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Western Sahara

Last Updated: 15 November 2012

Mine Action

Contamination and Impact


Western Sahara is significantly contaminated with mines as a result of earlier armed conflict between the government of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario). A berm (defensive earthen wall) of more than 2,000km in length was built during conflict in the 1980s, and remained after the 1991 cease-fire between Morocco and Polisario. Moroccan troops laid antipersonnel and antivehicle mines in and around the berms. According to the British NGO Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), Western Sahara is one of the most heavily mined territories in the world.[1]

An AOAV-managed survey concluded at the end of 2008 covering the area east of the berm identified 37 mined areas; an additional mined area was identified in 2010.[2] The total suspected mined area covered 134km2 as of March 2011.[3] Further survey is still required in the 5km buffer zone on the east of the berm. Available information has indicated that the areas around the berm are the most seriously affected, although mines have also been laid around settlements and have been reported in and around waterholes, well-used roads and paths.[4]

As of mid-June 2012, AOAV was working on the first of the 38 confirmed mined areas. This “nuisance” mined area is estimated to cover 74km2 and clearance was expected to take at least one year. With existing capacity, clearance was estimated by AOAV to require more than 20 years of work.[5]

Cluster munition remnants

There remains a significant problem of cluster munition remnants in Western Sahara, although clearance was expected to be completed by the end of 2012. As of mid-June 2012, a total of 23 cluster munition strike sites remained to be cleared from an estimated area of 3.88km2.[6] AOAV had identified three previously unrecorded areas as recently as 4 June.[7] The AOAV-managed survey determined that unexploded submunitions pose the greatest threat to people and animals.[8]

Other explosive remnants of war

There is also contamination from many other explosive remnants of war (ERW). The AOAV-managed survey found one area containing unused ammunition and identified 433 spot clearance tasks.[9] Of these, 233 explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) spot tasks had been completed as of March 2011.[10] The remainder (outside the buffer zone close to the berm) were cleared by the end of 2011.[11]

Mine Action Program

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) manages a Mine Action Coordination Center (MACC),[12] which was upgraded from a mine action “cell” in February 2008.

Land Release

Land release is conducted by Polisario and local staff under the supervision of AOAV in areas of Western Sahara east of the berm. AOAV conducted only battle area clearance (BAC) and EOD in 2011, as it did the two previous years.[13] It uses only manual clearance techniques.[14] In the first six months of 2011, AOAV worked with three BAC teams and one EOD team for a total of four teams. Following a new contract with the UN in October 2011, it changed into three teams, two multipurpose teams for minefield clearance and one BAC team.[15]

Release of cluster munition contaminated areas in 2011

In 2011, AOAV cleared 72 cluster strike areas through visual subsurface and instrument-assisted clearance, over a total area of 7.8km2. A total of 3,814 submunitions were destroyed, of which 1,748 were BLU 63, 1,022 were MK-118 Rockeyes, and 1,044 were M42 submunitions.[16] In 2010, AOAV cleared 75 cluster-munition-contaminated areas over some 2km2.[17]

Clearance of cluster munition remnants in 2011[18]


Area cleared (m2)

Submunitions destroyed

SHA (m2) canceled by visual inspection

Other UXO destroyed

AP mines destroyed







Quality management

AOAV uses its own standing operating procedures, working in accordance with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) it signed with MINURSO and in accordance with a contract of work for the UN Mine Action Service (through the UN Office for Project Services), as well as in accordance with a MOU with Polisario.[19] BAC quality management is conducted by the AOAV operations officer, the technical advisor, and the chief of operations, as well as by MINURSO.[20] The MACC operations/quality assurance officer visits AOAV teams every two weeks and conducts quality assurance/quality control of their operations.[21]

Demining accidents

One AOAV deminer was killed in an accident on 19 June 2011.[22]


[1] Landmine Action, “Western Sahara 2007 Activities,” London, April 2008, p. 2; see also the Country Profile for Morocco. Landmine Action changed its name to Action on Armed Violence in 2009.

[2] Email from Penelope Caswell, Field Programme and GIS Manager, AOAV, 18 May 2010, incorporating information from James Mbogo, Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) Officer, UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) Mine Action Coordination Center (MACC).

[3] Email from Ginevra Cucinotta, Program Officer, MINURSO MACC, 25 March 2011.

[4] UN, “2010 Portfolio of Mine Action Projects,” New York, November 2009, p. 238.

[5] Emails from Karl Greenwood, Chief of Operations, AOAV/Mechem Western Sahara programme, AOAV, 20 June and 18 July 2012.

[6] Email from Karl Greenwood, AOAV, 18 June 2012.

[7] Ibid., 20 June 2012.

[8] Email from Melissa Fuerth, Operations Officer, Landmine Action, 20 February 2009.

[9] Emails from Diek Engelbrecht, Senior Technical Advisor, MINURSO MACC, 30 March 2010; and from Penelope Caswell, AOAV, 18 May 2010, incorporating information from James Mbogo, MINURSO MACC.

[10] Email from Ginevra Cucinotta, MINURSO MACC, 25 March 2011.

[11] Email from Karl Greenwood, AOAV, 18 July 2012.

[12] UN, “2010 Portfolio of Mine Action Projects,” New York, November 2009, p. 239.

[13] Email from Karl Greenwood, AOAV, 20 June 2012.

[14] Email from Diek Engelbrecht, MINURSO MACC, 18 February 2010.

[15] Email from Karl Greenwood, AOAV, 20 June 2012.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Email from Ginevra Cucinotta, MINURSO MACC, 25 March 2011.

[18] Email from Karl Greenwood, AOAV, 20 June 2012.

[19] Email from Melissa Fuerth, Landmine Action, 19 June 2008.

[20] Ibid., 15 February 2010.

[21] Email from Ginevra Cucinotta, MINURSO MACC, 25 March 2011.

[22] Email from Karl Greenwood, AOAV, 20 June 2012.