The Evil Underground [Archives:1998/48/Law & Diplomacy]

November 30 1998

Yemen signed the treaty banning the manufacture, sale and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines during an international conference last December in Ottawa, Canada. Parliament ratified the treaty on May 12, making Yemen one of the first 40 countries to officially endorse it.
Mr. Qassem Abdulsalam Al-Shaibani, director of the Executive Technical Unit in the National Demining Committee, talked to Mohammed Bin Sallam of Yemen Times about his and his colleagues’ life-saving work.

Q: How much progress has the National Demining Program made?
A: The program aims to get rid of landmines planted in Yemeni soil since the 1962 revolution and during all subsequent armed conflicts. Since the international treaty calls for the ridding of all mines within 10 years of its endorsement, the Ministry of Defense cannot do all the work alone within that period of time. So it became important to seek the assistance of international organizations.
In addition to uncovering and removing landmines, the National Demining Program also aims to raise public awareness. Landmines victims will be fully surveyed in order to provide them with medical and rehabilitation assistance.
Comprehensive surveying of affected areas is carried out. This helps reclaim these lands for agricultural and other economic activity.
It is a wholly governmental program, with partial participation by international organizations. It started by forming the National Demining Committee by the Prime Minister’s Decree number 46 of 1998.

Q: What international agencies and organizations are assisting with Yemen’s demining efforts?
A: The Americans are helping with staff training, equipment and building renovation. Other partners include the UN, which set up a special trust fund to receive financial aid.
Intensive activity by the National Demining Committee has firmly put Yemen on the world map vis-a-vis its demining efforts.

Q: What other countries are currently cooperating with Yemen in this field?
A: Canada will be providing protective clothing for demining personnel. Mr. Inder Yucer, the UNDP Resident Representative in Yemen, has promised to provide $500,000.
A Polish mines expert is due to arrive soon. We expect assistance from Japan and Germany, Britain and Iran.

Q: How many mines are estimated to be buried under Yemeni soil and in which areas?
A: All the affected areas are fully known and mapped. The central regions of Yemen are the most dense with landmines, planted in the 1970s by the so-called ” Front” leftist group. That 12-year conflict left large numbers of landmines in Al-Baidha, Ibb, Taiz, Al-Dhali’ and Dhamar.
Also, an arch of landmines was planted around Aden during the 1994 war. There are 64 mine fields around Aden, Lahaj and Abyan, nine of which are planted with anti-personnel landmines. The affected areas also include parts of Hadhramaut and Shabwa. Final estimates put the number of mines in Yemen at about a million-and-a-half, both anti-personnel and anti-tank.

Q: How much money has been allocated for the demining program?
A: The government has earmarked $1 million to cover staff salaries, bonuses and transportation costs. In other respects, we depend largely on what is given by donor countries and organizations.
The program has already received $2.5 million from the US. During the 1st Donors Conference on September 22, the US announced that it will donate an extra $500,00 and Canada $100,000.
The program still needs heavy-duty means of transport for military and medical surveillance teams. What has been provided so far falls short of fully covering the program’s requirements.
Q: What difficulties impede your progress?
A: Lack of transportation – our teams need to visit remote and hardly accessible parts of the country.

Q: When do you expect actual demining work to begin?
A: Work will commence soon after the training program is completed on April 22, 1999. Therefore, actual field work will start towards the end of the first half of 1999. The National Demining Committee is presently concentrating its efforts on staff training.

Q: Could you tell us more about the training program?
A: A course was started four days after the inauguration of the National Training Center in Aden on October 20 for managerial and administrative staff. It will be over on December 15, and another one will start after Ramadhan for field workers.

Q: How many landmine victims are there in Yemen?
A: The statistics we have do not give the full picture. Many incidents go unreported, or are sometimes grouped with firearms shootings. However, preliminary data collected by the Interior Ministry put mines-related accidents from 1992 to 1996 at 700. Of those, 204 were fatal.
Statistics collected in Ibb from 1983 to 1990 indicate that about 400 people have been victims of landmines. Animals can also become mines victims; 306 camels died in Hadhramaut during 1994-96.

Q: Has the Ministry of Defense been able to remove some of the mines during the last few years?
A: Immediately after the 1994 war, Ministry of Defense personnel were able to successfully uncover and destroy more than 60,000 landmines. The problem was further compounded by huge amounts of explosive and ordnance that were left in open areas during the war. About 300 tons of these were safely destroyed.
The extent of the problem, however, requires an additional mechanism to deal not only with mine removal, but also with other related issues.

Q: Has the Ministry of Defense and other bodies concerned set up a public-awareness campaign?
A: There is, as I said, a special awareness program within the National Demining Program. Immediately following the war of 1994, a team of volunteers was formed in Aden to alert the public to the danger lurking underground. It is still functioning, comprising teachers, doctors, army officers, media people, etc. The Swedish Radda Barnen organization and UNICEF had a big role in assisting this team. Extensive campaigns were conducted in villages through schools, mosques and local councils to draw the people’s attention to landmines.

Q: How many mines have been destroyed so far?
A: Since 1994, Ministry of Defense units have been drawing maps of mine fields. A UN technical advisory program is supporting these units with equipment and technical know-how to develop search and combing methods.
These demining units have orders to destroy mines in the field where they are found. About 60,000 landmines had been successfully destroyed.

Q: Why all this delay in starting a comprehensive demining program?
A: The situation became more stable after the war. Due to lack of essential resources, the government found it necessary to ask the help of donors. It costs $3-5 to lay a mine, but costs $500-800 to remove it.
Moreover, general world conditions are more auspicious now, especially after the signing of the treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines.

Q: Does the Yemeni government intend to get rid of the mines stockpiled by the army?
A: This matter wholly concerns the Ministry of Defense. I cannot really speak on their behalf. To the best of my knowledge, there are no anti-personnel landmines stored by the Yemeni army.
Whatever the case, since our country has signed the treaty, then we are going to stick to it.

Q: Do you have any last comment?
A: I tell the Yemeni people and all visitors and potential investors in this country that the landmines problem is not so serious as to impede the development process. It does not mean that people cannot travel throughout the country. Mines only exist in certain areas, which will soon be clearly marked as to be immediately recognized. No accidents took place in oil concession blocks, for example. Before any oil company starts operating, demining teams go out to clear its allocated concession block. We have to seriously tackle the problems for the sake of safety of all people.