News / Africa

NGO: Guinea-Bissau to be Land Mine Free by Next Year

Former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, John Blacken, shows some of the explosives his organization, HUMAID, has removed from the country
Former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, John Blacken, shows some of the explosives his organization, HUMAID, has removed from the country

An organization dedicated to the removal of land mines from three conflicts in the small West African nation of Guinea-Bissau says the country will become mine free in 2012.

The land mine removal group HUMAID says it is close to completing its work in the mine-riddled countryside of Guinea-Bissau, a country of 1.6 million people that is nestled between Senegal and Guinea-Conakry.

Former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, John Blacken, has led the organization for the last decade. He says he is hopeful it will have removed most of the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines still scattered in the north and south by the middle of next year.

More than 1,200 people have been victims of mines in Guinea-Bissau. These mines are left over from three conflicts, including the War of Liberation in the 1970s, the country's civil war in the late 90s and the Casamance rebellion in 2006.

HUMAID's priority was the capital city of Bissau, which had been turned into a war zone during the civil war in 1998 and 1999.  Thousands of civilians had fled the violence and upon returning to the city, unknowingly encountered mines that had been planted on the outskirts of Bissau, the front line of the conflict.

Blacken says he felt compelled to help this country, which he has lived in almost continuously since retiring from the foreign service in the late 80s.

“I said, 'Well, we've got no money, but if we don't start doing something, we're never going to get money.' So what we did, the eight of us, I had a pick-up truck - the eight of us started picking up the unexploded ordinances that were here at the center of the city,” he said.

Eventually Blacken got the funding he needed to buy more equipment and get manpower and says, since then, his organization has more or less had enough financial backing from international donors. Bissau was declared mine-free in 2006.

Most of Blacken's team are former soldiers who have been retrained in humanitarian de-mining. It is a dangerous and painstaking process that involves setting up a perimeter based on mine detection and interviews with locals. Personnel then partition the area and work in one meter wide blocks at a time, sticking rods into the ground at angles to try and find explosives.

HUMAID has cleared 3,571 mines as of 2010, and remarkably, has never had an accident.

HUMAID, a non-governmental organization, is currently working on mine fields from the Liberation War with Portugal. Guinea-Bissau declared its independence from the Portuguese in 1974.

Blacken says when his team began working in the area, local villagers said they had avoided accidents by completely bypassing the tracts of land adjacent to their houses.

“What is amazing to me was how they could keep their kids from running out there because when we were clearing it, there were mines within 50 meters of the houses. How you keep kids from running out there I never knew, but they apparently did. Or maybe the children are just too light to set them off,” he said.

Among the most common victims in Guinea-Bissau are cows and other livestock, which stumble across mines while grazing in fields. Blacken says as long as the explosive is good, the mine will stay active for decades, growing more fragile over time.

Blacken says it is difficult but fulfilling work.

“There is a lot of satisfaction in what we're doing, for them as well as for me. The satisfaction is every time you take a mine out of the ground, there's a threat gone to somebody's life,” he said.

It's not many NGOs that can say they've been put out of business after accomplishing their mandate, and Blacken says he is very proud of what he and his team have done.

You May Like

Taiwan President Sounds Warning on Future of China Ties

Current Taiwan government has eased once dangerously tough relations with Beijing since 2008, but next year’s presidential election could change that course More

US Presidential Candidates Woo Hispanic Voters

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton reached out to Hispanic voters this past week in a bid to boost their voter support More

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Documentary is a close-up and personal view of young woman who has become of global symbol of courage and inspiration More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs