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SUDAN: Landmines continue to plague the south

JUBA, 6 April 2007 (IRIN) - A demonstration to show how sniffer dogs are used to find landmines was underway while Cosmos Abolou explained the use of artificial limbs to delegates attending World Mine Action Day on Wednesday.

"We're beginning to get mine victims from further away than Juba now," said Abolou, who manages the Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba.

"We have above the knee, through knee, below knee, partial foot," he explained, picking up the brown prosthetics and shaking them to simulate movement. "Last year we assisted 1,554 people, 75 percent of whom needed prosthetics. Fifty percent of them were land mine victims."

Supported by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the centre fits polio and landmine victims with artificial limbs, hands and feet.

Many of Abolou's patients have been living for years without proper prosthetics after making the life-changing split-second mistake of picking up or standing on one of the country’s thousands of unexploded ordnance (UXO) that litter south Sudan.

Most of the victims sustained injuries between 1986 and 1989 – the years of intense fighting between former rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and government forces, said Abolou. The conflict in southern Sudan formally ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January, 2005.

The guns may have fallen silent, but the problem of the explosive remnants of war persists.

Officials from the United Nations Mine Action Office (UNMAO) in Sudan said on Wednesday that the number of reported and registered landmine casualties in southern Sudan during the past five years alone stands at 2,390.

"Many incidents go unreported. We imagine the number is much higher in reality," said UNMAO's Elena Rice.

The UN estimates that 21 of Sudan's 26 states have a landmine problem. UNMAO has registered over 1,100 dangerous areas throughout the country that still need landmine clearing.

UNMAO, and the numerous agencies under their umbrella that carry out various de-mining activities, say they are in need more information about where the mines and UXO are.

Little help has been forthcoming from the armies that laid the mines and left the mass of unexploded ordnance that still claim lives years after the civil war, according to Peter Duku Wani of the Southern Sudan De-mining Commission.

"We have gone to the SAF (northern Sudan Armed Forces) in vain to get maps of mined areas," said Wani, adding that the SPLA in southern Sudan had also been unable to provide detailed information.

"The nature of the war meant that everything was quite haphazard, it was guerrilla fighting," said Rice.

But a new Landmine Impact Survey, using US $1 million from the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF), will hopefully help provide some much-needed answers for the communities still living with the constant danger of losing life or limb.

The CHF is managed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and was set up to fast-track funds for emergencies in southern Sudan.

"It will allow us to see to what extent, if any, UXO and landmine contamination is in the states," said Rice about the survey which is to
begin soon. "Hopefully we will be able to identify more victims that haven't yet been registered," she said.

The survey will focus on talking to communities and the local military who hold the key to finding where mines have been laid.

According to UNMAO officials, communities often know the danger areas and are good at putting up their own markings to avoid them.

"We are seeing less and less victims in communities. Our biggest fear is for returnees," said Wani who added that many of the thousands coming back to the south do not know where the dangerous areas are.

UNMAO and its partners are carrying out mine risk education, clearing former battle fields and surveying. But the priority so far has been road clearance, rather than community de-mining, which Rice said was in line with the newly-formed Government of South Sudan's priorities.

Rice said clearing roads was essential for humanitarian work, economic recovery and the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

"Continued work for clearance of landmines and UXO in southern Sudan is not only life-saving humanitarian work, but is also essential for recovery and development," explained Maurizio Guiliano, spokesperson for OCHA in southern Sudan.

De-mining achievements in the south include the clearance of more than eight million square metres of land, the destruction of 2,293 anti-personnel mines, and 1,163 anti-tank mines. Some 2,482 km of roads have been opened through assessment and clearance, but so far little has been done for communities directly.

"We have not given priority to community de-mining," said Wani, adding that the cost of de-mining any sizeable area was extremely high. "There are very few places where marking and fencing has taken place," he said.

Landmines and UXOs lay within walking distance from where the delegates were gathered to mark the World Mine Action Day - next to the airport in Juba, said Wani.

"There are many agricultural areas, many water points that are not being used still," he said. These have not yet been reached by the sniffer dogs, the giant tractor-like machines that whip the ground with chains, or the mine-proof vehicles that suck up air which is then analysed for explosives.

"Right now we're just coming out of the emergency phase of de-mining," said Rice.

Even with the new data which the survey will provide, Rice said assisting the multitude of victims of landmines in southern Sudan will be a daunting task.

"There is very little infrastructure to work with. It is going to be a slow process. It's not just about providing prosthetic limbs but also trauma counselling to help families cope with having lost their primary income generator," Rice added.




Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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