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SENEGAL, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


It appears certain that Senegalese troops used antipersonnel landmines in Guinea-Bissau in 1998, supporting the government in fighting that erupted in that country in June. (See country report on Guinea-Bissau). In the midst of the conflict, Senegal ratified the Mine Ban Treaty on 24 September 1998. Though the Mine Ban Treaty had not entered into force for Senegal, the use of mines by a signatory can be judged a breach of its international obligations. Under Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, “a state is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the purpose of a treaty when...it has signed the treaty.” Clearly, new use of mines defeats the purpose of the treaty.

Senegal has a severe landmine problem in its southern enclave province of Casamance where fighting has intensified between the Senegalese army and the separatist Mouvement des forces démocratiques de la Casamance (MFDC) since August of 1997. The conflict, which began in 1982, has had disastrous results for the civilian population. The situation has been aggravated by the recent proliferation of antipersonnel and antitank mines in the region, laid in large numbers by the rebels. Civilians—the main victims of landmines—have been severely affected and the agrarian base of the Casamançais economy destroyed.

The consequences—for public health, the regional economy, and the environment—are alarming. Rural activities in the entire region south of the Casamance River are heavily affected. Investments totaling several billions CFA francs in rural development projects have been shelved or canceled. Technical assistance to farmers and breeders is paralyzed in 60-80 percent of cases: agriculture is virtually at a standstill. Vaccination campaigns and public health activities have slowed down considerably. Tourism, relatively unaffected until recently, has been hit by the fear that the indiscriminate nature of AP mines has sown in the region.

Mine Ban Policy

Senegal signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 3 December 1997 and ratified it on 24 September 1998. Senegal participated fully in the Ottawa Process; it attended the treaty preparatory meetings and the Oslo treaty negotiations, endorsed the pro-treaty Brussels Declaration, and supported the key 1996, 1997 and 1998 pro-ban UN General Assembly resolutions on landmines.

The Dakar-based NGO, Recontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l'Homme (Raddho) played an active role in lobbying the government to sign the ban treaty. It also co-hosted with African Topics magazine a media workshop that drew domestic and international attention to Senegal's landmine problem, in Dakar on 3 November 1997.[1] In 1997 Raddho also met with the head of the separatist MFDC Senghor and urged him to use his influence in stopping the MFDC from using landmines.[2]

Production, Transfer, Stockpiling

Senegal is not a known producer of landmines. Members of the Senegalese engineering corps assert that the army has only mines of Warsaw Pact origin,[3] although the U.S. may have also supplied Claymores.[4] There is no further information on Senegalese stockpiles. The government claims that MFDC mines are of Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian and Chinese origin.[5] Recorded incidents confirm that both AP and ATMs have been used by rebels. A number of these are apparently undetectable with the army’s current detection equipment. Photographic and pathological evidence suggest that blast-effect mines have been used by the MFDC.[6] The loss of one lower limb, but not the other suggests the characteristic effects of blast mines.

An important source of mines used by the rebels is apparently the black market in Guinea- Bissau, where mines are reportedly obtainable for as little as 1,500 CFA francs (less than $3) for AP mines and 2,500 CFA francs for AT mines.[7] It has also been reported that rebel elements of the Guinea-Bissau military provided mines to the Casamance separatists – one of the factors that lead to the fighting in that country. (See country report on Guinea Bissau). Gambia has also been named as a source for the MFDC rebels.[8]


Mines traceable to the MFDC conflict began causing damage in 1991. But it was around the Senegalese presidential and legislative elections in February 1993 that the MFDC stepped up military pressure by using mines to prevent the people from going to the polls to vote in Casamance. In January 1993, an ICRC vehicle exploded as it went over an antitank mine, killing and mutilating several people. Large-scale laying of mines by the MFDC began in August 1997.

According to well-informed sources in contact with the MFDC, the use of mines is due to a number of factors,[9] including increased pressure on MDFC rear bases in the Guinea-Bissau border area as a result of improving diplomatic relations between the Senegalese and Guinea-Bissau governments. The pressure weakened the MFDC’s logistical support of food and funds, forcing it to rely more heavily on food resources in Casamance itself. Where previously the MFDC had levied informal taxes on the population, it now took full control of areas rich in natural resources to satisfy its own needs and market the surplus. The decision was made to construct security perimeters and expel the local populations. Landmines were a useful means of terror. At the same time, the MFDC separatists are split on their use of landmines. Its hardliners wanted to step up the fight at any cost, while its political leader, Father Augustine Diamacoune Senghor, currently under house arrest in Zinguinchor, is said to have been shocked by the rebels’ use of antipersonnel mines.[10]

MFDC forces inside the country admitted to using mines in November 1997 but promised not to do so any more. This was contradicted by the French branch of the MFDC, which issued a statement in early February 1998, claiming that the landmines, the “instruments of death,” had been laid by the government. Landmines continued to be laid in 1998.[11] To complicate things further the MFDC has now split into two antagonistic fronts, a “Front Sud” under Senghor and a “Front Nord” led by Sidy Badji, the MFDC's first guerrilla chief of staff.

The MFDC was almost certainly still laying mines in August 1998. Two incidents involving antitank mines took place on dirt roads in the Ziguinchor area that month. On 10 August, an accident occurred with a minibus in the Bignona department in the Sindian zone, killing thirteen people and injuring ten. On 13 August, three children died and another was seriously injured when their cart hit a mine 3 -4 km from Ziguinchor, on the road to Soukouta. This road is used constantly so there is no doubt that the mines were recent. This mine may have been intended for an expected military convoy.[12] The wide-spread laying of mines also contributed to economic chaos which the MFDC wished to instigate to force the Senegalese authorities to negotiate.

According to the Senegalese military not all mines planted in Casamance are by rebels. Mines are also used to sort out local vendettas and have been used by bandits and highwaymen to cover their tracks and frighten locals.[13] A number of merchants in Ziguinchor have been arrested for possession of landmines.[14]

Senegal Army Use

The first landmines are thought to have been laid in Casamance in 1968-73, when the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) began the fight for independence against Portuguese colonialism in Guinea-Bissau, which Casamance adjoins. PAIGC enjoyed the backing of the OAU, Senegal and people along the Casamance border, many of whom had family and ethnic links with PAIGC activists.

After independence, Senegalese armed forces have laid mines to protect the border with Guinea-Bissau where, as noted above, the MFDC has had rear bases, and to protect military perimeters and infrastructure.[15] The army has stuck to conventional mining doctrine, with a clear laying pattern. This is less dangerous for civilians and less problematic for future mine clearance operations than MFDC practices. Some sources have reported a few examples of “terrorist” mining, aimed at civilians in high-risk areas. But these are apparently isolated cases, which do not seem to correspond to orders from the military hierarchy.[16] The U.S. Department of State's report Hidden Killers noted in 1993 that two Senegalese members of ECOMOG were killed in Liberia while laying landmines.[17] It is not clear if Senegalese forces have laid mines inside Senegal since it signed the ban treaty in December 1997. The official line is, “It is not the Senegalese army’s vocation to lay mines.”[18]

Use by Senegalese forces in Guinea-Bissau

It appears certain that Senegalese forces used antipersonnel mines in Guinea-Bissau in 1998, in support of government troops. The conflict erupted on 7 June 1998 when Guinea-Bissau President João Bernardo Viera sacked then Army Chief-of-Staff Ansumane Mane for supposedly covertly supplying arms to the MFDC. News reports claim that landmines, which have been used in the Cassamance conflict, were included in the suspected arms shipments.[19] Mane quickly rallied almost the entire Guinea-Bissau army into a self-proclaimed Military Junta and called for President Viera's removal on charges of corruption and mismanagement. With almost no forces to defend his regime, Viera called on the neighboring countries of Senegal and Guinea-Conakry to send troops to hold off the advancing Junta, which both countries quickly did.

Fighting centered on the capital, Bissau, where government troops reinforced by Senegalese troops defended the center of the city south of the airport. The Junta eventually consolidated its hold on the interior and forced the withdrawal of the foreign troops, turning the focus of fighting to the city of Bissau. Reports also put Cassamance rebels fighting on the side of the Junta. On 1 November, the Abuja Accord was signed by the government and the Military Junta and on 20 February 1999 the Government of National Unity was sworn in to oversee the transition period until elections can be organized sometime this year. (See country report on Guinea-Bissau.)

Use of antipersonnel mines in the conflict by Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and Junta forces has been reported by the United Nations, the commander of ECOMOG forces, the chief of staff of Guinean forces in Guinea-Bissau, and by the media and other on-the-ground observers of the conflict. According to a U.N. Mine Action Service (UNMAS) assessment, the use of mines by both sides left 2,000-3,000 mines, and “it is reported that Junta and government forces as well as the Senegalese contingent have established records of the different minefields.”[20] An informed military source who was present on the ground contends that the vast majority of mines were planted by the government and Senegalese forces in their defense of the city against the advancing Junta forces.[21] That mines were used by government and Senegalese troops was reported on Portuguese television: “RTP [Lisbon RTP International Television] has confirmed the existence of antipersonnel mines in Guinnea-Bissau, where the conflict’s front line used to be. They were laid by government and Senegalese troops. The Bishop of Bissau had warned of mines before.”[22]

Mine Action Funding

So far, almost no financial resources have been dedicated to the support of technical surveys, mine clearance, mine awareness or victim assistance, for two main reasons: 1) The proliferation of landmines in Casamance is a relatively new phenomenon and, as such, has taken the international community by surprise, and 2) Peace has not yet been restored. This prevents large operations, particularly in sensitive fields like technical survey, marking and mine clearance. Although the army has engaged in demining operations, it has received no specialist assistance. The Senegalese authorities report that several of their deminers have been shot at by MFDC while trying to clear landmines.[23]

Little has been done in the field of landmine awareness. At the end of 1998, no specific programs have implemented for mine victim assistance. However, growing international awareness of the problem may change this situation in months to come. In March 1999 Handicap International initiated a two-year program, with funding from the EU and the French cooperation secretariat, to strengthen local capacity for victim assistance and landmine awareness.

Mine Clearance

The army claims to have destroyed 786 antitank mines and 1,947 antipersonnel mines, and lifted fifty-nine antitank mines and 106 antipersonnel mines between 24 October 1995 and 30 May 1998. It is unclear exactly which areas have been cleared. The current situation does not allow large-scale mine clearance programs that could be supported by specialist international agencies; additionally, the authorities are opposed to such interventions while fighting continues. It is difficult to ascertain the MFDC’s position on mine clearance activities. Sources close to the movement feel its military leadership would be hostile to such an idea, fearing a loss of tactical advantage. In addition, mines are still being laid, rendering clearance pointless at present.

Future clearance operations will be expensive. The low density of mining in some areas, the terrain and the lack of plans or maps will increase the level of logistical difficulty. It is as yet impossible to make an in-depth assessment of the location, number and socio-economic impact of landmines in Casamance. Existing information, although carefully sourced, should be treated as indicative. Whereas the army appears to have laid mines according to conventional doctrine, the MFDC appears to have mined indiscriminately, compounding surveying problems.

Most mine-laying has occurred in the southern strip of land between the Casamance River and the Guinea-Bissau border, in Ziguinchor and Oussouye departments and in part of the Sédhiou department in the south-west of the Kolda region. The Ziguinchor region has a population of about 492,000 people, about 176,000 of them in Ziguinchor itself. The strip of land south of the river, severely affected by the fighting, previously had a population of roughly 300,000 people. An estimated 60,000 people have now moved to other parts of country, mostly to large towns. 5,000-60,000 (depending on the source) have fled to Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia.

Mine Awareness

Some prevention mechanisms already exist. The army prevents civilian access to some mined areas, while others are marked. The Senegalese Red Cross has carried out basic mine risk awareness education, as has the army. Reportedly, the army has been teaching civilians to detect mines, providing them with a three-pronged fork with a long handle for probing.[24] Once the mines have been found, the civilians contact the military so that they can be neutralized.

Landmine Survivor Assistance

In late 1998, Handicap International recorded forty-six villages (plus Ziguinchor itself) where mine incidents had taken place. Of these, forty-three are located south of the Casamance River. Forty-three were in the Ziguinchor region and four in the Kolda region. Eighty percent of these sites were cross-confirmed. The fact that accidents took place in these villages does not mean that they still contain mines. In some cases the army has carried out demining operations, although there are doubts about their exhaustiveness. In other cases few mines appear to have been laid and all may now have been detonated.

According to a survey of mine victims by the NGO Radho, 32 percent of surviving landmine victims are in Ziguinchor itself, 23 percent in Oussouye, 16 percent in Oussouye and six per cent from Bignona. The other 32 per cent of survivors are from various locations. Thirty-five percent of victims are women, but the most surprising statistic is the victims' youth: 58 percent one and 17 years of age. And another 13 percent are 18 to 30.[25]

Senegalese military records indicate that, between 24 October 1995 and 15 June 1998, 226 mines were detonated by people or vehicles in the Ziguinchor region. These accidents are said to have resulted in 153 victims, all civilians, including forty-five dead and 108 injured.[26] This suggests an average of about thirteen victims per month.

Between 2 August 1997 and 10 August 1998, 193 civilian mine victims were treated at Ziguinchor regional hospital, an average of sixteen victims per month. At the present the hospital is treating two to three victims a week. However, not all cases are recorded as mine victims, while people killed instantly are not registered. According to the authorities, between 1 July and 31 December 1997, fifty-six soldiers were mine victims, eleven died. Extrapolating from these figures, it is safe to assume a “real” figure of 500 mine victims. Taking into account the surface area concerned (7,339 sq. km), total population (492,000) and the fact that an estimated 90 per cent of the mines are located in an area of no more than 2,500 sq. km, the annual ratio (1.5 victims per 1,000 people) is extremely high.

As noted above, the statistics for victims should be treated with care, but it is clear that women and children are heavily affected. Local sources claim that the army death toll is higher than officially declared. The director of Ziguinchor regional hospital hopes to build a dedicated mine victim unit, in part because of mine cases’ psychological impact on other patients. For military victims, generally evacuated to Dakar, medical care does not pose any particular problem.[27] Treatment of mine victims today represents 40 per cent of the workload of the hospital’s orthopedic center. A shortage of raw materials is beginning to be felt. There is only one physiotherapist for the two regions of Kolda and Ziguinchor (one million inhabitants), based at Ziguinchor regional hospital. Ongoing care and the follow-up to the fitting of prostheses are inadequate.

Broader Socio-Economic Impact of Mine Use

Obsessive fear of landmines has developed since the beginning of massive laying in 1997. The people are shocked by the suffering of the victims and their families and by the terrible increase in the number of disabled, and by the disastrous effects of the proliferation of mines on the economy. In the wider climate of terror which currently reigns in Casamance, it is difficult to discern what is the result of mines and what stems from the fighting, surprise attacks by the MFDC and repression of the civilian population by the two warring parties. Many activities relating to health, agriculture, and rural life in general, are at a complete standstill and many parts of the region are now no-go areas.

Vaccination, prenatal visits and medical assistance in general have been badly disrupted. Health workers note an increase in endemic diseases and home births. The army is now frequently used to carry out vaccination campaigns. A heavy food deficit has built up, resulting in malnutrition and even famine according to some people, although some reports may be exaggerated.

Ziguinchor’s regional agricultural service estimates an 80 per cent reduction in agricultural activity south of the Casamance River, in what used to be the region’s richest agricultural zone. Fruit is rotting on the trees, while rice fields are no longer cultivated.[28] Agricultural extension services are paralyzed, as are regional agricultural inventory and stock breeding programs. Vulnerable fresh-water systems are becoming salinated for lack of dam maintenance. Most of the food consumed now comes from Dakar. On average, food prices have doubled, partly due to the greatly increased difficulty in distributing supplies.

Before August 1997, tourism was not direct target for the MFDC, although four French tourists disappeared in 1994. In principle, tourism is still not a direct target today, but unlike the rebels, mines do not choose their victims. Since August 1997, the massive appearance of landmines has frightened off potential holiday makers. All reservations during the last November 1997-March 1998 season were canceled leading to significant loss of earnings. The mining of roads, including arteries such as the road between Kolda and Ziguinchor, has frightened off a large number of tourism promoters. Alternative solutions have been found, including direct flights between Paris and Cape Skirring, but these are at best a partial solution. It has been estimated that up to 70 per cent of the region’s 16,000 tourism-related jobs are at risk.


[1]Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, “Media Workshop Proclaimed A Success,” African Topics, no. 21, November-December 1997.

[2]Alioune Tine, “Landmines in Casamance Against the March of History,” African Topics, no's 23-24, May-July 1998.

[3]Handicap International, “The Impact of Landmines in Casemance/Senegal”, Exploratory Mission Report, August 1998. To protect sources, this is a confidential document.

[4]Barbarcar Ndiaye and Alex Vines, “Senegal: Old Mines, New Wars,” African Topics, no. 22, January-March 1998.

[5]West Africa, (London), 9-15 February 1998.

[6]HI, Exploratory Mission Report.

[7]Africa Confidential, vol 39, no.2, 23 January 1998.

[8]Alioune Tine, “Landmines in Casamance.”

[9]Africa Confidential, vol.39, no.2, 23 January 1998.

[10]Barbarcar Ndiaye and Alex Vines, “Senegal: Old Mines, New Wars.”

[11]West Africa Magazine, 9-15 February 1998.

[12]HI, Exploratory Mission Report.

[13]Barbarcar Diagne and Alex Vines, “Senegal: Old Mines, New Wars.”

[14]Alioune Tine, “Landmines in Casamance.”

[15]Africa Confidential vol.39, no.2, 23 January 1998.

[16]HI, Exploratory Mission Report.

[17]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, (Washington DC: US Department of State, 1993), p. 150.

[18]Barbarcar Ndiaye and Alex Vines, “Senegal: Old Mines, New Wars.”

[19]Alex Duval Smith, “Just a Little War among the Crocodile Swamps,” Guardian News Service. Johannesburg. 24 June 1998; West Africa, (London), 26 January - 1 February 1998.

[20]Major Herve Petetin, “Mine Situation in Guinea-Bissau,” United Nations Mine Action Service, December 1998, p. 1.

[21]HI, Exploratory Mission Report.

[22]“Guinea-Bissau: Mines Discovered on Both Sides of Front,” Lisbon RTP Television, 9 November 1998.

[23]'Barbarcar Ndiaye and Alex Vines, “Senegal: Old Mines, New Wars.”

[24]HI, Exploratory Mission Report.

[25]Alioune Tine, “Landmines in Casamance.”

[26]HI, Exploratory Mission Report.