Worldwide Call to Ban [Archives:1997/45/Reportage]

November 10 1997

Anti-personnel Landmines Gains Momentum
The regional seminar on anti-personnel landmines has concluded its activities in Sanaa. The seminar, which took place on November, 3rd and 4th, has stressed the need to help countries such as Yemen address the harmful effects and damage inflicted by landmines on the lives of individuals. The seminar was organized by the Swedish Child Care Organization (Radda Barnen) and the Yemeni Mine Awareness Committee, in cooperation with the UN. In addition to the Republic of Yemen, 23 other countries and a number of regional and international organizations have taken part in the Sanaa seminar. These organizations include the UNDP, the International campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the UNICEF. Representatives of the Canadian and Norwegian governments, as the leaders of the Ottawa process, also attended the seminar.

Seminar’s Objectives The main objectives of the seminar are; 1- spreading awareness of the debate on the issue of landmines among governments and organizations in the region; 2- encouraging the as yet undecided Middle East governments to take a firm stance towards the issue of banning anti-personnel landmines; and 3- increasing the number of governments in the region who intend to sign the treaty banning anti-personnel landmines to be ratified in December of 1997 in Ottawa, Canada. Several papers were presented by Yemeni and international experts in this field.
Facts on Landmines Mines maim and kill tens of thousands of people each year, most of them women and children. It is estimated that 110 million active landmines are scattered in 70 countries with an equal number stockpiled around the world waiting to be planted. Every month, over 2,000 people are killed or maimed by mine explosions. Most of the casualties are civilians who are killed or injured after hostilities have ended. For every mine cleared, 20 are laid. In 1994, approximately 100,000 were removed, while an additional 2 million were planted. Ant-personnel landmines are priced at $3 to $30 each. The cost to the international community to neutralize them ranges from $300 to $1,000. Surgical care and the fitting of an orthopedic appliance cost about $3,000 per amputee in developing countries. This means a total expenditure of $750 million for the 250,000 amputees registered worldwide by the UN. Buried landmines can remain active for over 50 years. The threat they pose thus lingers long after hostilities cease. In early 1996, the ICRC commissioned a study on landmines. Its conclusion raised important questions about the military utility of anti-personnel landmines. Among the 26 conflicts since 1940 examined in the study, no case was found in which the use of anti-personnel landmines played a major role in determining the outcome.
The Problem in Yemen After the two-month long Yemeni civil war ended in July, 1994, the three southern governorates of Aden, Lahj, and Abyan were badly affected. Not only a lot of unexploded ordnance was scattered around, but also landmines had been planted in several strategic areas. According to a map of mine fields around Aden drawn by experts from UNESCO, the UN and the Yemeni army, the mine fields start 5 km west of Little Aden, stretching like a horse shoe-shaped line around the city of Aden. They extend half way towards Abyan and down to the sea. There are also mine fields in some areas outside Taiz, and in Hadhramaut outside the city of Mukalla and 120 km east of Seioun. It is difficult to get an exact figure of how many landmines have been laid. But the Ministry of Defense reckons that they have taken out and deactivated around 45,000 since the beginning of April, 1995. Prior to that, maybe 20,000 were demined. The major problem is that even if a field has been cleared, it has in some places been done in an erratic way. Therefore, approximately some 10 to 20 landmines may have been left in some fields. The terrain is difficult with moving, wind-blown sand dunes which either expose the landmines, which can be attractive to the curious child, or bury them deeply so the mine detectors will not locate them. The ratio of anti-tank landmines to anti-personnel landmines is ten to one. It is expected that the remaining ones are more of the anti-tank type. The most common of the anti-personnel landmines are PMD6 (wooden box type), POMZ2, both made in the former Soviet Union, and the Hungary-made GYATA type. There are also the PP-MI-SR which was made in former Czechoslovakia, the OZM4 which was made in the former Soviet Union (both of the “bounce-up” type), and the Italian plastic-type VS50. There are still people who fall victims of the anti-personnel landmines and unexploded ordnance, which are in areas that have been not properly cleared yet such as Lahj. Many of these victims are children, farmers, shepherds, and desert travelers who have neither the information nor the awareness of the dangers of landmines. Since there are still landmines left, it is important that the rural population should be taught to identify common types of landmines and other explosive munitions and to be able to distinguish from other non-lethal objects that might be of economic interest. It is well known that people, who have found landmines have been injured or killed from the explosion, when they have tried to extract copper or brass from them in order to earn some money.
The Awareness Campaign As part of Radda Barnen’s project focusing on children affected by the war, which was carried out in partnership with several Yemeni NGOs and the Ministry of Education, the Mines Awareness Program (MAP) was set up to improve the insecure situation. A series of training workshops were sponsored by the Radda Barnen organization in order to have a certain number of teachers and social workers trained in each school in affected areas. Large numbers of explanatory colored posters, booklets, and teachers’ manuals were printed using money donated by Yemeni businessmen, and were distributed at schools. The Ministry of Defense informed and gave special instructions to their local staff and to the police in each affected district to serve schools and the community with extra information if so required. The Proposed Treaty In October, 1997, 50 states met in Ottawa and pledged to work together, regionally and globally, for a total ban on anti-personnel landmines, and to increase by a significant amount the resources available for mine clearance and assistance to victims. At the UN General Assembly last December, 155 countries supported a call for a new treaty completely outlawing these weapons. None voted against. The Canadian government has invited states back to Ottawa in December, 1997, to sign such a treaty. Several governments are planning to host conferences with a view to accelerate mine clearance, improving assistance for victims, and negotiating a ban. Mines in one country do not threaten people in distant parts of the globe. They most often threaten a country’s own civilian population. States and regions can assume their humanitarian responsibilities to their own people by prohibiting the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of anti-personnel landmines by their own armed forces. Countries affected by landmines which unilaterally renounce the use of these weapons will strengthen their case for international assistance in clearance operations.
The Sanaa Declaration At the end of the seminar, the participants declared their support for the Yemeni government in its efforts to get rid of the planted landmines. They also called on the international community, especially the countries that manufacture and export anti-personnel landmines, to bear their humanitarian responsibility by providing assistance for the affected countries. They emphasized the importance of continuous international humanitarian efforts to impose a complete ban on anti-personnel landmines towards achieving international peace and stability. The efforts made by individuals, governmental organizations, NGOs, the UN, the ICRC, etc., were highly commended by the seminar’s participants. The Canadian government was also commended for completing the final destruction of its stockpile of anti-personnel landmines. At the conclusion of the Sanaa declaration, the participants expressed their appreciation of the role played by the Yemeni government and people in hosting this regional seminar.
___________________________ The Americans Assist in the Effort The proposed demining program in Yemen is part of a worldwide program supervised by the US Department of State and executed by the Defense Department. This program is currently being implemented in 16 different countries, to whom several billion dollars worth of aid is given by the US government. Yemen is one of them. A US military team came to Yemen two weeks ago with about ten members comprising experts on mines, civil affairs, statistics, and administrative concerns. They talked to various ministries within the Yemeni government and a whole host of NGOs and UN organization. “We wanted to find out the scope of the problem and how to resource it,” said Major James Finn, the Assistant Army Attach at the US Embassy in Sanaa. A certain amount will be allocated by the US government by way of aid for Yemen over the next 3 to 5 years. “However, there are conditions to this support – the equipment must be exclusively used for demining,” said Major Finn. Once Yemen gets rid of mines, the provided equipment can then and only then be used by other agencies. Next, US military experts will come to Sanaa to set up a national demining H.Q. “The program will be comprised of many official and NGO groups that have a play in this matter. It is going to be on the national level.” Up to now the program has been worked at the local level in Aden, Lahj, and Abyan by the local authorities, Radda Barnen, UNICEF, etc. “One of the reasons you have to tie in the UNDP, and various UN NGOs is that once a mine field has been fully cleared, say, it reverts back to agriculture so the UNDP gets involved.” The UNDP will also assist Yemen with finances in this program. The first phase is to set the organization up with an information campaign. “We must make sure that a mine incident does not take two weeks to reach Sanaa. If there is an incident, people will know what to do. A proper decision can then be taken. Decisions have to be made on daily basis according to the information coming in.” The next phase is to order the equipment which will include protective gear and clothes for the soldiers, and other landmine detection equipment. “A limited budget is provided by the US government so we have to maximize our efforts and get the best of what Yemen’s needs.” Once the equipment is brought in, the US experts will come. They’ll be probably be based in Aden because that is where the problem is. They will train the Yemeni Corps of Engineers. The next step will be to train the next class. The people who are recently trained will act as assistant trainers. After the third class, the Yemeni sappers will be the primary trainers and the US staff wil take a supervising role. “Once we have developed at least three companies of trained sappers, then we’ll attack the mine problem.” Will American experts be involved in actual demining operations? “No, by US law they cannot. The Yemeni sappers that I saw down in Aden are experienced and can do the job. It is just that we train a little bit differently than the Russian style training the Yemeni sappers had been given. “We operate a little more slowly and we do not take risks. We try to minimize those risks as much as possible. We err on the side of safety.” Work must be quite harmonious and very well coordinated. As this is going on, statistics have to be gathered. “The information we now have is very limited.” The American advisors and their Yemeni counterparts under the national demining program will start to develop some statistical basis. In addition to using landmine gauging equipment, all possible information has to be gathered from officials and from the locals. “We need to know where all the landmines are. With accurate devices we can know exactly where these fields are.” “Our program involves the finding and blowing up of mines. They must be blown up in the same place where they are found. They must not be used again. This is part of the agreement. “It is a simplistic program – Yemeni run and Yemeni based. we’ll provide the assistance.”
Adel J. Moqbil, Yemen Times