa).

 

Angola

In some very unwelcome news, Angola announced the discovery of 42 new suspected minefields in the eastern areas of the country (All Africa).  That announcement offset the positive news that demining is progressing in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area which will boost tourism (All Africa); the destruction of almost 3 million pieces of ordnance including landmines since the start of calendar year (All Africa); and a 20 million euro grant grant from the European Union to support landmine clearance in 11 provinces (All Africa).

 

 Zimbabwe

According to the Ministry of Defence, lack of policy prevents the government from providing compensation to victims of landmines from the liberation war.  The Defence Minister stated that most funding for landmine issues are “earmarked for clearing” and that a “policy decision” would be required to set the amounts of compensation depending upon the severity of the injury (Southern Eye).  Neither the Defence Minister, nor the Senator who raised the question, addressed the fact that even if a policy on compensation existed, there is absolutely no funding for such a program.

 

Mali

Mali witnessed multiple landmine attacks in September.  Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb exploited the confusion surrounding the military coup and Tuareg uprising in northern Mali in 2012 to establish a harsh Islamic rule.  French soldiers ousted the Islamists and a United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, was established to consolidate the peace and return security to the region.  Since the start of the conflict over 170 people have been killed or injured by landmines.

On September 1st, four civilian contractors were injured when their vehicle drove over a landmine.  On the 2nd, four peacekeepers were killed and another 15 injured from the Chadian contingent when they struck a mine shortly after leaving their base in Aguelhok (which had been subject to mortar fire the day before) (BBC; The Star).  On September 6th, again near Aguelhok, a landmine killed one civilian and injured several others (Star Africa).  A week later, on the 14th and again near Aguelhok, another Chadian peacekeeper was killed and four more injured.  The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack but a Malian official noted that the Islamic insurgents “have a whole supply line of mines and they find out which roads the MINUSMA vehicles use” in order to deliberately attack the peacekeepers (Naharnet). The Security Council’s condemnation was ineffective as four days later, another MINUSMA vehicle struck a landmine near Aguelhok killing five more Chadian peacekeepers and injuring three (All Africa). This incident led the Chadian government to threaten to withdraw its support for MINUSMA – Chad has the third-largest contingent of peacekeepers in Mali with over 1,000 soldiers – prompting the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to call Idriss Deby, President of Chad, and express gratitude to Chad for the work of its peacekeepers.  Ban and Deby also discussed ways to better protect the peacekeepers (Swiss Info).  That conversation led to the delivery of a fleet of mine-resistant vehicles in Mali for MINUSMA and mine risk education sessions for peacekeepers. The efforts to protect peacekeepers did not extend to civilians and the day after Ban and Deby’s call, two shepherds were killed by a mine near Aguelhok (Ahram).  That makes a total of 13 killed and at least 29 injured in September alone.

According to one report, the landmines are being laid in northern Mali by the Al Qaeda-linked group, Ansar Dine led by Iyad Ag Gahly, which has created a special unit to mine the roads of the region.  Children and young men are trained to disguise the presence of the mines and have been using motorcycles to quickly place mines in the roadway ahead of vehicles (Sahelian).

 

Zambia

Zambia re-affirmed its status as a landmine-free country, reporting that no new cases of landmine incidents had been reported in five years.  However, the declarations are a little worrying, saying that “on-the-spot” destruction of mines continues and “most of the areas of Zambia are now free of landmines” and “several reports” of landmines have been received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Zambia’s Foreign Minister, Harry Kalaba, asked Zambians to “go about their daily lives normally byt with caution.”  Mine risk education programs continue in the country and Mr. Kalaba said the “Government would work tireless [sic] to ensure that [landmine survivors] were reintegrated in society” (Lusaka Voice).

 

Western Sahara

A Sahrawi border guard patrol stuck one of the 7 million landmines in Western Sahara near the Bukerba area.  One of the guards was killed and four others injured and sent to an Algerian hospital in Tindouf for treatment (All Africa http://allafrica.com/stories/201409210033.html).

 

Somalia

The Somalia National Army (SNA) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) launched an offensive to oust the remnants of Al Shabaab from the country.  Considering the fact that Al Shabaab controls more than half of the country, the campaign will take some time but Somalia’s president has pledged to eradicate Al Shabaab by the end of 2015.  In Lower Shabelle, SNA and AMISOM soldiers secured Kunturwaarey town without a fight as Al Shabaab withdrew before the allied forces arrived.  Kunturwaarey is the fourth town liberated in the current campaign.  Allied forces began demining exercises in the town in expectation of finding landmines and booby traps left by Al Shabaab (Mareeg).

In Kismayo, AMISOM soldiers traveling in a convoy struck a landmine. While the Burundian soldiers escaped harm, at least eight bystanders were injured in the explosion (Garowe Online).

To respond to the landmine threat in Somalia, a number of initiatives are underway.  The German government donated US $1.9 million to the HALO Trust to clear landmines in northern Somalia and to survey minefields along the border with Ethiopia (Sabahi). The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has deployed 20 mine risk education teams across the south and central Somalia to provide training and support to the areas liberated by the current offensive against Al Shabaab (Shanghai Daily).  The National Union of Somali Journalists has incorporated landmine risk awareness into its training for local journalists who have been operating in one of the most dangerous countries for journalists (Somali Current).

 

Uganda

At the foot of the Ruwenzori Mountains, Uganda’s Kasese District was the site of several attacks from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF, which were neither Allied, nor Democratic).  The ADF used landmines and dozens of Ugandans were injured over the years.  The survivors joined together and created the Kasese Landmine Survivors Association which has created a cooperative business to produce rope from the ubiquitous banana plant.  Bananas, one of Uganda’s staple crops using an eighth of the country arable land, also produce fibers that the survivors turn into rope for sale to customers like furniture makers.  To date, 136 survivors are affiliated with the cooperative and as the coordinator of the Anti-Mines Network reports, the survivors are able to provide each other with peer support in the process of earning an income (CNN).

 

Guinea-Bissau

During the liberation war of the 1970s and internal conflicts of the 1990s, landmines were spread throughout Guinea-Bissau, killing and injuring hundreds.  In 2012, the government of Guinea-Bissau declared that all anti-personnel landmines had been cleared from the country.  Unfortunately, anti-vehicle mines remain in the country and a minibus traveling to a funeral struck one such mine, tearing the vehicle in two and rendering most of the victims unrecognizable.  19 people were killed instantly, three others died shortly afterwards (BBC; ABC News).

 

Nigeria

Nigeria’s Army Chief of Staff, Lt. General KTJ Minimah has resisted pressure to move against suspected Boko Haram bases in the Sambisa forest for lack of mine-resistant vehicles.  The Nigerian army believes that Boko Haram has mined the forest and any approach on the forest without mine-resistant vehicles “would be suicidal.”  The army has also requested tanks, artillery and surface-to-air weaponry.  Think about that last one.  Why on earth does the Nigerian army need surface-to-air missiles to take on an insurgent force that has zero flight capacity?  (All Africa).

 

Senegal

The Senegalese Association of Victims of Mines (ASVM) and Handicap International (HI) have launched a joint campaign to education school children and others at risk in the Casamance region of the dangers of landmines (Scoops de Ziguinchor).

 

Sudan

The conflict between the Government of Sudan and rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states has hindered any mine action programming there.  As the conflict abates in some parts of the region, refugees and displaced persons return to their homes, but as much of the region is contaminated with landmines and other explosive remnants of war, those returns are accompanied by severe risk.  No mine clearance has taken place in South Kordofan since 2011 and only limited mine risk education has been implemented since 2013; “school children, farmers and aid workers continue to be exposed to very preventable risks as they go about their daily lives.”  Humanitarian assistance cannot be provided until the combatants, the government and the rebels, come to an agreement about allowing delivery of assistance.  As many as one million people might be in need of such assistance (UNOCHA).

 

South Sudan

Officials in Leer County in South Sudan’s Unity State have warned residents to be aware of landmines, especially as residents burn grass in preparation of planting for crops.  Leer County has been affected by the conflict between the government of South Sudan and the rebel groups loyal to former vice president, Riek Machar, but Leer County lacks the equipment to conduct landmine clearance (Eye Radio).

 

Libya

In most of the countries covered by this news round-up, I rely on official media outlets for coverage.  In Libya, the only formal documentation regarding landmine use came from the United Nations Mission in Libya report (UNSMIL) which noted “Land mines reportedly used in the [Tripoli] airport area and unexploded ordnance are now a major hazard for civilians, especially children.”  On social media I saw many photos of landmine and UXO clearance work conducted by militias in and around the Tripoli airport, but no photos of landmines, only UXO.  I am fairly certain that landmines were placed by militias (please see my earlier post here), but do not have verifiable details to share here.  As demining and mine action organizations are able to re-launch their programs, the situation in Libya will merit close observation.

 

Michael P. Moore

October 9, 2014


The Month in Mines, July 2014

In case anyone was expecting a lull in mine action news following the Maputo Review Conference, July’s stories from the continent confirm that despite the positive news and outcomes from the Conference, landmines continue to take lives.

 

Nigeria

They must have known that they were in for a long, protracted struggle because the Nigerian Police Forces have developed and unveiled a new landmine-proof vehicle for use in combating insurgents (All Africa).  Too late to #bringbackourgirls, but maybe the Nigerian police can prevent future kidnappings.

 

Tunisia

Three different landmine incidents occurred in the first week of July in the restive Mount Chaambi area along the Algerian border, killing at least four people and wounding six.  In the first incident, four soldiers and two guardsmen were injured by a landmine when their vehicle drove over it near Kef (Tunisia Live).  In the second incident, a civilian entered a closed military zone and died after stepping on a mine. There was no explanation for why the man entered the zone (AFP).  In the third incident four soldiers, and maybe a civilian, were killed by a landmine, also near Kef (All Africa).  Tunisian authorities blamed all casualties on Islamist forces who have been using Mount Chaambi as a base from which to threaten the government.

 

Western Sahara

Vice magazine and the War is Boring blog both profiled the Moroccan berm that splits the Western Sahara territory with 7 million landmines and has caused hundreds, if not thousands of casualties. Both pieces addressed the ongoing conflict and how Islamists have been trying to recruit members from the youths living in the refugee camps on the eastern side of the berm.  Worth noting that Mohamed Abdelaziz, the President of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) which is the government in-waiting for Western Sahara, has been in power since 1976, trailing only Cameroon’s Paul Biya as the longest-serving leader of a country.

 

Angola

Angolan authorities reported out on landmine clearance progress in Cuanza Sul, Benguela, Cunene and Moxico Provinces.  Removing and destroying thousands of explosive remnants of war, the country continues to make slow progress towards becoming mine-free.  In Cuanza Sul, almost 8 million square meters were cleared of mines over 18 years and now the focus is shifting to secondary and tertiary roads (All Africa).  In Benguela, explosive items that had been stored for more than a year were finally destroyed.  Prompt (certainly more prompt than seen in Benguela) destruction of stockpiled munitions is necessary to prevent accidentally discharges of munitions (All Africa).  With the support of Mines Advisory Group, 1.5 million square meters in Moxico Province have already been cleared in 2014.  Landmine clearance tasks have focused on access roads to allow free movement and the proposed high voltage lines for a future hydroelectric dam (All Africa).  Cunene province’s agricultural outputs will be boosted by the clearing of farmlands and already half a million square meters have been cleared (All Africa).

 

Mozambique

The tensions between former rebel group RENAMO and the government of Mozambique continued in July which delayed landmine clearance in the Chibabava district of Sofala province.  The government of Mozambique had hoped to finish all landmine clearance in 2014 and RENAMO’s actions threaten that timeline which means that Mozambicans may continue to live with the threat of landmines longer than was necessary (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

The director of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre (ZMAC), Col. Mkhululi Ncube testified before the Zimbabwean Senate’s Thematic Committee on Peace and Security, shortly after he participated in the Maputo Review Conference.  Col. Ncube told the Committee that over 3,600 people have been killed or injured by landmines since 1980 and some 800,000 people have been economically affected by the continuing presence of landmines along the country’s borders.  Landmines have hampered the tourism and agricultural industries in Zimbabwe as well as killing thousands of herd animals. Martin Rushwaya, representing the Ministry of Defence, said that as much as US $100 million may be needed to clear all of the landmines from the country.

In recent years most landmine injuries have been attributed to deliberate tampering with explosives by people trying to extract non-existent red mercury from the devices.  In response ZMAC has been incorporating messages about red mercury in its mine risk education materials.

On the positive side, the minefield surrounding the Kariba Hydroelectric Power Station, the very first minefield laid in Zimbabwe when it was still a British colony, has been cleared and thousands of landmines have been cleared since work resumed in earnest in 2012 (All Africa; News Day; Zimbabwe Mail).

 

Sudan

The Higleg area of Sudan’s West Kordofan state has been declared free of landmines.  Heglig was the site of fighting in 2011 between Sudan and South Sudan but has since been cleared of mines (Sudanese Online).

In North Darfur, heavy rains have exposed landmines laid by the government of Sudan according to one of the rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement, Abdel Wahid El Nur.  The landmines were spotted near Kutum town and were believed to be intended to “hamper movement of the Darfur resistance forces” (All Africa).

In response to the mine risk throughout the country, Sudan’s National Demining Center launched a mine risk education campaign in the five Darfur states and in Blue Nile state with the support of national and international organizations.  The campaign will integrate mine risk messages into school curricula (GM Sudan).

 

Somalia

The Development Initiative has delivered mine risk education messages to over 170,000 Somalis and in the process provided job skills and education opportunities for the Somali staff working for the project (Devex).

Towards the end of the month, Mogadishu’s mayor narrowly avoided a possible assassination attempt when his vehicle drove over a landmine.  The mayor and his security detail were protected from the blast by their vehicle but at least one passerby was killed and another injured by the blast (Sabahi).

 

Egypt

In late June, Stephen Beecroft was confirmed as the US Ambassador to Egypt.  While Amb. Beecroft will undoubtedly have his hands full with issues related to the US relationship with Egypt and the assaults on democracy and human rights emanating from the current regime, we ask the Amb. Beecroft remember his time served in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs where he was involved with landmine clearance.  Egypt has the greatest number of landmines of any country in Africa, almost as many as all other African countries combined, and could use additional assistance to clear this lingering threat (All Gov).

 

Mali

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been active in Northern Mali for some time, responding to the threats of landmines and ERW which did not exist prior to the Islamist takeover of the region.  Since March 2012, over one hundred civilians have been killed or injured by landmines and ERW, more than half of them children; almost 250 soldiers from the various national and international forces have been killed or injured since January 2013.  UNMAS recently trained explosive ordnance disposal companies from Cambodia and Nepal who are serving in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali (MINUSMA).  Two of the Cambodian peacekeepers were injured by an anti-personnel mine when their vehicle drove over the mine.  Because it was an anti-personnel mine and not an anti-vehicle mine, the injuries were severe but not life-threatening.  As the head of the Cambodian team in Mali put it, the driver’s “leg injury was not serious enough for it to be cut off and now he is in hospital in Mali” (Phnom Penh Post).

One point to make about the peacekeepers: Nepal and Cambodia, especially Cambodia, suffer from contamination from landmines and other ERW.  Shouldn’t these trained deminers be working to clear their own countries of landmines before assisting others?

 

Uganda

Landmine survivor, advocate and director of the Uganda Landmine Survivors Association (ULSA), Margaret Arech Orech was selected by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego as a 2014 Women PeaceMaker.  As one of four such PeaceMakers, Ms. Orech will serve a three-month residency at the University and contribute to conversations about the role of women in international peacebuilding.

 

Zambia

Zambia has declared itself to be free of landmines, but the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) recently updated its travel advice for Zambia saying “There is a risk of landmines in remote areas near the borders with Angola, Mozambique and [the Democratic Republic of Congo].”  The FCO is not clear about whether or not it believes the landmines are in Zambian territory or if it is just warning travelers about the presence of landmines in the neighboring states along the border.  If the FCO has evidence of landmines in Zambia, the FCO should share than knowledge so the government of Zambia can respond (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

Because of Zambia’s experience in clearing its territory of landmines and ERW, the Foreign Minister, Harry Kalaba, offered his nation’s assistance to Vietnam to help Vietnam address its own landmine and ERW threat.  The announcement came during Kalaba’s visit to Hanoi and is part of an effort to expand cooperation between the two countries (Vietnam News).

 

South Sudan (via South Africa)

South Africa’s parastatal company, Mechem, is one of the largest demining firms in Africa.  In an article describing Mechem’s growing portfolio, the company’s general manager reported that Mechem provides bomb disposal services for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) beginning July 1 and Mechem’s teams are destroying an average of a ton of ERW in Libya each month.  However, Mechem also reports that the civil war in South Sudan has severely restricted activities there and Mechem is only able to do emergency work at the moment.  Mechem also warned of the “strong possibility” of new landmine usage in South Sudan (Defence Web).

 

Norway

In a bit of irony, Norway, a leader in mine action around the world and a strong champion of the Mine Ban Treaty, twice evacuated a kindergarten in Karmøy in southwestern Norway after two landmines, presumably leftover from World War II, were discovered on the nearby beach in separate incidents in the same week.  Both mines were quickly destroyed, but their presence serves as a reminder that landmines are a global issue (The Local).

Michael P. Moore

August 20, 2014

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, September 2013

Some months, we’ll see many landmine incidents and reports from a handful of countries (e.g., Somalia, Angola and the Sudans) and then there are months like September where we saw one or two incidents or reports from many countries.  Months like September, with stories from 10 countries, are a reminder that landmines are a continent-wide problem and not limited to just a handful of countries that make the news repeatedly.  As always, we see good news and bad in the stories from the continent.  Of global note, Zambia hosted the Fourth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions which we won’t cover below, but if you are so inclined, you should visit the dedicated website for the Meeting here: http://www.clusterconvention.org/meetings/msp/4msp/

 

Western Sahara (Morocco)

A Saharawi man was injured by a landmine some 350 km south of the city of Dahkla.  He was transferred to a civilian hospital in Dahkla after being discharged from a Moroccan military hospital despite being in “serious condition.”  The landmine was just one of the millions that Morocco uses to divide the Western Sahara territory (All Africa).

 

Somalia

Somalia National Army and AMISOM forces foiled a planned landmine attack in Beledweyne city early in the month.  A suspected Al Shabaab member sought to plant the landmine on a main road, but was caught in the act (All Voices).

In Mogadishu, an immigration department official was killed by a landmine that detonated when he drove past it (All Africa).

Also at the start of the month, Al Shabaab claimed an attack on Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s convoy as it drove to through the Lower Shabelle region of the country.  The government denied the attack, but person’s in the vicinity reported hearing a landmine explosion (All Africa).

Other landmine attacks targeted AMISOM troops traveling in a convoy in Mogadishu (All Africa) and government forces in Afgoye Town in Lower Shabelle (Shabelle Media).  Casualties in Mogadishu were unknown but the AMISOM troops opened fire immediately after the blast, endangering civilians.  In Afgoye, as many as six soldiers were taken to hospitals for treatment.

The constant barrage of landmine and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks has spurred the US Africa Command to provide explosive ordnance training to AMISOM forces.  US Navy ordnance specialists spent three weeks training soldiers from Burundi in reconnaissance, demining and disposal procedures for explosive devices in advance of the Burundians deployment to Somalia as part of the AMISOM contingent (UXO Info).

 

Egypt

Following the military coup that toppled Mohamed Morsi’s government in Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula has become increasingly restive.  Long a home to Islamists supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s ouster seems to have given new life to elements fighting against the current regime.  Egypt’s state television aired a report claiming that Hamas, the Islamist group in charge of Palestine’s Gaza Strip and itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, provided 400 landmines and training in bomb-making to militant Islamists in the Sinai.  Hamas has denied the charge (Jerusalem Post).   Landmines, whether from Hamas or from Egypt’s own stockpile of landmines, are being planted along the roads in Sinai and one blast injured at least nine people including soldiers, police and civilians.  After the blast, the Egyptian soldiers chased attackers (All Africa; Bloomberg).

 

Zambia

Zambia’s hosting of the Fourth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Lusaka led to some articles in the local newspapers about landmine and cluster munitions survivors.  One story, profiling some of the African survivor advocates in attendance at the meeting was very positive, demonstrating the resilience and strength possessed by some survivors (All Africa).  Another story was much less so, describing the lives of two survivors, one a former soldier in the Zambian army and the other government civil servant, whose injuries had dramatically changed their lives for the worse.  The former soldier has had to rely on support from his local church to receive a prosthetic limb and the civil servant is unable to pay his children’s school fees despite working as a carpenter.  Both men complained about a lack of support from the Zambian government.  Their experiences are confirmed by Yona Phiri, the executive director of the Zambia Foundation for Landmine Survivors, whose organization has only been able to support 16 survivors from across the country thanks to funds from the Norwegian government.  Despite an allocation for survivor assistance in the Zambian government’s budget, “the funds are not being utilized” and Mr. Phiri called on the Cluster Munitions Coalition, the civil society organization mobilized around a ban on cluster munitions, to urge the Zambian government to support landmine and cluster munitions survivors (All Africa).

 

Angola

Every month, and I do mean *every month*, there is a story about capacity building for Angola’s deminers and armed forces.  This month, 59 officers received training on the supervision and quality control of demining programs.  The participants represented 16 different provinces of the country (All Africa).  One question I would have about these trainings is how well they mesh with similar trainings hosted by international mine action operators and whether the skill sets of Angolan government deminers are the same as those of the internationals.  They should be and I would hope that at some level, probably the national mine action center, lessons are shared and standards harmonized.

 

Niger

As Mali faces the prospects of demining in the northern regions after the ouster of the Islamist militias there, neighboring Niger offers a model for how mine action can be a tool for peacebuilding.  In the wake of its own Tuareg uprisings in the 1990s and 2000s, Niger launched a humanitarian demining program that government soldiers and former rebels together to form demining brigades.  Encouraged by the efforts of Geneva Call which had reached out to the rebels about the humanitarian impact of landmines, the Nigerien government was able to create the National Commission for the Collection and Control of Illicit Weapons (CNCCAI) which disarmed the rebels and provided jobs in the form of demining and mine risk education to former rebels.  Geneva Call served as a mediator and broker for the CNCCAI.  The rebels brought their knowledge of the mine-affected regions and the government brought the resources.  To date, some 744 kilometers of roads and over a million square meters of land have been cleared of mines (All Africa).

 

Libya

In Misrata, the heart of the revolution that overthrew the Gaddhafi regime, one can find the “Martyrs’ Museum,” dedicated to the fighting that took place in the city in 2011.  The Museum displays arms and weapons used by the regime against the people of Misrata and receives 1,500 visitors each week.  However, many of the items on display posed an enormous risk to the museum’s visitors and host.  Live ammunition, rockets, missiles and a 400 kilogram bomb were among the 363 items identified as dangerous by a team from Mines Advisory Group.  Fortunately no one was injured, but the presence of these items in a museum is a reminder to all not to tamper with explosive items, no matter how inert they may seem (All Africa).

 

Sudan

Since South Sudan’s emergence in July 2011 as the world’s newest nation, a civil war has been brewing in Sudan’s now southernmost states of Blue Nile and South Khordofan (and possibly the states of Darfur).  The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), a rebel group fighting against Khartoum, was once part of the movement that now rules South Sudan, but the partition between the Sudan’s isolated the SPLM-N.  Khartoum insists that South Sudan continues to support the SPLM-N whilst engaging in regular bombing raids against populated areas in Blue Nile and South Khordofan.  Under this backdrop, the SPLM-N has been trying to raise its profile internationally and has signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment, committing itself to a ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines and to assist in the clearance of mines in areas under its control.  According to the SPLM-N, what few anti-personnel landmines it has were captured from Sudanese forces.  The reports about the SPLM-N don’t ask the question, but where would Sudan’s army have gotten anti-personnel landmines from since Sudan supposedly destroyed its stockpiles in 2007 and 2008?  To meet its obligations under the Deed of Commitment, the SPLM-N will create an organization to clear landmines and provide survivor assistance.  Geneva Call and the SPLM-N will continue to work together to develop and implement a child protection program and the SPLM-N will work with the International Committee of the Red Cross to arrange for the release of prisoners of war.  These steps are helping to legitimate the SPLM-N and build confidence in the organization for possible future peace negotiations with international mediation (Radio Dabanga; Radio Dabanga).

Outside of Blue Nile and South Khordofan landmines continue to threaten the lives of Sudanese people.  The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has cleared thousands of landmines from Sudan, but mine-contaminated areas remain in Kassala, Gedaref, Blue Nile, the three Darfur states and Blue Nile and South Khordofan.  The fighting in Blue Nile and South Khordofan led to higher numbers of landmine casualties in 2011 compared to the years since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.  Despite the thousands of survivors living in Sudan, only two thousand have received support from survivor assistance programs (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

 

Mozambique

As Mozambique makes its final push to clear all anti-personnel landmines within its territory, the donor community has stepped up to provide assistance.  The Government of Sweden provided a  Mini Minewolf landmine clearance vehicle along with a year’s worth of spare parts and training for the MineWolf operator.  Mozambique’s National Demining Institute plans to deploy the MineWolf to Sofala Province, the most heavily-mined in the country (Defence Web).  The Norwegian government provides funding for mine clearance in Mozambique and a representative from the embassy, Clarisse Barbosa Fernandes, visited the Norwegian People’s Aid field site where she met a female demining team of nine Mozambican women from Tete Province (Norwegian People’s Aid).  In the coming months, after the interior of the country is cleared, mine clearance assets and personnel will transfer to the border with Zimbabwe to finish the mine clearance work by the end of 2014.

 

Algeria

The government of Algeria is working to clear all of the landmines planted during the French colonial period and the conflicts of the 1960s and 1990s.  In August, over 4,000 mines were cleared mine the national army for a total of almost 700,000 cleared to date (Algerie Soir).

 

Michael P. Moore

October 24, 2013


The Month in Mines, July 2013, by Landmines in Africa

The collection and compilation of stories we do here at Landmines in Africa is far from a scientific process.  The result is an apparent over-emphasis on a few countries at the expense of others. This is a reflection of the number of stories in English-language media and the relative attention paid by media outlets to events in certain countries, or the emphasis local media places on the landmine issue.  Therefore, this month reading the round-up, you might think that the landmine situations in Angola, Somalia and Tunisia are most acute, while the contamination in Egypt, Libya, Mozambique, Senegal, South Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe is less so (and that no contamination exists at all in Western Sahara, Sudan, Chad, Algeria or elsewhere).  So, please remember that this round-up reflects the news available and not the entire picture.  Let’s begin in…

 

Somalia

The holy month of Ramadan began on July 8th and in recognition, Al Shabaab launched a new offensive in Somalia with attacks in Mogadishu and Kismayo.  Al Shabaab, through its Twitter account, claimed over one hundred attacks, a figure that could not be substantiated, but there definitely felt like an uptick in violence in July.  Sabahi media recorded several attacks, including four separate landmine attacks (All Africa).  Those landmine attacks are as follows: In Mogadishu on July 11th, at least one Somali soldier was wounded by a landmine that also destroyed the vehicle he was riding in; there were no reports of civilian casualties (AMISOM Media Monitoring). A Jubbaland soldier was killed by a mine in Kismayo on July 14th (AMISOM Media Monitoring).  On July 17th, a woman was killed by a mine that targeted a Sierra Leonean contingent of AMISOM peacekeepers.  Four people were wounded when the soldiers opened fire indiscriminately; no word on the number of soldiers killed.  Other mines had been found in the same area (AMISOM Media Monitoring).  A second attack, also against Sierra Leone peacekeepers in Kismayo occurred on the 20th, with at least five civilians killed and two others wounded (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa).

In addition to those immediately killed or wounded by the mines, two Somali journalists were shot at by members of the Raskamboni militia, which is allied with the Jubbaland administration, when they went to report on the mine attack on July 17th.  According to reports, the shooter, who wounded both journalists, one severely, was not arrested despite being identified.  Journalists are at increasing risk in Somalia with a number of journalists killed or injured in the last couple of years (Horseed Media; All Africa; Africa Review; eNCA).

There are also positive developments in Somalia.  In the Galgadud region of southern Somalia, demining work has begun to clear the landmines that were laid along the Somalia-Ethiopia border during the Ogaden war of the 1980s.  Supported by the Danish Demining Group, thirty-five Somali deminers have been trained and deployed to clear roads and lands that had been indiscriminately mined (AMISON Media Monitoring).  Further assistance for demining in Galgadud has been requested from the UN Mine Action Service and the Somali Federal government.  According to local officials, military bases from the Ogaden war have been re-purposed as camps for internally displaced persons, but these camps are surrounded by mines (AMISOM Media Monitoring).  As a reminder of the risks, two children died and a third sickened after consuming gunpowder or other explosive materials that were removed from a mine in Balanbale district, the same district targeted for demining by the Galgadud administration and Danish Demining Group (AMISOM Media Monitoring).

 

Zambia

Zambia will be hosting the Fourth Meeting of States Parties to the Cluster Munitions Convention in September and has launched the preparations for that event. As part of the preparations, however, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has had to acknowledge that explosive remnants of war, including landmines and cluster munitions, continue to contaminate the country in regions that are “inaccessible” along the border with Angola.  The government retains an explosive ordnance disposal capacity and can respond to requests when a citizen discovers a suspicious item (Daily Mail).

 

Sudan

There are 10 million landmines in Sudan and in July one exploded in South Kordofan state killing 9 children and wounding another five.  The mine is possibly left over from recent battles between the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, a recently formed coalition of anti-Khartoum groups, and the Sudanese army; or the mine could be a remnant from the decades long civil war that concluded with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the creation of South Sudan.  Either way, it is a tragedy that could be repeated many, many times over (The Nation).

 

Tunisia

The arrest of Kamel Ben Arbia, whose nom du guerre is “Abu Fida,” by Algerian authorities may have led to a reprisal attack in the Jebel Chaambi region at the end of July.  Tunisian officials believed that they had cleared the mountains of the Islamist rebels after security operations (which left several Tunisian soldiers dead or wounded) in April, May and June.  The attack was an ambush which began with the explosion of a landmine that had been planted along a roadway known to be used by Tunisian security forces.  The explosion injured three Tunisian soldiers and prompted a medical evacuation operation.  Soldiers with the evacuation team were then attacked by gunmen leading to another eight deaths. There was no additional word about the three soldiers injured by the landmine (Tunisia Live; APA; Tunisia Live; All Africa).

 

Libya

In the period immediately after the overthrow of the Gaddhafi regime in Libya, most Libyan hospitals were unable to treat persons injured by bullets and explosives.  As a result, a number of soldiers and civilians were transported to other countries, Jordan was a popular choice, for treatment.  Recently, efforts are underway to rebuild the capacity of the Libyan health sector to provide the necessary care for war trauma and part of that effort has been the training of physiotherapists in Tripoli.  In early July, 20 physiotherapists (physical therapists for my fellow Americans) participated in a theoretical and practical workshop funded by ITF Enhancing Human Security (ITF), previously known as International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victim Assistance based in Slovenia (ITF).

Despite this and other assistance, mine action projects in Libya are facing an $18.5 million shortfall in 2013.  The full scale of landmine contamination, which dates back to WWII and includes several conflicts between WWII and the civil war that overthrew Gaddhafi, is not known.  Planned landmine clearance work may need to be delayed and the crucial survey work to determine the full scope has yet to begin.  In addition to survey and clearance, hundreds if not thousands of survivors will continue to need assistance (Libya Herald).  As an emergency response to this funding shortfall, the UN Mine Action Service, with support from the Swiss Government is building ammunition storage facilities to store stockpiles of ammunition and explosive ordnance safely until formal plans for disposal can be arranged.  Stop-gap measures like this are important, but a long term solution, both to issues of unsecured ammunition and known and unknown minefields are needed and must be prioritized by the Libyan government (Libya Herald).

 

Mali

We’ve said on here before how even the rumor of landmines can shut down travel along roads or prevent the use of agricultural fields.  In Mali, a rumor had spread that the Tuareg militia, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), had planted landmines around the town of Kidal.  The Malian army has denied those rumors and French and United Nations officials have been forced to deny other rumors about MNLA activities which seem aimed at preventing any reconciliation or agreement between the MNLA and Malian government (RFI).

 

Angola

Angola’s Minister of Agriculture touted the clearance of landmines as a key input into reducing food insecurity and poverty reduction in the country (All Africa).  The Minister of Social Welfare reported that 1.2 billion square meters of land has been cleared since 1996 to “ensure the free flow of people and goods and significantly contribute to Angola’s economic and social development” (All Africa).  The Angolan army Chief of Staff also stated “clearance allows the rehabilitation of more roads, construction of new airports, new fields of oil exploration, mineral resources, expansion of the rail network, movement of people and goods throughout the country in its various areas” (All Africa).  Sounds good, right?  But all is not rosy.

Despite a commitment of US $1 million for demining from the Government of Japan (All Africa) and continued investment from the Government of Angola, national and international mine action operators are facing funding uncertainty.  In the current aid climate, mine action operators fear a reduction in funding from the international community and note that international operators would need to withdraw from the country if funding dried up (Africa Review).

 

Egypt

There has been a lot of instability in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak stepped down during the Arab Spring; instability that has only increased with the military’s dismissal of Mohamed Morsi as president last month.  In addition to the demonstrations in Cairo, the Sinai Peninsula has been a flashpoint for conflict between the military and the Islamists.  At least four landmines have detonated on the peninsula in July resulting in at least one injury and three deaths (Daily News; News 24; Daily News; Egypt Independent).  In addition to the blasts, the Egyptian army, which was targeted by three of the mines, responded to the last mine blast with indiscriminate fire in the direction of the blast.  No casualties were reported, but such a response could easily lead to civilian injuries and deaths, as it has in Somalia.

 

Mozambique and Zimbabwe

Between now and the end of 2014, the mine action community will be closely monitoring clearance in Mozambique as it prepares to declare itself mine-free.  Becoming mine-free will require very close collaboration with the government of Zimbabwe because the majority of landmines that remain in Mozambique lie along the shared border with Zimbabwe; even though the border region represents less than a third of the area remaining to clear.  To date, Mozambique has been able to classify 103 of the country’s 128 districts as mine-free and about 9.7 million square meters remain to be cleared.  In 2012, Mozambique, with the assistance of domestic and international mine action operators, cleared 8.7 million square meters so the amount remaining is not insurmountable.

Part of the work that remains in Mozambique is to actually define the border with Zimbabwe since it is not currently marked. This will likely be a contentious negotiation since any mines on the Zimbabwe side of the border will need to be cleared by Zimbabwe which, because of sanctions and delays, has not been able to raise as many funds for its clearance as Mozambique.  A memorandum of understanding is being negotiated between the two countries which will facilitate the movement of deminers and support staff across the border (All Africa; All Africa).

On the Zimbabwe side, most of the mines were laid by the Rhodesian government in the 1970s and since 1980 when the Rhodesian government was dissolved, 1,500 people and 120,000 animals have been killed by landmines in Zimbabwe; the number of people injured by mines is not known and may exceed the number killed.  There are an estimate 2.5 million mines in Zimbabwe but whereas Mozambique is nearly complete with its landmine clearance, Zimbabwe’s priority is a survey to define the extent of contamination.  Hopefully, the process of clearing the Mozambican border will help inform the survey work in Zimbabwe (The Zimbabwean).

 

Senegal

We’ll end on a very happy note.  After more than 10 weeks, nine Senegalese deminers working for South Africa’s Denel Mechem were released, unharmed and without a ransom.  The deminers were abducted by a branch of the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) which had declared in March that demining should halt in the Casamance region unless included in formal peace negotiations.  The International Committee of the Red Cross monitored the health of the deminers who were released into the care of an NGO in Guinea-Bissau.  No word about the future of demining in the region (Defence Web; The New Age).

 

Michael P. Moore

August 9, 2013


The Month in Mines, June 2013

If it were possible, some of this month’s stories would make more cynical about the continuing threat of landmines on the continent and the responsiveness of individual states and the international community.  At the same time, some of this month’s stories make me more hopeful of a future free of landmines for the continent than I already am.  The cup is simultaneously half-empty and half-full; I just wish it would start trending in a definite direction.  With that wishy-washy introduction, let’s traverse the African continent from north to south and east to west:

 

Libya

Handicap International has taken a leading role in training members of Libya’s fledgling civil society on advocacy in support of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Cluster Munitions Convention.  The mere fact that any organization could be discussing any kind of humanitarian disarmament program in Libya is a stunning achievement and the members of Asalama (“Safety” in Arabic) and the Libyan Organizations for Demining and Development should be applauded for their demining and risk education work.  I take the expansion of activities for these organizations as a sign that the immediate threat of landmines is being addressed in a satisfactory manner and by working to get Libya to join the Mine Ban Treaty, future landmine threats can be prevented (Cluster Munitions Coalition).

 

Somalia

In another country whose future appears brighter than it might have just a few years ago, Somalia still faces a lingering insurgent threat that has adopted the use of landmines as a primary weapon.  In Mogadishu a landmine destroyed a mini-bus carrying passengers.  At least one person was killed and another injured in the blast (Mustaqbal Radio).  In the southern Somali city of Kismayo, the number of landmine attacks against government and civilian targets may be increasing, especially as the contentious issue of “Jubaland” is sorted out.  Jubaland is the name of the region in and around Kismayo and some observers believe that the Kenyan government supports the establishment of a semi-autonomous region (Jubaland) that would be a buffer state between Somalia and Kenya.  A president of Jubaland has been appointed and there now exists a Jubaland government although the government of Somalia does not recognize its legitimacy.  Kenyan troops are seen as protecting the Jubaland project and have been targeted in two landmine attacks in June.  In the first attack, the Deputy Mayor of Kismayo and several Kenyan soldiers were injured; in the second attack, an unknown number of Kenyan soldiers were injured, possibly killed.  In the aftermath of the second attack, Kenyan soldiers fired indiscriminately into the crowds at a busy market, injuring at least 15 civilians and leading many Somalis in Kismayo to believe that the Kenyan Army, once the liberators of Kismayo are now the occupiers (All Africa; Mareeg).

However, demining activities are also on-going in Kismayo and the local policy force removed two landmines planted along a major roadway.  The location of the mines was reported by a tip from residents and the policy chief was quick to praise those who reported the mines (Bar Kulan Radio).

 

Nigeria

The four Lebanese men, arrested in Nigeria and accused of membership in Hezbollah, continue to twist in the Nigerian criminal court system.  When four landmines and a respectable arsenal of small arms was discovered in a bunker of the four’s home in Abuja, the security service in Nigeria did not make the connection to Boko Haram which has been responsible for numerous attacks on civilians, but to Hezbollah which has not made any such attacks.  Certainly the arms in question are not legal and would be of interest to any terrorist organization, but the immediate blame of Hezbollah is interesting and stunningly short-sighted.  There’s more to this story, but fortunately, the landmine element has concluded (All Africa; All Africa).

 

South Sudan

The border between South Sudan and Sudan continues to be a volatile location and the presence of landmines in White Nile State (Sudan) and Upper Nile State (South Sudan) threatens the lives of pastoralists who traverse the border regularly in search of pasture land.  Rebel groups in both states, operating with support of the other country’s government have been accused of using landmines.  And it’s not just people who are at risk: in one reported incident, a person was killed along with 40 cattle (Radio Tamazuj).

Away from the border, in Jonglei State, a humanitarian crisis of frightening proportions is developing.  Humanitarian agencies, including Refugees International and Doctors without Borders have been unable to access the hardest hit parts of the State, and the United Nations peacekeeping force has been grounded after one of its helicopters was shot down by the South Sudanese army.  According to Refugees International, the use of landmines by the rebel force loyal to David Yau Yau has led to many injuries among children especially (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) has joined the International Committee of the Red Cross as the second international mine action operator active in Zimbabwe.  NPA will take responsibility for clearing three of the five known minefields in the country and has already surveyed two of those minefields, beginning clearance in one of them.  Of especial interest is mine clearance of the Great Limpopo Park which is a potential tourist destination that crosses the borders of Mozambique and South Africa.  Like South Sudan, a large proportion of the landmine victims of Zimbabwe are herd animals with an estimated 120 cattle killed by landmines for every person killed by landmines, devastating the local meat and dairy industry (Norwegian People’s Aid).

 

Mali

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap or MSB) is one of several mine action operators working on explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and mine action in Mali.  In a recent profile of MSB’s work, Christofer Wärme described MSB’s efforts to train Malians in EOD and humanitarian demining.  This is part of the larger project in Mali coordinated and supported by the UN Mine Action Service (MSB).

 

Angola

The sheer scale of the landmine problem in Angola is sometimes overwhelming.  Since 2010, the Government of Angola has invested 25.4 billion Angolan Kwanza, equivalent to US $263 million in demining across the country and still the problem persists in huge numbers across vast swathes of the country (All Africa).  However, the work continues as evidenced by the handover to the regional government of Huila Province of a former minefield measuring nearly 400,000 square meters that can now be used for farming and houses (All Africa).  In addition to the enormous sums contributed by the government, the President and First Lady actively support the reintegration of landmine victims through the First Lady’s patronage of the Lwini Foundation which raises funds that “enabled the construction or rehabilitation of special needs schools, support the orthopedic centres and paralympic sports, the implementation of professional training programmes, [and] grant of internal and external scholarships.”  The President offers his support by attending the Lwini Foundation’s fundraising gala in June which featured music by the artist Seal and granting a “privileged partnership” to the Foundation with the Office of the President (All Africa; All Africa).

The international community also contributes to mine action in Angola and in June the European Commission co-hosted a four-day training in humanitarian mine action with the National Inter-sectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH) to improve mine action activities in Benguela Province (All Africa).

 

Mauritania

In Mauritania two new demining teams were deployed to clear minefields in Nouadibou Province.  These teams, trained by Norwegian People’s Aid with support from the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway, will increase the national capacity to address the landmine threat and help ensure that Mauritania meets it Mine Ban Treaty obligations (Norwegian People’s Aid).

 

Egypt

Weapons smuggling in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula continues.  In June a vehicle was seized carrying rockets, grenades, machine guns and landmines.  Unfortunately, a second vehicle, possibly carrying additional arms, escaped (Xinhua).

 

Tunisia

In the Jebel Chaambi region of Tunisia, near the Algerian border, Tunisian security forces continued their operations against Islamist rebels who have taken root in the mountains.  In early June, two separate blasts resulted in the deaths of two soldiers and the wounding of seven others.  After half a dozen such incidents, these were the first reported deaths due to landmines in the current campaign (Tunisia Live; Reuters; All Africa; Tunisia Live).  Later in the month, an animal set off another landmine which did not result in any human casualties; the condition (or type) of animal was not reported (All Africa).

 

Senegal

Nine Senegalese deminers working for South Africa’s MECHEM were still held by members of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance.  The threat of kidnapping and presence of landmines in the Senegalese region of Casamance restricts access to the region and prevents humanitarian actors like the International Committee of the Red Cross from providing much-needed services and supplies to the population (All Africa).

The threat of landmines was made clear when a motorcyclist struck a mine in Casamance, killing her instantly.  The route was a familiar one to the motorcyclist, who was aware of the risks (APS).

The president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh also commented on the threat of landmines in the Casamance.  Jammeh provided tractors to farmers in Foni District, but many individuals used those tractors to illegally transport timber from Casamance to the Gambia for resale.  During the transport process, many tractors were destroyed by landmines and Jammeh warned those who would seek tractors to avoid such risky activities (All Africa).

Lastly, President Barack Obama visited Senegal as part of his tour of Sub-Saharan Africa.  Despite visiting Senegal and having the conflict in the Casamance on the Agenda, the landmine issue did not come up as far as I can tell, but gay marriage did (Voice of America; The White House).

 

Zambia

Poniso Njeulu, who represents the Sinjembela constituency in the Zambian Parliament, has been active in raising concerns about a possible minefield in his district which lies along the border with Angola.  Two landmines have been found recently, one by a child and another by a farmer, and fortunately neither exploded.  Farmers in the region are now afraid to till their land for fear of detonating mines which has the potential to cause food insecurity if planting and harvesting does not occur in a timely manner.  Njeulu has called upon teachers in the region to sensitize children about the dangers of possible unexploded ordnance and landmines and he has also requested the government to send a team of experts to the region to review and assess the scale of the problem (Lusaka Voice; Post Zambia).   Zambia has previously declared that it has cleared all known minefields in accordance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty and if the minefields that Njeulu has identified are confirmed, Zambia will need to present a report to the Meeting of States Parties about the extent of contamination and plans to address it.

 

Western Sahara and South Africa

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) released a report on the impact of landmines of refugees including the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara.  The report called on states to “eliminate the harrowing risks that refugees and asylum seekers face from landmines and unexploded ordnance. States must protect refugee victims and urgently respond to their needs.”  In Western Sahara, local activists took advantage of the report to highlight their plight and maintain their push for autonomy and independence from Morocco (All Africa).

Western Sahara representatives also met with South African officials and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on a Financial Contribution towards the Humanitarian Landmine Assistance Programme.  This Memorandum was one of three signed between the two governments in June and “reaffirmed that South Africa’s common view that the issue of Western Sahara ‘remains a question of decolonisation and the inalienable right of people to self-determination in accordance with the United Nations Charter’” (All Africa).

Also in South Africa, the defense contractor DCD Protected Mobility opened a new armored vehicle manufacturing facility that will produce mine-resistant vehicle for the South African military and for armies around the world (Business Day Live).  Between the manufacture of mine-resistant vehicles, the deployment of deminers through MECHEM and the support of victim assistance programs like the one in Western Sahara, South Africa continues to be a leader on the continent for humanitarian demining and mine action, a process that started in the early 1990s when South Africa, a former producer of landmines, instituted an export moratorium.

 

The United States

Although Mr. Obama did not mentions landmines during his tour of Africa, US Army Africa Command (AFRICOM) observers did.  MG Charles Hooper, head of strategy and plans for AFRICOM said that “building human capital” is one of AFRICOM’s goals in several African states, including Angola, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, US Army engineers have trained their counterparts in landmine clearance techniques.  Such activities are a welcome alternative to the counter-terrorism focused operations that occupy most of AFRICOM’s engagement on the continent (Reuters).

 

Italy

Lastly, in Waning Colonial Power News: despite the economic and political crises in Italy, the government of Italy will contribute 1.2 million euros to mine clearance projects in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan this year.  This is a drop from the 2 million euro commitment last year, but unlike last year, this year’s contribution is solely for African countries.  The commitments are partly the result of guilt from Italy’s “part in backing countries” that used landmines (ANSA).  I would think that Italy’s guilt and culpability is worth a bit more than 1.2 million euros, but it’s a start.

 

Michael P. Moore

July 25, 2013