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Country Reports
ERITREA, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


After some thirty years of conflict, Eritrea, led by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Decades of conflict have left a significant landmine problem in Eritrea. The past year has witnessed a conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia over their border, which was never formally delineated after Eritrean independence. Eritrea in particular has been accused of using mines during the fighting.

Mine Ban Policy

Eritrea has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty. Eritrea was not been actively involved in the Ottawa Process. It attended some of the treaty preparatory meetings, but did not endorse the pro-treaty Brussels Declaration in June 1997 and did not attend the treaty negotiations in Oslo, even as an observer. Eritrea sent representatives to observe the signing ceremony in Ottawa in December 1997. However, Eritrea has expressed some support for banning antipersonnel mines by voting in favor of all three pro-ban U.N. General Assembly resolutions in 1996, 1997, and 1998. Eritrea is not known to have produced or exported antipersonnel mines. Currently, no information is available on the size or composition of Eritrea's stocks of AP mines.


In the late 1998 and 1999 border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, there have been some allegations of use of antipersonnel mines. In February 1999, an Ethiopian government spokesperson accused Eritrea of using as many as 50,000 mines in the Badme region alone, while maintaining that “in the ongoing conflict Ethiopian defense forces have never used antipersonnel landmines.”[1] Ethiopia has signed the Mine Ban Treaty. An unnamed but “high ranking” Ethiopian army officer claimed that 110,000 landmines (100,000 AP and 10,000 AT mines) had been planted in Badme and some parts of Sheraro, areas “liberated” from Eritrea during Operation Sunset.[2]

On another front, the Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a rebel group active in Eritrea's western lowlands near Sudan, have used antipersonnel mines. Eritrea has accused Sudan of supporting EIJ combatants. EIJ members have planted landmines in western Eritrea that match those provided to Sudanese troops and to Sudan-supported rebels in southern Sudan and Uganda. Human Rights Watch saw two antitank mines, which had already been disarmed and unburied, that were displayed by Eritrean officials who claimed they had been discovered on well-traveled rural roads in 1996, where they could not have been long in place without detonating.[3] Human Rights Watch saw a third landmine of this exact type which had been left on a road that they had just traversed between Tessenei and Barentu in northwestern Eritrea and that was discovered by civilians living in the area when they noticed that the packed dirt road had been disturbed during the night. All three were new Belgian-made plastic landmines of the same design (PRB M-3), with the words "pressure plate" printed on their pressure plates in French, German, and Italian.[4] Each had nearly identical lot numbers, suggesting that they were from the same shipment. In addition to this, Human Rights Watch saw antipersonnel mines of the same type in Eritrea, southern Sudan, and northern Uganda, all carrying similar Arabic markings and all held by Sudanese government forces or supplied to Sudan-backed rebel groups.[5]

In the past, an estimated two million mines were used in Eritrea, between 1975 and 1991, by the armed forces of Ethiopian General Mengistu and the EPLF.[6] Between 500,000 and one million mines are thought to still be in the ground.[7] As of 1994, around fifty different antipersonnel and antitank mines from over fourteen countries had been identified in Eritrea.[8] In addition to mines, an estimated three million unexploded ordnance are thought to litter former conflict areas.[9]

Following are lists of mines found in Eritrea:

  • Antipersonnel mines in Eritrea and their countries of origin: Unknown (Cuba); PRB M35 (Belgium); Type 69, Type 72, PPM-2 (China); V Mine (Italy); MIAPDV 63, MIAPID 51 (France); P2 Mk2 (Pakistan); Type 72 (South Africa); M3, M14, M16A1, M18A1 Claymore (USA); MON-50, MON-100, MON-200, OZM-3, OZM-4, OZM-72, PMD-6, PMD-57, PMN, PMN-2, POMZ-2/2M (Former Soviet Union); PMP-71, PPM-2 (Former- East Germany); DM-11 (Former- West Germany); PP-MI-Sr, PP-MI-Sr II (Former- Czechoslovakia); PROM-1 (Former Yugoslavia).[10]
  • Antitank mines in Eritrea and their countries of origin: PRB M3, PRB M3 A1 (Belgium); Type 72 (China); Unknown (Cuba); M/71 (Egypt); UKA 63 (Hungary); P2 Mk2, P2 Mk3 (Pakistan); Mk-7 (U.K.); M7A2, M15 (USA); Type 72 (South Africa); PMZ-40, TM-46, TMN-46, TM-57, TM-62M, TM-62P, TMK-2 (Former Soviet Union); PM-60 (Former East Germany); PT-MI-Ba II, PT-MI-Ba III, PT-MI-K (Former Czechoslovakia); TMA-3 (Former-Yugoslavia).[11]

Mine Clearance

Between 1977 and 1994, more than half of the estimated two million mines planted in Eritrea were removed.[12] This calculates into an impressive total of nearly 60,000 mines cleared per year. It is also estimated that in areas that were cleared, 150,000 mines remain due to poor clearance equipment and techniques,[13] a clearance rate of 87 percent, well below humanitarian standards. Eritrean deminers suffered hundreds of casualties during these operations.[14] A more recent estimate puts the total number of landmines, both antipersonnel and antitank, removed since 1991 at 465,000.[15] This again calculates to a high total of over 58,000 mines removed per year.

Over the past five years, Eritrea has mounted a mine clearance program. Although it has relied on U.S. government assistance from the Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Program through the US Central Command, "the activities are strongly controlled" by the Eritrean government.[16] The government established the National Demining Headquarters in the capital Asmara with a command element, Historical Research Department, and one demining company of around eighty deminers.[17] The government has also established a Demining Training Center to support the program and the US government’s Humanitarian Demining assistance program trained 120 deminers in 1996.[18]

As of 1998, this single demining company had cleared 1,235 antipersonnel mines, 126 antitank mines over a total of almost two and one-half square kilometers and eighty-seven kilometers of roads.[19] These totals appear more realistic than the two previous totals given for clearance. In addition to the structured demining, informal demining by civilians goes on as well.[20]

To date, no comprehensive nationwide survey has been conducted in Eritrea. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has identified Eritrea as one of the countries requiring a national survey.[21] A UNMAS assessment mission to Eritrea scheduled for mid-1998 was postponed due to security concerns.[22] Eritrea's reluctance to accept assistance from countries other than the U.S. has limited its ability to expand its mine action program.[23] For its part, the demining authority prioritizes clearance by into three categories: (1) Resettlement areas for refugees; (2) Transportation infrastructure, and (3) General land use.[24] To date, land that has been cleared has been rehabilitated for refugee return, "road building, farming and grazing, utility projects (such as power and telecommunications), mining and drilling, and natural resource exploration.[25]"

Mine awareness is also part of the Eritrean mine action program. The program uses signs and mass media, which was not the case prior to 1995, to inform local populations about the danger in the area.[26] In addition to assistance with clearance, in 1997 the U.S. program has worked with the Historical Research Department on mine awareness.[27]

U.S. assistance to Eritrea for mine action totaled around US$2 million in 1998 and has totaled $8 million since its inception. Funding is projected at US$2.2 million for 1999.[28]

Landmine Casualties

There is little information regarding casualties related to mines in Eritrea. The government reported that between May 1991 and May 1993, 2,000 incidents, including civilians and mine clearance personnel, occurred in Eritrea, but no updated figures have been quoted.[29] A 1998 U.S. report states that mine action has led to a decline in accidents, but offers no concrete statistics to illustrate the decline.[30] One explanation for low casualty figures, though again no figures are given, is the demining authority's prioritization of resettlement areas prior to the return of refugees and displaced people.[31] Again, the lack of a comprehensive survey in Eritrea, which would include victim data, limits accurate calculation of the problem. Health services and subsequent treatment and rehabilitation in the country are "generally inadequate" especially in rural areas, making this a key point for improvement.[32]


[1]Ethiopian Government Spokesperson, “Total Victory for Operation Sunset,” Ethiopian News Service, Addis Ababa. www.telecom.net.et/~ena, 28 February 1999; Professor Addis Birhan, “Mind Eritrea's Mine Fields,” Walta Information Service, Addis Ababa. www.telecom.net.et/~walta, 6 March 1999; Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 17 March 1999, p. 2.

[2]The Weyne newspaper quoted in “Ethiopian Officer Says Eritrea Plants Mines,” AB2703144099, Mekele Voice of the Tigray Revolution in Tigrinya, 1500 GMT, 26 March 1999.

[3]Sudan. Global Trade, Local Impact: Arms Transfers to all Sides in the Civil War in Sudan, Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol.10, no.4 (A), August 1998, p.42.



[6]Carolyn Taylor et al, Landmine Warfare- Mines and engineer munitions in Eritrea. National Ground Intelligence Center. No. NGIC-116-004-94, 1994, p. 5.

[7]Taylor et al, Landmine Warfare, p.1; U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, September 1998, p.25; UNA-USA, "A Report on Landmine Clearance in Africa," The Eighth Annual Citizen's Inspection Tour, April 25-May 2, 1998, p.20.

[8]Taylor, et al., Landmine Warfare, pp.11-12; U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, July 1993, p.86.

[9]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998, p. 25.



[12]Taylor et al., Landmine Warfare, p.1.


[14]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1994, p.16.

[15]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998, p. 28.

[16]UNA-USA, p. 21.

[17]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998, p. 27.



[20]UNA-USA, p. 21.

[21]"UNMAS Discussion Paper on the Application of Survey and the Impact of the Ottawa Treaty," UNMAS, New York, Version 1.2/98, Annex C.

[22]"Ethiopia Joint Assessment Mission Report," UNMAS, 22 June, 1998, p.1.

[23]UNA-USA, p.22.

[24]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998, p. 28.


[26]Taylor et al., Landmine Warfare, p.4; U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998, p. 28.

[27]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998, p. 29.

[28]U.S. State Department, “Demining Program Financing History,” 11 January 1999.

[29]Taylor et al., Landmine Warfare, p.4; U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998,. p. 27.

[30]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998, p. 28.

[31]UNA-USA, p. 21.

[32]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998, p. 29.