international humanitarian organization has completed clearing
a deadly minefield in southern Sudan, in the first such operation since a civil
war between northern government and southern rebel forces ended in 2005. The
Mines Advisory Group (MAG) says the explosives killed and maimed many people and
animals over the years at Kapoeta Town in the Eastern Equatoria region. The
Sudanese army laid the landmines in the course of its long war against the
Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
MAG’s manager in southern Sudan, Jamie Franklin, says the
lives of thousands of people living at or near Kapoeta town have been
“transformed for the good” because of his group’s actions.
During the north-south war, the Sudan Armed Forces planted
the landmines “virtually all around” the area in South-Eastern Sudan, creating
a “barrier minefield” to cut the town off from SPLA rebels, Franklin told
He explains that Kapoeta was of “great strategic
importance” to both rebels and government troops, because it’s relatively close
“It’s a strategic location for entry and movement from
Kenya into southern Sudan, and offered possible supply routes for the
MAG says the Kapoeta minefield covered an area of almost
300,000 square meters. It complicated access to smaller villages in the
surrounding area and was a constant hazard for residents, particularly women
and children. The minefield hurt pastoral groups, who were unable to safely
graze their cattle, and denied use of productive land to farmers, who couldn’t
plant their crops there.
But now, these activities are becoming increasingly
evident at Kapoeta Town, greatly enhancing development in the area. Also,
inhabitants who’d been displaced by the war and had been living in refugee
camps elsewhere are now returning to take advantage of the improved security
and access to land.
In addition to anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, MAG
experts also cleared land of other explosive remnants of the war, including
“rockets, mortars, hand grenades and everything down to small arms and
ammunition,” says Franklin.
He explains that it’s taken MAG almost four years to rid
Kapoeta of explosives because mine clearance is a “very specialized and time
consuming activity. (Mined) land has to be cleared manually, using hand-held
metal detectors. Before (the experts) can go in and use the metal detectors,
the undergrowth has to be removed.”
In addition to this, MAG personnel, dressed from head to
toe in protective Kevlar suits and helmets, had to investigate “each and every
metallic reading” their detectors alerted them to and the area then had to be
excavated by hand, in order to establish whether or not the alarm indicated the
presence of explosives.
“If an area had been heavily fought over, which this area
was, you have a lot of metal contamination and fragmentation,” Franklin
MAG experts, who are mostly former military officers with
extensive experience in landmine clearance, also had to train local Sudanese to
lift the explosives.
Once landmines are detected, they are either destroyed
right there and then, using an explosive charge and detonated from a safe
distance by an electrical signal that passes along a cable. On some occasions,
an international technical field manager will defuse the mine and safely remove
it. Mines collected in this way are then destroyed in bulk at what MAG calls
“controlled demolition sites” far from human habitation.
Franklin acknowledges that “there’s still a lot of work to
do” with regard to clearing explosives in Sudan.
“There are a lot of suspected hazardous areas that still
remain to be technically surveyed and cleared, as well as some known
minefields. For example, just in central and western Equatoria, there are
reportedly 93 mine-affected communities, of which there’ve been 20 victims in
the last two years. It’s estimated there are 1,25 million people living in
impacted communities in just those two areas.”
But Franklin says MAG’s hopeful
that it’ll make a “significant positive impact” on this situation in the coming