IRIN Background Brief on Landmines, 12/6/97

IRIN Background Brief on Landmines, 12/6/97

Department of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for the Great Lakes

Tel: +254 2 622147
Fax: +254 2 622129

[This brief is intended as background information for the humanitarian community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the UN]

IRIN background brief on landmines in Central and Eastern Africa 6 December 1997

The signature by 125 countries of the Ottawa Treaty is an historic step towards the adoption in international law of a total world ban on anti-personnel landmines. The total ban would cover use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.

In Africa, the majority of countries, 37 in all, have backed this initiative and signed on Wednesday and Thursday (3 and 4 December) the Ottawa Treaty. Among the signatories are Angola, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania. South Africa, the most important African manufacturer of landmines, also signed the treaty. After Asia, Africa is the second most-affected continent with Angola remaining one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world.

Regional experts stress, however, that even if the use of landmines in the conflicts of the Great Lakes region is currently neither very widespread nor a major factor, the increasing use of mines in these regional disputes is undoubtedly a growing cause for concern.

The current situation country-by-country in Central and Eastern Africa is as follows:


ICRC estimate between 10 and 20 million landmines have been laid across Angola. During the civil war which preceded and followed independence in 1975, both the MPLA and UNITA made widescale use of landmines in military operations. But these were condcuted in a disorganised manner with no registration of their location. Consequently, the country is littered with mines. This humanitarian crisis has led to the death of several thousand people, and mutilated some 30,000 others. It has also cut off access to fields and even sources of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of others. Several international organisations have set up important demining operations, such as the NGO HALO, but have also set up victim-support groups and population-awareness programmes. Currently, Angola is witnessing another period of tension and a recent report by the UN mission in the country, quoted by AFP, accused former UNITA rebels of remining certain roads in the north and north-east of the country.


Since October 1966, incidents linked to mines have increased and now stand at 49. Even if the figure is not particularly significant, it is the upward trend that is worrying, according to Michel Sidibe, UNICEF representative in Burundi. Landmines laid in Burundi are most often anti-tank mines, placed on busy roads and even the streets of the capital Bujumbura. However, no independent and complete assessment of the situation has been undertaken because of insecurity in large parts of the country leading to fears the real number of landmines laid nationwide could in fact be much higher.


Unconfirmed reports suggest that certain areas were mined during recent clashes between supporters of former president Pascal Lissouba and those of current President Denis Sassou Nguesso. Congo-Brazzaville supports a world ban on landmines, but has not signed the Ottawa Treaty.


In a similar fashion to Burundi, landmines are used in Uganda by rebel groups and are often left on roads in the north and northwest regions of the country, most notably around Gulu and Kitgum and, to a lesser extent, around Bundibugyo and Western Nile. According to ICRC, three-quarters of the victims of landmines in northern Uganda are children. According to an official communique published in April 1997, Uganda has completed ceased landmine production.


DRC is a country which is relatively free of landmines. However, during the recent war between the forces of President Laurent-Desire Kabila and the Zairean army of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, mercenary troops called in by Mobutu are reported to have laid mines around Kisangani. An international NGO has also reported the presence of some landmines around Ubundu. Currently, however, there is no precise account of the national situation.


Rwanda has been faced with the problem of landmines since 1990, but the situation worsened dramatically in 1994 when the then-government army, the Forces Armees Rwandaises (FAR), laid mines in several towns and regions during their retreat. Other sources say the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) has also laid mines. ICRC estimate that there are currently 250,000 mines in Rwanda. Several incidents have also been reported in the border prefectures with former Zaire between 1994 and 1996, suggesting that infiltrators from refugee camps in eastern DRC were responsible. Several demining programmes have been set up, including one organised by the US defence department to train units of the current Rwandan army.


ICRC estimates that more than one million mines have been laid in Sudan. Humanitarian sources say the outskirts of the southern capital of Juba and other southern towns held by government troops are ringed by heavy minefields. The use of mines in the country, however, appears to be limited geographically to frontline areas between government and rebel SPLA forces. However, the frontier areas, most notably Wadi Halfa which is contested by Egypt, are also likely to have been mined, according to experts.

NAIROBI, 6 December 1997


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Date: Sat, 6 Dec 1997 13:24:44 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: UN IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: Central and Eastern Africa: IRIN Background Brief on landmines 6 Dec 1997 97.12.6 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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