US Spearheads Yemen’s Demining Effort Donor Conference in the Works [Archives:1998/23/Front Page]

June 8 1998

The Yemeni Government has just finalized preparations to deposit with the UN instruments of its ratification of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Landmines, and their Destruction.
At another level, President Ali Abdullah signalled his approval of a draft of a project which seeks to remove landmines that had been planted on Yemeni soil over the last four decades. “There are still a few points to be ironed out here and there. But basically we have a solid project,” said a source at the Ministry of Defence.
The project calls for the establishment of a national demining center in Sanaa with overall responsibility, and an Aden branch which has the operational mandate.
The US Government has shown strong interest in helping Yemen clear the mines. An initial assistance of US$ 2.5 million has been provided through the defence and state departments. The Naval Forces Central Command (NavCent) is given responsibility for the project from the American side. “NavCent has already sent to Yemen some 20 officers and experts to investigate and determine the scope of the demining program to be established and exactly what assistance we could offer,” stated Captain Jason Gilbert, NavCent’s officer in charge.
Mr. Shaibani indicated that the  initial focus is on a crescent-shaped area engulfing Aden from the north and with the edges of the crescent touching the coast a few kilometers east and west of the city. “We believe that some 100,000 mines are still in this area and need to be destroyed,” he added.
An American military team had arrived in March, and a second one in May. “The first visit was to determine if Yemen qualified for the demining program. Based on that visit, it was decided: ‘Yes, Yemen is qualified.’ The next step was to determine exactly what Yemen needed. That was the mission of the second trip,” explained Adam Ereli, Information Attache at the US embassy in Sanaa.
Captain Gilbert disclosed that the mines were mainly anti-tank and anti-personnel, and mostly Soviet and some Chinese. “Now the problem is that we are dealing with a matter of the unknown.  Changing climatic conditions have taken their toll. Some of these mines are made of metal and are subject to corrosion and fatigue. In some case, the explosives can become sensitive.”
The US effort will focus on two fronts. On the one hand, the Americans will help train a core  Yemeni force of deminers, who will further train other deminers. The second component is basic equipment, communications and medical support required for the demining operation.
The speed at which the territories of Yemen are demined is entirely up to the size of the demining program and the rate. In other words, money. That brings the issue of the preparations of the ‘Donors Meeting’ in Sanaa. “We are working on a tight timetable. We believe such a meeting could take place in September/October 1998,” explained an official at the Ministry of Planning and Development.
In addition to the mine-clearing effort, the program also calls for an extensive awareness and educational campaign. Finally, it also calls for victim assistance. “It all requires money.”
Ms. Angela Dickey, Political Officer at the US Embassy, stressed that the Americans have no base in Yemen. “Even the US officers in support of the national demining program are working in the offices of the Yemeni government.” She added that the Americans will not stay indefinitely. “They will train people here, and once the center is established they will leave. The Yemenis will continue with the program themselves.”
Captain Gilbert added, “We hope to start in late October and complete our training in late April. Following the initial training, we will be with Yemeni deminers to observe and evaluate how successful they are.
Ms. Dickey concluded, “The program has been a long time coming. We and other donors have been discussing it with Yemenis for two years. This is a Yemeni program.”