On November 30th, the US Department of Defense reversed a Bush Administration policy on the use of cluster munitions. After using cluster munitions in Afghanistan and Iraq and seeing the impact of the weapons in Lebanon after their use by Israel, the Bush Administration, simultaneous to the negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, had decided the weapons had an inexcusable humanitarian impact due to their high failure rate and their threat to civilian populations after conflicts ended. The Obama Administration maintained the policy and increased support to Laos to clear the cluster munitions that had been dropped by the United States during the Vietnam War. Since 2008, the Pentagon has sought replacement weapons for cluster munitions and abided by the policy that the US military would not acquire any cluster munitions that have a failure rate greater than 1%. At the same time, the military would dispose of existing stockpiles of older cluster munitions that did not adhere to the 2008 policy. The new Trump Administration policy reverses the earlier policy and ignores the humanitarian consequences of the cluster munitions.
Citing the ongoing (never-ending) war on terror and unnamed, but “important changes in the global security environment,” the new policy specifically authorizes the use of cluster munitions with failure rates above 1%. The policy requires new cluster munitions to either have a self-destruct feature or a failure rate of 1% of less; however, the policy also allows field commanders to purchase and order cluster munitions that do not adhere to the policy’s requirements for new cluster munitions, thus rendering any such requirements moot. This change will provide political cover for any regime, including the Syrian government, to use and stockpile cluster munitions, saying that if the weapons are important to the United States, they are also important to us. This is the same argument that kept the Cuban and Georgian governments from joining the Mine Ban Treaty and means these inhuman weapons will likely continue to threaten civilian populations for years to come.
Now, longtime readers will know I have a cynical streak, but please hear me out. The 2008 Department of Defense policy had a significant impact on domestic producers of cluster munitions, specifically Textron, Inc. During the Obama Administration, Textron announced the closure of a cluster munition manufacturing plant in Massachusetts and a round of layoffs, saying that the 2008 policy made the weapons system unsustainable for the company. This was a good thing. However, in June 2017, the Trump Administration nominated Textron’s CEO, Ellen Lord, as undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, responsible for all military acquisitions, including cluster munitions under the new policy. During her confirmation testimony, no mention was made of any recusal of Ms. Lord from decisions related to Textron’s business interests, despite her position as head of acquisitions and Textron’s status as the 18th largest defense contractor in the world. And then, just four months after Lord’s confirmation, the Pentagon announces the change in policy including an option to purchase cluster munitions such as those Textron produces. Again, I may be cynical on these matters, but something feels a bit off here (Congressional Research Service Report # RS22907; USNI; Defense News).
On to the news from the Continent:
APOPO, the landmine clearance organization that uses rats to detect mines, is the fourth NGO operator to support the clearance efforts in Zimbabwe. APOPO has been assigned the minefields in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Clearance of the Park will provide security for the animals and enable greater use of the Park for eco-tourism. APOPO will start the work using traditional methods of mechanical and manual demining before introducing the rats (Relief Web).
Libya has emerged in the last couple of years as one of the most mine-affected countries with the Islamic State making extensive use of the weapons. Estimates of the total number of newly laid explosives are in the thousands and include extensive use of booby traps in residences (Asharq Al-Awsat). At least eight civilians were killed and another 11 wounded by landmines in October in the city of Benghazi (Netral News). Additional casualties were reported in November in Benghazi (Libya Herald; Libya Herald; Libya Herald). The British government donated US $4 million worth of demining equipment to assist with the clearance of Sirte; in addition to the equipment, the United Kingdom is providing training to Libyan military and police engineers (Xinhua). The British ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, also visited Benghazi and announced a donation of 1.2 million British Pounds to train clearance teams in Benghazi and launch a mine-risk education program (Libya Herald).
Four civilians were killed in northern Mali when the minibus they were riding in struck a landmine near Lellehoye in the Gao region (Anadolu Agency).
Tunisian anti-terror units killed an explosives expert and found at least one landmine ready for use (Xinhua).
With the recent government settlement to provide funding for the clearance of landmines and unexploded and abandoned ordnance from the 1960s Biafra war, there seems to be a new interest in the extent of contamination. Casualty figures are unclear, but over 18,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been cleared so far by one demining organization with another thousand items waiting disposal (People’s Daily).
The HALO Trust has cleared and destroyed over 1,000 anti-personnel mines from Menongue and Cuito Cuanavale in the first nine months of 2017 (EIN News). In Bie Province, the National Demining Institute (INAD) cleared over 200 ERW in a similar time period (All Africa).
British Member of Parliament Daniel Kawczinski called on the British government to hand over any minefield maps from the battle of El Alamein in World War II. Any maps from the battle would be significantly out of date and the shifting sands of the desert may have moved most of the mines from their original locations making the maps less helpful than might be hoped (Arab News). In previous reports, the British Ambassador has said that all such maps have been turned over the Egyptian authorities, but the detail of the maps was limited (The Monitor).
The Ministry of Defence has submitted a request to the Cabinet of the Gambia to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Gambia has already signed the Convention, but not yet completed the process of ratification (The Point).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
December 30, 2017
In 2016 I traveled to Zimbabwe to take stock of mine clearance along the border with Mozambique and to document the availability and quality of victim assistance in the country. Short answers were that the clearance was going well while victim assistance services were deteriorating. To prepare for the trip I had read Peter Godwin’s The Fear about the violence that followed the contested 2008 elections and Heidi Holland’s Dinner with Mugabe, a psychological biography of the only leader Zimbabwe had ever known. Until a week ago. After a brief power struggle between Robert Mugabe’s two most-likely successors, the first lady Grace Mugabe and the general and former director of Zimbabwe’s interior security Emerson Mnangagwa, Mnangagwa found himself fired in early November and having to flee arrest. A few days later, leaders of the Zimbabwean army consulted with Chinese officials in Beijing and presumably secured their support for the non-coup that deposed Mugabe and replaced him with Mnangagwa after several days of negotiations. The transition has so far been peaceful, but let’s be clear: Mnangagwa is not the reformer that Morgan Tsangvirai would have been in 2008. Mnangagwa, nicknamed “the Crocodile,” led the pogroms against the Matabelele people in the 1980s, eliminating a key opposition group to Mugabe’s rule and allowing Mugabe to consolidate control. Then, in 2008, Mnangagwa masterminded the violence and repression which followed the Movement for Democracy and Change’s, Tsangvirai’s party, likely electoral victory. Until Grace Mugabe’s efforts to seize power in recent months, Mnangagwa had been seen as Mugabe’s likely successor.
I have heard from colleagues that the mine clearance is continuing in Zimbabwe and the general mood in the country is positive. I don’t hold any particular hope for a dramatic improvement in the quality and availability of victim assistance services, but I, for the most part, recall my time in Zimbabwe fondly. The people I met, much like the Bosnians, Rwandans and Vietnamese I have met in other travels, were remarkably resilient; despite the poor economy and the recent memories of violence, life continued.
We are consolidating two months’ worth of stories into this update.
Benghazi, despite its association with a non-scandal involving the Clinton State Department, should be seen as one of the most mine-affected cities in the world. In one month – July 2017 – at least 40 civilians were killed by mines with an unknown number injured and further unknown numbers of soldiers killed or wounded. The Islamic State made wide use of victim-activated booby traps and local activists have taken on the role of counting the casualties. The Libyan army is making some progress to clear the mines and booby traps, and 43 deminers have lost their lives to liberate the city from explosives. More support is needed from the international community to train and equip the deminers, but more options are also needed for the residents of Benghazi who fled their homes and now wish to return (D and C).
At least four people were killed and 9 injured by landmines in Benghazi in September (Libya Observer). In Sabri neighborhood, a teenager lost both legs in a landmine explosion while playing football near his home (Libyan Express). Also in Sabri, a father and his son were injured by the shrapnel from a mine (Libya Herald) and three men were killed by a booby trap near the entrance to a public building. A Chadian man also died from his injuries after stepping on a landmine near his home (Libya Observer).
Women activists from Libya met in Rome under the auspices of the Italian Foreign Ministry and called on the international community to provide more support to landmine clearance in Libya (Libya Herald).
Cement factories in Benghazi are expected to re-open for operations in the near future after landmine clearance supported by British experts. Local production of cement will aid in reconstruction (Libya Herald).
A UN peacekeeping convoy struck a landmine near Gao which touched off an ambush that killed three peacekeepers and injured five others in September (WTOP). In October, another ambush killed three peacekeepers and injured two more after a convoy hit a mine in Kidal (Punch Nigeria). The Al Qaeda affiliated Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed credit for the attack in Kidal and was also suspected of a landmine blast that injured two Malian soldiers (Long War Journal).
In Angola’s Zaire province, seven landmines were among the 89 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) (All Africa). In Kwanza Norte almost 3 million square meters of land have been cleared of mines and and over 21 thousand people have been sensitized to the danger of landmines (Relief Web). 468 UXO cleared in Bengo province were destroyed (EIN News).
Having earlier cleared the last known minefield, Algeria destroyed the last 5,970 landmines stockpiled by the country (Middle East Online).
The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) ruled against the government of Nigeria for failure to clear landmines from the 1960s Biafra War. The ruling requires the government to begin removing stockpiles of unexploded and abandoned ordnance (Sahara Reporters).
Two vehicles in northern Nigeria struck separate landmines attributed to Boko Haram, killing two people and injuring many others (Independent). Near Maidugari Boko Haram launched an ambush after an army convoy struck a landmine; four Nigerian soldiers were killed and five were injured in the attack (All Africa).
A convoy belonging to Avocet, a mining company, struck a mine north of Burkina Faso’s capitol, Ougadougou, killing two and injuring two more. The mine was attributed to a new jihadist group, Ansaroul Islam (Reuters).
Two Cameroonian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram-attributed landmine near the Nigerian border (Anadolu Agency).
Landmines and UXO from the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda continue to be found and threaten lives and livelihood. The region suffers from food insecurity due to an inability to fully use the agricultural lands due to fears of explosives (All Africa).
A minibus struck a landmine in Lower Shabelle killing the two women and four men riding in it. Two other landmines were discovered and cleared in a Mogadishu suburb (Voice of America).
Sixty square kilometers of minefields remain in Zimbabwe as the country scrambles to meet the global target of a landmine-free world in 2025. The HALO Trust covers the areas of Mount Darwin and Mukumbura and report that while human casualties have mercifully been reduced, livestock continue to suffer with 19 cattle lost to landmines in just two months in Mukumbura. Near Mount Darwin, plans for emergency clinics to respond to landmine injuries have been delayed or shelved due to lack of funds. Demining continues to receive international support with a recent contribution of US $2 million from the Japanese government (News Day). That support has helped to clear five square kilometers of land and over 40,000 mines out of the estimated 29 square kilometers of minefields in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East where Mukumbura is (News Day).
In addition to herding, farming and general transit across Zimbabwe’s minefields, a continuing lure for people to enter the minefields is the myth of Red Mercury. A belief persists that landmines contain Red Mercury, a nonexistent substance thought to be more valuable than gold, so people try to open mines to obtain the substance with disastrous consequences. The HALO Trust and local legislators have been working to combat this myth and save lives (News Day).
Also in Zimbabwe, a new mine-risk education program was launched by Happy Readers and the HALO Trust. The program combines a literacy program with a fact-based story about the dangers of landmines.
Over 2,600 square kilometers of Egypt’s northwestern desert, site of the World War II battle of El Alamein, remain contaminated with landmines. The Egyptian government and then United Nations have led awareness campaigns while mine clearance is led by a division in the Egyptian army. The work is paying off as there has only been one reported landmine casualty to date in 2017, but the continuing presence hinders development of the region (The National).
Sudan’s Kassala State will likely be declared free of landmines by the end of the year. So far 90% of the known hazards have been cleared (All Africa).
Twenty years ago this month, the world lost one of the most public opponents of landmines, Princess Diana. While she is often credited with helping to bring about the global ban on anti-personnel landmines, the efforts that led to the Mine Ban Treaty started long before Princess Diana’s walk through an Angolan minefield or her meetings with Bosnian survivors. What Diana’s involvement did do was ensure that the world was paying attention to the issue and when she died a couple of weeks before the international community met to vote on accepting or rejecting the Mine Ban Treaty, Diana’s memory loomed large over the proceedings. Her “ghost” almost certainly helped to get the majority of the world’s nations to ban anti-personnel landmines, an effort that was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize shortly thereafter.
Since Diana’s death there have been other champions, perhaps the most famous being Paul Macartney and Heather Mills in the early 2000s and Princess Diana’s own son, Prince Harry. As we look through this month’s news stories, we should also note that the lives of champions are not the ones most affected by mines; those are the unnamed thousands and millions of people living in mine-affected countries and regions. The ones whose stories we often only learn about when they are cut short by these cruel devices.
As for this month’s round-up: Late again, I know.
Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Minister, pledged additional support to Libya’s reconstruction, including £3 million to clear landmines and other explosives from the recently-liberated city of Sirte and £1 million for demining training across the country (Daily Mail). The need for such training is acute in Benghazi where months of clearance work has yet to fully remove all of the mines from the city. One activist estimates that four or five civilians are killed or injured every day by mines and other explosive remnants of war in Benghazi (Libya Herald). In more positive news in Benghazi, the port has been re-opened after landmines were cleared which had been blocking access (Arab 24).
The United States government has donated several landmine detectors and protective suits to the Nigerian army for use in the northeastern region of the country where Boko Haram has laid many mines (TVC News).
Of course, the Boko Haram conflict is not the only one in Nigeria’s past. Just this month some 17,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) dating back to the Biafra war of the 1960s which had been cleared and stockpiled by Demining Concept Nigeria are now under the control of the Nigerian army. The explosives were being stored in a densely populated part of the capitol of Imo State, posing a risk to the local population. Another 44,000 bombs and UXO are believed to be polluting the city (Ripples Nigeria).
In Angola’s Cunene province, the national mine action authority, CNIDAH, is carrying out a mine risk awareness campaign in local schools and markets. So far, only 45 of Cunene’s 143 known minefields have been cleared (All Africa, News Ghana).
An estimated $275 million is needed to finish clearance of all known minefields in Angola. Current funding is less than 20% of that amount and clearance of the minefields at Cuito Cuanavale, “the most-mined town in Africa,” has been halted due to lack of funds. Twenty years after Diana’s visit, her memory can still generate a lot of column inches, but it might not achieve a landmine-free Angola (CNET; bonus points to CNET for quoting yours truly).
One person was injured when the road grader he was using struck an anti-tank landmine in Chiwetu area of Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe Daily).
The Zimbabwean army continues to clear mines laid by the Rhodesian regime during the liberation war. To raise awareness about the work, the army hosts an annual gala with music in the mine-affected region and provides artificial limbs to survivors (The Herald). The awareness efforts are needed because, despite progress by the army, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid, 18 people have been killed by landmines since 2012, including some who are looking for the hoax substance, Red Mercury (The Herald).
The International Committee of the Red Cross trained 50 Malian doctors on war and trauma surgery, enabling them to treat landmine victims (ReliefWeb).
Three civilians were killed by a landmine attributed to the Somalia rebel group, Al Shabaab, in northeastern Kenya. Most of the explosives used by Al Shabaab are remote controlled, but this particular blast appeared to be activated when the mine was struck by their Landcruiser (Prensa Latina). A second, similar incident occurred injuring two people when their truck struck a mine in Lamu, Kenya (The Nation).
A camel herder in north Darfur was killed along with two of his camels while his animals were grazing and one detonated a piece of UXO (Radio Dabanga) and in central Darfur, a 12 year-old boy was seriously injured when the UXO he was playing with exploded (Radio Dabanga).
Some 30 pieces of abandoned ordnance were discovered in the Zambezi region dating back to the South African occupation of the country during the Apartheid era. The local police have started the process to destroy the items (New Era).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
October 12, 2017
The Convention on Cluster Munitions gets a boost this month in advance of the anniversary of the Convention on August 1st. Two West African countries, Benin and The Gambia, ratified and made progress towards ratification, respectively. We also see disturbing news from Libya about the sheer scale of contamination there, but also recognition and support from the international community. So, another glass half-full month.
Some 4 million landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been cleared from South Sudan, but thousands more remain and new minefields are still being discovered. The conflict in South Sudan that began in December 2013 has hindered but not halted clearance operations. Today, 400 to 500 deminers, including many women, continue to work towards a mine-free South Sudan (All Africa).
The West Africa Network of Peacebuilding (WANEP), a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, called on the new government of the country to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Gambia is one of 17 countries to have signed the Convention but not yet ratify (All Africa).
Landmine explosions were heard in the Akhribish and Sabri areas of Benghazi as Operation Dignity forces loyal to General Haftar moved to consolidate their control over the city (Libya Observer). The engineering divisions of Operation Dignity continued to clear landmines and booby traps left by Islamic State fighters from Benghazi, but also warned civilians from attempting to return to their homes before clearance work was finished (Al Wasat). Despite the efforts of the engineers, two special forces soldiers were killed and three more wounded by a landmine near the Hotel Al Nuran in the Sabri neighborhood. A number of other mines and explosive devices were also found in the vicinity (Al Wasat). In total, 21 soldiers were killed by landmines and an unknown number injured in the Sabri neighborhood (Libya Herald). The engineering units have also been decimated by landmines with at least 43 killed and 27 injured by landmines. Another 19 civilians have been also been killed or injured in Benghazi (Xinhua), six just in Sabri (Al Wasat). Others have estimated that five civilians are killed or injured by landmines every day in Benghazi (Libya Herald). Libyans are not the only ones falling victim to mines in Benghazi. At least one Egyptian citizen was also injured (Libya Herald).
In Derna, two Libyan soldiers were killed by landmine (Al Wasat).
In Sirte, Operation Dignity forces have finished the demining of the main roads near the coastline allowing the re-opening of the beaches (Libya Observer). Over one and a half tons of landmines and abandoned ordnance was cleared and destroyed from Sirte (Libya Observer).
To improve capacity in Libya, the British government, through its Tripoli Embassy, is suppoting demining training for Libyan military engineers (Libya Observer). Representatives of the Libyan Mine Action Centre (LibMAC) have partnered with the United Nations Mine Action Services (UNMAS) and Handicap International to identify gaps in victim assistance (there are many) and create action plans to address them (UN Mission in Libya).
A minibus struck a landmine about 30 kilometers north of Mogadishu, killing two passengers and injuring 5 others (Xinhua).
In the Puntland region, two deminers were killed trying to defuse mines attributed to Al Shabaab (Horn Observer).
In the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland an eleven year-old boy from Las Anod town was killed by a landmine while he and other children were playing on the edges of the town (Somaliland Sun). A few days later, a second mine detonated in Las Anod killing one more and injuring 19 others (Somaliland Sun).
The Algerian National Police reported the seizure of 121 landmines in addition to other explosive devices and ammunition (Middle East Monitor).
The recent National Geographic expeditions and efforts by international conservation groups like Panthera confirm that much of the southeastern reaches of Angola are prime for conservation activities. With many endemic and endangered species, the need is great in this part of the country that was the site of much of the conflict during Angola’s civil wars. It is also a region where landmine clearance is taking place and the irony is that the presence of landmines, along with the remoteness of the region, have helped to prevent development and exploitation of the region’s natural resources. As the minefields are clear and as the Angolan government seeks to develop its tourism sector, conservation and preservation becomes a priority (Phys.Org).
At a national conference on mine action in Angola, the British ambassador to Angola reconfirmed his government’s support for a landmine-free Huambo province and announced contributions from the British and Japanese governments to support the efforts of the HALO Trust (Read Tru Africa).
In Cunene Province, over a decade of landmine clearance has resulted in the destruction of over a thousand landmines and 218,000 other ERW. In addition, nearly 100,000 residents have been educated on the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance (All Africa).
Women with disabilities in northwestern Uganda, including many landmine survivors, have organized to call attention to their land tenure rights and to call out the speculators who are trying to usurp those rights (Sunrise).
Benin ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, noting that the country has never possessed or used these weapons (The Monitor).
One child was killed and two others wounded when they picked up a piece of unexploded ordnance in the Konna area and began playing with it. The explosive, likely from the French assaults against Islamic State forces in 2013, detonated. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) works with the national army to raise awareness of the dangers of ERW, but clearance has been limited and none carried out in Konna (Mussoya).
Also in July a MINUSMA cargo truck struck a mine on the Ansongo-Menaka road injuring at least four persons (Studio Tamani).
A Darfuri teen from a camp for the internally displaced was put into a coma by the blast of a piece of unexploded ordnance after he picked it up and began to play with it. The teenager also lost several fingers and sustained facial injuries (Radio Dabanga).
37 years after Zimbabwe gained its independence, liberation war era landmines are still being cleared. The Zimbabwe National Army estimates that US $1 million is required to clear one square kilometer of land from mines and other ERW and while the government provides some support, more is needed (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company).
Michael P. Moore
September 3, 2017
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Many apologies for this one being so late. Will try to do better for the rest of the year…
2016’s news that the number of landmine casualties had gone up severely is tempered only slightly by the fact that this news seems to have spurred some action in the international community. At a meeting of the African Union in December, the countries that had joined the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions re-committed themselves to the goal of a mine-free world by 2025 and setting up mechanisms to create cross-border cooperation to help achieve that end (African Union).
In the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, security forces fought militants aligned with the Islamic State for the first time in that region of the country. The firefight began when Puntland troops were stopped by landmines placed in the road. When the troops started to clear the mines, Islamic State fighters attacked. No casualties were reported from the mines (All Africa).
In Hirshabelle, one of Somalia’s key agricultural regions, the United Nations Support Office in Somalia and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) collaborated to rehabilitate major roadways to enable access and transport. During the operation, the teams rebuilt a bridge near Jowhar town that had been destroyed by a landmine (UN Support Office in Somalia).
The Zimbabwe Mine Action Center (ZIMAC) hosted a national mine action strategic planning workshop to develop the 2017 workplan and set up a long-term plan for clearing all remaining landmines in the country. This plan will help to inform the expected extension request from Zimbabwe to the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).
An India company, JMC Projects India, is building a hundred kilometer road between Kenya and Ethiopia and has pledged to provide prosthetics to members of the Tigray Disabled Veterans Association. An estimate 100,000 people in Tigray Regional State have been disabled by landmines or the wars in Ethiopia (All Africa).
Last year Nigerian military engineers discovered multiple caches of cluster munitions in northeastern Adamawa state and a suicide attack in Maiduguri carried out by a female bomber is thought to have used similar munitions (The Daily Beast).
In December, a lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian army died when his vehicle struck a landmine buried in the road in Borno state; the mine was attributed to Boko Haram. The lieutenant colonel is the fourth officer killed by Boko Haram in just two months (Naij.com).
To combat Boko Haram and the landmines, IEDs and booby-traps left by them, the Nigerian army acquired a Slovak-made mine-sweeper to clear the roads in Borno state (Naij.com).
The spokesman for the Libyan National Army’s engineering division was killed by a landmine in the Banfouda area of Benghazi (Libya Herald). As the army liberates more of the city, civilians are attempting to return to their homes and many have been killed or wounded by landmines and booby traps left by the fleeing Islamic State forces. A Chadian national was injured by a mine on a farm just east of Benghazi (Al Wasat). Bobby traps have been found not only in the streets and fields but also in Benghazi’s main hospital where two mines exploded. Fortunately no one was seriously injured (Libya Herald). As IS forces expand their asymmetrical warfare to include suicide car bombs and the use of weaponized drones, a brigade commander was killed by a landmine (Libya Herald) and a special forces soldier was killed and two other soldiers injured by a mine (Arab Today).
In the western city of Sirte, recently liberated from the Islamic State, residents and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) have called for assistance to clear the landmines left by IS. UNHCR and Mercy Corps are conducting a rapid needs assessment and have identified landmine clearance as the more pressing need (UNHCR). In partial response, army engineering teams from Misrata, Zliten and Tripoli are clearing the mines in Sirte and as they clear neighborhoods, alerting the residents so they can return. The engineering teams are also asking residents not to return to areas before those areas have been declared clear of mines to avoid further casualties. (Libya Observer). This message has been reinforced by the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, in remarks aimed at fostering national reconciliation (Press TV).
Democratic Republic of Congo
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reported on its 2016 achievements in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In addition to clearing almost 175,000 square meters of ground and destroying over 26,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), 8,000 Congolese have been sensitized about the dangers of landmines and ERW. The sensitization campaign included a pop song by a local artist and is available on YouTube. The current pace of clearance would allow DRC to meet its Mine Ban Treaty requirement of clearance of all known minefields by January 1, 2021 (UNMAS).
A shepherd lost his left leg to a landmine on Mount Semmama in the Kasserine region. The right leg was also severely damaged and may also require amputation (Webdo). Two Tunisian soldiers were also injured in the Kasserine region in a separate incident (Direct Info).
In the northern Malanje province, Angola’s National Demining Institute handed over to the local government, a 2,500 square meter field that had been cleared of mines. The local authorities plan to use the land for an electrical substation (ANGOP).
In Huila province, fears of a previously undocumented minefield were heightened when a farmer was injured by an anti-tank mined as he was plowing a field for a newly launched agricultural program. This was the second such blast in the area in the last two years and the earlier explosion killed two people (ANGOP).
In its annual review of progress, the National Inter-ministerial Commission on Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH) reported 1.4 million square meters of land have been cleared of mines by Angolan military engineers. CNIDAH also announced its intention to secure another extension for its Article 5 clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty with the extension period lasting until 2025. CNIDAH calculates that US $275.2 million will be required to clear all known landmines and minefields (Prensa Latina).
Just a little a year after declaring the country free of anti-personnel landmines, Mozambique has declared itself free of cluster munitions. In 2015 Norwegian Peoples Aid, with support from UNDP, conducted a comprehensive survey of cluster munitions remnants and identified 4 provinces affected by cluster munitions. After the survey, NPA cleared 144 Rhodesia-made submunitions from multiple campaigns along the border leaving Mozambique cluster munition-free (Norwegian Peoples Aid).
In the North Darfur region, two boys were killed and a third injured by an ERW that the boys found and played with (Radio Dabanga).
According to the Sudanese Defense Minister, 14 civilians were killed or injured by landmines in Sudan in 2016. In response, almost 99 million square meters of land has been cleared of mines and other ERW (Sudan Vision).
Three French soldiers were killed and three others wounded when their vehicle struck a landmine. The vehicle was in the lead of a convoy traveling to Tessalit from Gao (Africa News).
In December, the Algerian National Police cleared over 81,000 landmines from the border with Morocco (DZ Breaking).
A man was injured by a landmine when he drove his Land Rover over it. The injuries were not thought to be life threatening, but there is concern that recent floods in Western Sahara may have moved some mines causing areas that had previously been safe to now be dangerous (Dales Vozalas Victimas).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
February 27, 2017
The passing of one of the towering giants of the Cold War, Fidel Castro, has prompted a lot of column inches in other venues. This past summer I saw some of the impact of Cuba’s military adventurism in Angola but in previous trips I saw Cuban-built hospitals in Vietnam and met Cuban engineers in Denmark. During Castro’s leadership, Cuba was a country with an outsized impact on the world. Even before the recent thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba, the United States had removed the minefields that surrounded the military base at Guantanamo Bay and Cuba’s role as mediator in negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels had held out hope for demining progress there. Cuba recently joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the improving relations between the US and Cuba removed one of the principle excuses Cuba had used to remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty.
A newly discovered minefields was reported in the central province of Bie. The exact extent of the contamination is not known, but the area had been the scene of fighting during one of Angola’s many periods of fighting in the province (All Africa).
In the northern province of Malanje, the Japanese ambassador to Angola re-affirmed his country’s commitment to Angola’s humanitarian mine action program. Annually the Japanese government provides US $20 million for demining in Angola (Relief Web).
In the northern Zaire province, the National Demining Institute detonated over 100 explosive remnants of was including eight landmines (All Africa).
The director of Angola’s mine action program estimates that 270 million euros will be required to clear the remaining 1,435 known minefields. Angola will need international support to meet the Maputo Declaration’s goal of clearing all known minefields by 2025. At present, Angola still needs to complete minefield surveys in eight of the country’s 18 provinces to fully document the extent of contamination (Government of Angola).
During an attack on Mandera, a town along the Somali-Kenya border, Al Shabaab members planted landmines in the town which have hindered the efforts of the security forces to respond to the attack (All Africa).
In Mogadishu, three suspected Al Shabaab members were killed by the landmine they were trying to plant in a roadway (All Africa).
The extensive use of remote-controlled and victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been a major security challenge for the African Union peacekeepers in Somalia. 225 separate attacks have been recorded in 2016 with hundreds of casualties. Victim-activated IEDs, including pressure-plate and magnetic IEDs, are banned by the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).
The Nigerian army, having ousted Boko Haram from much of northeastern Nigeria is now busy trying to certify the safety of liberated areas. The army recognizes the threat from landmines and IEDs and once an area has been cleared of explosives, it will be released back to the population (The Eagle). The governor of Adamawa state acknowledged the threat and fear of landmines during a speech at the United States Institute of Peace. The governor also noted that despite the assurances of the army, many farmers are reluctant to return to their fields (All Africa). Those fears have some validity as less than an hour after the Nigerian army declared a road in Maiduguri safe, a truck struck a landmine injuring several passengers (All Africa).
During the fight against Boko Haram, Nigeria recruited and used local vigilante forces to augment the formal army units. At least 162 women whose husbands served as vigilantes have been widowed as a result of the fighting, many by landmines, and the Borno state government has committed to providing assistance to those widows (All Africa).
The national mine action authority is developing a new extension request for its Article 5 mine clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty. This would be the fifth such extension request and set a new deadline for clearing all known minefields of 2025, matching the global deadline from the Maputo Declaration. At present, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid are actively demining in Zimbabwe and they will soon be joined by Mines Advisory Group and APOPO (All Africa). Unfortunately, the national commitment to demining appears to be lacking. For the last several years, the government of Zimbabwe has only allocated US $500,000 for demining and in 2016, that allocation was reduced to US $100,000 (News Day). The government, in its extension request, should state its commitment to demining and identify national resources to match that commitment.
Multiple landmine incidents were reported in northern Mali. Three Malian soldiers were killed and another injured when their vehicle stuck a mine in the northern Timbuktu region. This accident closely followed an incident in which a Chadian soldier was killed by a landmine in Kidal when his vehicle struck a mine (Fox News). A Tuareg leader from an anti-government faction was killed by a landmine less than 300 meters from a United Nations base in Kidal where he has been meeting with peacekeeping troops (Reuters). Landmines were used as part of an ambush of Malian soldiers in the village of N’Goma Coura in the center of the country. Four soldiers were killed and seven injured in the attack (Yahoo).
Female parliamentarians in Libya called upon the Italian government and the international community to support demining in the liberated areas of Benghazi (ANSAMed). The Dutch ambassador to Libya pledged one million Euros for demining in Sirte (Libya Observer). Despite the gains made by the government-backed army in Sirte, there are concerns about the insurgent attacks. A teacher was killed and his family members injured by a landmine on the road from Sirte to Misrata, an area that is supposed to have been liberated from Islamist forces. This was the fifth such explosion on that stretch of road in less than three months (Libya Herald).
Despite the war, students at Benghazi University managed to complete their studies and to celebrate their graduation, they visited the campus which had recently been liberated after a two years’ occupation by Islamic State forces. Demining teams continue to work to clear the campus of explosives, but estimate that only 5% of the booby traps and landmines have been cleared (BBC News).
Three militia members aligned with the government were killed when their vehicle struck and detonated a piece of unexploded ordnance (All Africa).
Egypt’s International Cooperation Minister met with Swiss representatives to request support from Switzerland to clear the landmines in the Northwest Desert that remain from World War II (El Balad).
A four-year old child was killed by a cluster munition and two others were injured (Remove the Wall).
Michael P. Moore
November 30, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Syria and Yemen deservedly get the majority of the news about use of cluster munitions and landmines, but North Africa has also seen fairly widespread use of these weapons in the last few years. Beginning with the Gaddhafi regime’s use to try and hold off the liberation forces encouraged by Arab Spring, through current use by various Islamist groups, new landmine use can be seen in Algeria, Libya, Mali, Tunisia, Egypt and Nigeria. In Libya and Sudan, government aligned forces have been alleged to use cluster munitions. The use of these weapons in these ongoing conflicts means that their effects will be felt for years to come, in countries which already faced substantial burdens of explosive remnants of war.
During World War II, British and German armies laid some 17 million landmines in the western deserts of Egypt, an area that became famous as the tank battle of El Alamein. Most of those landmines remain in the deserts and until recently have only been a threat to the nomadic communities who make the desert their home. Two people were killed and three injured by a mine in the Wasy el-Natroun area. Egypt now has plans to development much of the western desert to take advantage of the natural gas deposits that lie below the surface and has cleared 155 square kilometers of desert of mines (Daily News Egypt), but another actor has also emerged with plans for the minefields: the Islamic State. According to the former director of Egypt’s Mine Action Center, Fathy el-Shazly, there have been at least ten confirmed reports of jihadists digging up old landmines and repurposing them as improved explosive devices, the first coming in 2004. The March 2016 landmine blast in the Red Sea area was attributed to repurposed landmines. Newsweek’s story about ISIS using World War II mines is a bit breathless and sensationalized, but points to another danger of abandoned ordnance. To its credit, Newsweek also highlights the poverty of the nomadic communities in the western desert and notes that some of the nomads are tempted to dig up the old mines and sell them as they have no other form of income (Newsweek).
In the Sinai region, where the Egyptian government is fighting a separate Islamist insurgency, a policy captain was killed while chasing insurgents following a firefight and an attempted bombing of an Al-Arish police station (Ahram).
When Papias Higiro stepped on a landmine shortly after the genocide and civil war in Rwanda, his life prospects were bleak. 21 years later, Papias has received his first prosthetic leg and can fulfill his dream of walking again and will attend vocational training to become a hairdresser. This intervention was made possible by the charitable arm of AirTel, a mobile phone company (All Africa).
The government of Zimbabwe has accused three Zimbabweans living abroad of trying to destabilized the government. One of the men is accused of threatening to plant landmines on the roads to kill a thousand people (The Herald).
In recognition of Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, recognized the landmine clearance efforts of the Zimbabwean army, the HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid (All Africa).
Nigerian soldiers are clearing landmines and other explosives left by Boko Haram and have arrested five members of the group who are suspected of planting some of the mines (All Africa). The local Nigerian commanders boasted of a massive demining effort covering the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, an effort made possible by the purchase and delivery of demining equipment (Vanguard).
Nigeria is not the only country affected by Boko Haram. Four Chadian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram landmine near that country’s border with Niger (Reuters).
In Libya, the army under General Haftar, has ousted Islamic State forces from the city of Sirte, but Islamic State laid many landmines and booby traps. Deminers from the army and from Libya’s intelligence services are now tasked with clearing mines and explosives which have killed over 300 soldiers and injured another 400. At least four deminers have been killed and another injured trying to clear Sirte. Five months of clearance work remains in Sirte according to a military spokesman (IRIN News). To assist the Libyan forces, the Italian government is believed to have deployed special forces to the country to train Libyan deminers (Sputnik News; Ahram).
General Haftar’s army, while calling for assistance with landmine clearance, has also not helped its own cause by using banned cluster bombs. In official photos published by the Libyan National Army (LNA), army helicopters are shown carrying the munitions, which challenges the LNA’s denial of use of such weapons in Derna and Benghazi (War is Boring).
In addition to the LNA’s cluster bombs, the Islamic State left landmines in Derna city, one of which killed a leader of the Shura Council of Mujahideen, an Islamist group that ousted Islamic State before being besieged by the LNA (Libyan Express).
In Benghazi two soldiers were killed and two more wounded at a checkpoint in the Al Gawarsha district (Libya Observer). And in Misrata, the local hospital reported three soldiers killed in two separate incidents, both attributed to Islamic State landmines (Libya Observer).
Of course, the extensive use of landmines can also backfire as seen in Sirte when an Islamic State member tried to drive an explosive laden car into Al Bunyan Al Marsoos positions and struck a landmine laid by Islamic State forces, destroying the car and causing no casualties beyond the driver (Libyan Observer).
Three Tunisian soldiers were killed and seven more injured by an anti-tank landmine in the western region of the country, near the Algerian border. The mountainous region has been a hideout for militants since the start of Arab Spring in 2011 (Press TV).
The Algerian army cleared 866 landmines dating back to the liberation war against the French. This was part of the ongoing clearance work along the borders of the country. Algeria is also facing a current threat from Islamist groups that are fighting against the government and the army. In the last year and a half, Algerian has killed or arrested hundreds of suspected Islamists and the government claims that the Islamists have mostly been defeated and the government is now trying to consolidate its position and make the affected areas safe for the population. The government reported the seizure of two landmines that were believed to have been intended for use along the country’s roads. In just such an incident, four civilians were killed when their vehicle struck a mine attributed to Islamist groups (Strategy Page; Defence Web).
Michael P. Moore
September 26, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org