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Angola’s landmine crisis following the government’s admission that it has had to lay new mines

Both the Angolan armed forces (FAA) and the UNITA rebel movement have been laying new landmines in Angola since hostilities resumed late last year following the breakdown of the 1994 UN-brokered Lusaka Protocol peace accords.

At the same time, IRIN was told this week, donor funding was diminishing thus threatening the demining programmes in Africa’s most heavily mined country.

But in a new assessment by the largest demining organisation in Angola, Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), the extent of the latest mine laying has been “exaggerated” and the maiming of people fleeing fighting and accidents reported are from mines planted earlier in the conflict which has endured since independence from Portugal in 1975.

More accidents and more people flee fighting

More accidents are being reported because with 1.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs), according to UN figures, more are fleeing fighting to unfamiliar territory. More people seeking refuge in besieged government held cities were also being maimed or killed by unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and shells lying about.

Although the recent fighting and the withdrawal of the UN Observer Mission in Angola (MONUA) has brought the UN Mine Action Programme in Angola to a virtual halt (See IRIN Special Report, 18 February 1999), NPA and NGOs such as the German Santa Barbara group and the British-based HALO Trust have continued with demining activities and awareness campaigns in Angola despite diminishing funds.

In an interview with IRIN this week, Guy Rhodes, the NPA Mine Action programme manager, said the Norwegian NGO which now manages the country’s main landmine database, had received from the government, and logged, reports of new landmines it had planted. But the NGOs involved in demining were restricted mainly to government-controlled areas of the country, because UNITA had severed all links with them.

New mine locations

“Survey teams have identified locations in Luena (some 800 km southeast of Luanda), Malanje (350 km east of Luanda) and Huambo and Kuito in the Central Highlands where remining has been confirmed,” Rhodes told IRIN. “This apparent effort to some degree of transparency is almost certainly linked to Angola’s inability to ratify the Landmine Ban Treaty and the subsequent focus that this has given Angola.”

He was referring to the fact that Angola, which signed the treaty in December 1997, was publicly lambasted last month at the first meeting of signatories of the 1997 Ottawa Landmine Ban Treaty in Maputo, Mozambique. Jody Williams, co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, said the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was “particularly appalled at the disregard for their international commitments by the governments of treaty signatories Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal.” UNITA also drew sharp criticism and both sides were also accused of planting new anti-personnel mines.

The NPA said that although Luanda had pledged to document new mine laying and then remove the mines, “the level of commitment remains highly questionable”. However, new mines were only being laid in areas which were currently of strategic importance. Rhodes said 90 percent of Angola’s minefields had no strategic value now and were in no danger of being mined again. Despite the renewed conflict, demining activities were still underway in areas where there was no fighting at present.

Donors urged to continue support

Rhodes urged the international community not to penalise Angola for its failure to ratify the ban treaty by reducing support to demining activities: “The ICBL should support clearance resources such as those of NPA in Angola and not support actions to dismantle them and thus expose target groups in the population to further suffering.”

“There is a great need now for demining expertise” to support road safety checking for humanitarian supplies; to clear resettlement areas for displaced people; to demine farming land; to mark minefields so that IDPs are not caught unawares; to keep the landmine database constantly up to date; to clear UXOs in the IDP-crammed provincial towns and cities; maintain mine awareness programmes and also support the humanitarian effort with non-food emergency supplies.

Further cuts expected

The NPA said there had already been a significant funding shortfall for demining in Angola this year: Norway had reduced support by 15 percent, Denmark by 40 percent, The Netherlands by half, while Australia had stopped its support. Only support from Washington through USAID was unchanged and secured until the end of the year.

It said the cuts had forced staff layoffs of “well trained” experts and it feared even more drastic cuts next month if further funding was not forthcoming.

“The Mechanical Mine Clearance programme is in danger of closing at the end of 1999 unless the present donors continue funds or additional donor support is secured,” Rhodes said. “Further cuts from donors will cripple the NPA demining programme in Angola which exists as one of the most important humanitarian demining efforts in the world today.”

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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