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Country Reports
SOMALILAND, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


Soon after the fall of the of the Siyad Barre regime of the Somali Democratic Republic in 1991, Somaliland, which comprised the northern five regions of united Somalia, proclaimed its independence, claiming the same territory that was ruled by the United Kingdom as the British Protectorate of Somaliland until 1960. Somaliland had joined with the former Italian colony of Somalia after each received independence in 1960. Today, for all practical purposes, Somaliland functions as a separate and independent country, thus far unrecognized by other countries. It has a bicameral parliament, and an elected president. Twice in the past eight years, Somaliland has peacefully changed its governing leadership. It maintains officially recognized liaison offices in neighboring countries such as Djibouti and Ethiopia and will soon open a Commercial Relations Office in Yemen.

Mine Ban Policy

The self-declared Republic of Somaliland cannot become a signatory of the Mine Ban Treaty until it receives international recognition as a separate state. Nevertheless, on the occasion of the signing ceremony of the ban treaty in Ottawa, the President of Somaliland, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, wrote a letter to Lloyd Axworthy, the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs indicating that Somaliland was willing to sign the MBT. In his letter, Mr. Egal stated “We would be grateful to be accepted as participants in the Conference and to sign the treaty banning landmines as an autonomous territory in full control of its destiny and the management of its affairs.” [1] Somaliland authorities give every indication that they are willing to unilaterally observe the MBT and all of its obligations, including the expeditious destruction of landmine stocks of its national army.

The governmental National Demining Agency (NDA) issued a policy paper on landmines in 1998. Its proposed policies were approved by the President’s Cabinet on 26 October 1998. However, the policy did not mention the MBT, and although it mandated the destruction of landmine stocks, it only made reference to landmine stocks in the hands of militias or private individuals and did not mention national army landmine stocks.[2] On 1 March 1999, the Somaliland House of Representatives passed an amended version of the NDA policy that in Article 1 decrees that “the State Shall undertake to destroy or ensure the destruction of all stockpiled antipersonnel mines it owns or possesses, or that are under its jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible.”[3]

In its preamble to the amended policy, the House of Representatives recalled both the Ottawa Declaration of 5 October 1996 and the Brussels Declaration of 27 June 1997 urging the international community to negotiate an international legally binding agreement prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel mines.

Until recently there was no organized campaign to ban landmines in Somaliland.[4] On 26 August 1998 SOYAAL, the Somaliland Veterans Association, issued a statement at the conclusion of its Second General Congress calling on the government of Somaliland to ban all landmines.[5] Subsequently, in January 1999 the Somaliland Coalition against Landmines (SCAL) was formed, composed of SOYAAL, the Somaliland Red Crescent Society, the Somaliland Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SORRA), and the Institute for Practical Research (IPR). IPR acts as the secretariat for SCAL.[6]

Production, Transfer and Stockpiling

Somaliland is not known to have ever produced or exported antipersonnel mines. The Ministry of Defense of Somaliland states that its national army has not purchased or transferred any landmines, but admits that it has stocks inherited from the Somali army or various demobilized militias.[7] The government has not programmed the destruction of its landmine stocks.[8] The size and composition of the stockpile is not known.


The landmine problem in Somaliland is the result of over two decades of warfare. Between 1977 and 1978, the Somali Democratic Republic, which then had the third largest army in sub-Saharan Africa, went to war with neighboring Ethiopia over a long-standing territorial dispute. The war was heavily contested in the frontier area between northern Somalia (now Somaliland) and Ethiopia and the corridor between the Ethiopian city of Dire-Dawa and the border. Both the Somali army of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siyad Barre and Ethiopian troops of the Mengistu regime heavily mined front lines, perimeters surrounding military installations and important access routes.

Then, between 1981 and 1991, the Somali National Movement (SNM), a rebel army of mostly northern Somali following, waged an armed insurrection against the regime of Mohamed Siyad Barre. On 27 May 1988, the conflict intensified to a full-scale war, and the Somali army, fearing that the population was sympathetic to the cause of the rebels, embarked on a scorched earth strategy. Nearly one million civilians were forced out of northern Somalia into refugee camps in northeastern Ethiopia.[9] Numerous reports by human rights organizations and others describe the indiscriminate use of landmines by the Somali army against the civilian population and their homes, farmland, and water reservoirs.[10] In particular, the then regional capital of Hargeisa was targeted by the army. Perhaps as many as 100,000 landmines were placed in Hargeisa by the army -- around military bases, refugee camps, private homes, and the airport.[11] SNM combatants also used landmines during this civil war.

The most recent use of landmines in Somaliland took place between 1994 and 1995. Militias opposed to the regime of Somaliland President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and loyalist forces fought fierce battles in Hargeisa (now Somaliland’s capital) and areas south and east of Hargeisa.

Landmines were used extensively in this civil war. While the two sides have now reconciled, the landmines they planted during this period are making life very difficult in Burao and the surrounding region

Landmine Problem

Most studies put the number of landmines in Somaliland and Somalia from these three conflicts at 1.2 to 2 million. In 1998 the US State Department estimated one million landmines in all of Somalia.[12] The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which currently operates the Somali Civil Protection Program and a demining project in Somaliland, indicates that between 400,000 and 800,000 landmines were deployed in Somaliland during the 1988-1991 period.[13] At least twenty-four types of antipersonnel landmines from ten countries have been identified in Somaliland. The ten countries of origin are: Belgium, Pakistan, China, the United States, former Czechoslovakia, former East Germany, Egypt, former Soviet Union, United Kingdom and Italy.[14]

In 1997, the Somaliland government constituted a National Demining Agency (NDA) to coordinate all demining, mine awareness and victim assistance programs by the government and national and international NGOs. At about the same time, UNDP established a Somali Mine Action Center (SMAC) to coordinate its landmine activities in Somaliland and begin a limited training and demining program in Burao City. The UNDP program also started compiling field data for a level 1 survey. Data on the extent of landmine contamination throughout Somaliland has been compiled by SMAC, SOYAAL (the Somaliland War Veterans Association) and the Somali Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SORRA).

According to SMAC, there are twenty-eight mined roads in Somaliland. Most roads in Somaliland are unpaved; the only exception is one major route that connects several of the major towns and cities. Consequently, it had been relatively easy to block roads with landmines. There have been several mine incidents on the coastal road between the port city of Berbera and neighboring Djibouti, and a section of this road just east of Berbera has at least one minefield of undetermined size. Sections of the regular Djibouti–Jidhi-Borama road are also mined and traffic has been diverted into alternate routes for the past eight years. The regular unpaved road between the largest towns of Somaliland, Burao and Hargeisa, has been abandoned, in part due to the landmine threat.

There are also more than eighty minefields in Somaliland. Sixty-three of these fields have been confirmed by SMAC. The majority of mine fields are found near the Ethiopian/Somaliland border.[15] These minefields were designed to protect the army of Siyad Barre’s regime from SNM incursions during the 1988-90 conflict. Somaliland is a pastoral society and the frontier area is the most important grazing area for Somaliland livestock. Each season, tens of thousands of nomads and their herds cross the border in search of water and pasture. These nomads are extremely vulnerable as they travel on foot and often in large numbers. There are no paved roads in the area and no hospitals or health care centers. No systematic demining has taken place in this frontier area.

The city of Burao is also badly mine affected, and the source of most new mine victims in Somaliland today. More than 70,000 former residents of Burao, Somaliland's second largest city, have not dared return home and live in a makeshift camp on its eastern outskirts.[16] Limited demining by a UNDP-funded Somalia Civil Protection Project has now resulted in some sections of the city to be repopulated and the reopening of important public facilities such as the airport, the bank, a few schools and a number of main streets.

Mine Action Funding

Somaliland’s status as a self-declared republic that has received no international recognition has made it very difficult to attract bilateral assistance or funding from the international community for demining or other mine action projects. Lack of resources has severely limited demining and mine action activities and currently only one UNDP-sponsored demining project of a limited duration is active in Somaliland.

Between 1991 and 1993, the US State Department and later the United Nations funded a commercial demining project in Somaliland. The United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM) which operated during the 1992-1994 humanitarian intervention in Somalia funded a number of local contractors. It is not clear that any of these contractors worked in Somaliland.

In 1998, the UNDP spent $202,000 on a training and assessment project by Mine-Tech of Zimbabwe (see below). In 1998, Care International received $343,817 from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to start a level II survey in Somaliland and to support NDA and SMAC capacity building.[17] Care’s project was slated to start on 1 March 1999.

On 20 January 1999, the Danish Foreign Ministry awarded 4 million Kroner (approximately U.S. $600,000) to the Danish Demining Group to start a project in Somaliland in the spring of 1999.[18] During a meeting on 5 March 1998 in Copenhagen, DGG indicated that the funds were for a pilot project that may be expanded in the future.[19]

Mine Clearance

The gravity of the landmine situation became apparent in 1991 soon after the fall of Siyad Barre as large numbers of residents returned to their homes in Hargeisa. Mines were found everywhere in Hargeisa and casualties quickly mounted. In 1991, the U.S. State Department’s Office of Refugee Programs funded a proposal by Médecins Sans Frontières of Belgium to start a demining program in Hargeisa. The project was later expanded with further input from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR was responsible for the care of nearly 800,000 former residents of Somaliland as refugees in northeastern Ethiopia.

Rimfire, a British firm, was contracted to start demining in and around the city of Hargeisa. According to some reports, Rimfire’s demining program had serious organizational and technical shortcomings and some indicated that more than thirty of its local deminers were killed.[20] The program and parallel local efforts resulted in the removal of 21,000 from Hargeisa before Rimfire closed its project in early 1994.[21] The early demining by local teams[22] and Rimfire enabled the re-population of the city of Hargeisa, whose residents now number an estimated population of 250,000 to 300,000. Mine explosions are now rare in Hargeisa. However, there are a number of minefields in its vicinity.

The 1994-95 internal conflict in Somaliland, described above, made humanitarian demining difficult, and no new programs were initiated. In fact, new mines were laid in the contested areas, and, as noted, most severely affected by these new mines is the central city of Burao, which had been the scene of heavy fighting.

In 1998, UNDP funded a three-month commercial demining project to begin the demining of Burao. MineTech of Zimbabwe was contracted to do a feasibility study using previously trained Somali deminers. MineTech trained sixty-three Somali deminers, and with two mine detection dogs and expatriate technical advisors has now cleared approximately 73,000 sq. meters in Burao removing 107 antipersonnel mines, fifteen antitank mines and sixty-three UXOs at a cost of $2.75 per square meter and a total cost of US $202,000. Under a separate contract from HABITAT, the team also cleared a 1.5 km road leading to the water reservoir of the nearby town of Sheikh.

On 20 January 1999, the Danish Demining Group (DGG) announced that it would begin a demining project in Somaliland in the spring of 1999. DGG received a grant of 4 million Kroner from the Danish Foreign Ministry for a demining, detonation of UXOs and victim assistance. According to press reports DGG will establish headquarters in Hargeisa and will train up to forty-five local deminers.[23]

Landmine Survivor Assistance

In 1991. during the peak of landmine incidents, Somaliland had only eight general surgeons and two orthopedic surgeons in the whole country. At that time, the ICRC estimated Somaliland to have one amputee for every 652 persons. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), in a report published in 1992, also conservatively estimated that there were then between 1,500 and 2,000 landmine amputees in Somaliland. The population of Somaliland at the time of the PHR report was estimated at about 1 million, indicating, therefore, that there was one amputee for every 666 residents. In this period, 60 mine victims a month were being brought to the main Hargeisa Group Hospital alone.[24] There are only three hospitals capable of providing surgery in the whole county, and these are poorly equipped.

Mine-related casualties have considerably subsided over the past several years as people become more aware and avoid problem zones. Moreover, nomads and local communities especially in the frontier areas have often hired freelance deminers to demine areas they knew had landmines. In April 1998, doctors in Berbera Hospital indicated that on average they were treating one new mine victim each month. Most of the victims in Berbera were from the heavily-mined city of Burao, which is about two hours driving distance from Berbera.[25] However, the United Nations reports that between June and December 1998, there were seventy landmine accidents involving forty fatalities in the Togdheer region of Somaliland alone.[26]

Currently two NGOs provide some post-operative assistance to landmine victims. The Somaliland Red Crescent Society (SRCS), with funding from the Somaliland government., and the Norwegian Red Cross provides plastic lower limb prostheses to amputees. Handicap International (HI) also provides prosthetics, crutches and other walking aids, and runs a physical therapy clinic for amputees and other handicapped individuals. Both centers are located in Hargeisa and except for occasional travel to other districts, their patients are confined to victims who can seek assistance in Hargeisa.

Between 1993 and December 1998 the SRCS rehabilitation center provided prostheses to 908 patients. Forty percent of the patients were mine victims. The majority of mine victims do not receive any post-operative assistance. The need for post-operative care was illustrated in October 1998 when SRCS staff visited Burao. In a single day, the SCRS team saw sixty amputees who needed help with obtaining mobility devices.[27] The SCRS now plans seven mobile clinics, four for the Togdheer region and three for Awadal during 1999.[28]


[1]Letter dated 26 November 1997 from Somaliland President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal to Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy concerning Somaliland’s willingness to sign the Mine Ban Treaty.

[2]National Demining Agency, “Somaliland Government Policy on Landmines and Unexploded Ordnance,” 26 October 1998.

[3]Golaha Wakiilada (House of Representatives), reference GW/KF-7/89/99, 1 March 1999.

[4]The Somali Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SORRA) has been the most active. It hosted the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) team that wrote the 1992 report on landmines in Northern Somalia. The Deputy Speaker of the Somaliland House of Representatives, himself an explosives engineer, has also been an active anti-landmines advocate.

[5]SOYAAL Second Congress Resolutions, 26 August 1998.

[6]SCAL: 252-213-4585, e-mail:ahesa@rocketmail.com

[7]Discussion with Rashid Haji Abdillahi, Somaliland Minister of Defense, 20 January 1999.

[8]Interview with Col. Mohamed Ali Ismail (ret), Director of NDA, 26 November 1998.

[9]United States General Accounting Office, “Somalia, Observations Regarding the Northern Conflict and Resulting Conditions, Report to Congressional Requesters,” GAO/NSIAD-89-159, Washington, DC., 1989.

[10]Physicians for Human Rights, Hidden Enemies: Landmines in Northern Somalia (Boston: PHR,1992).

[11]Somalia Handbook: Foreign Ground Weapons and Health Issues, U.S. Army Foreign Science and Technology Center, December 1992, DST-1100H-107-92, p.8.

[12]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, September 1998, p.46.

[13]UNDP Promotional Document, “UNDP SOMALIA.,” UNDP-Somalia Information Office, Nairobi, Kenya, 1998.

[14] Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993), p. 225. This gives the types of mines for each nation.

[15]Human Rights Watch, Arms Project and Physicians for Human Rights, Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993), p. 223.

[16]U.N. Assessment Mission to Northwest Somalia, June 1998.

[17]Somalia Mine Action Program (SOMAP), Care International, October 1998.

[18]DGG is a humanitarian demining NGO affiliated with the Danish Refugees Council.

[19]LM researcher met with the Danish Refugee Council and DGG on 5 March 1998.

[20]Rimfire was faulted for hiring practices that exacerbated inter-clan friction, not disposing of landmines properly and for failing to follow safety guidelines. African Rights and the Mines Advisory Group wrote a critical report on Rimfire’s work, Violent Deeds Live On: Landmines in Somalia and Somaliland (London: African Rights and MAG, December 1993). In addition, a UN Assessment Mission to Northwest Somalia in June of 1998 reported that thirty local deminers were killed during Rimfire’s project.

[21]Physicians for Human Rights, Hidden Enemies,pp.32-33.

[22]A.A. Haij Gam-Gam and H. Wilson, “An outline of a Proposal for the Establishment of a Landmine Clearance Program in the Republic of Somaliland,” May 1994.

[23]Berlingske Tidende, (Copenhagen), 20 January 1999.

[24]Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, pp. 221-223.

[25]Discussion at Berbera between doctors working for the Coperazione Italiano (COOPI) and a visiting delegation lead by U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti, Lange Schermerhorn, April 1998.

[26]UN Assessment Mission to Northwest Somalia, June 1988.

[27]Ali Sheikh Mohamed, Director of SRCS Rehabilitation Center in Hargeisa, 27 November 1998.

[28]Mustafa Rashaad, SRCS, Hargeisa, 18 February 1999.