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Country Reports
ERITREA, Landmine Monitor Report 2000
LM Report 2000 Full Report   Executive Summary   Key Findings   Key Developments   Translated Country Reports


Key developments since March 1999: In the 1998-2000 border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, it appears that tens of thousands of new mines were laid. Each government has alleged that the other laid mines, and observers have expressed concern that both sides may have used mines. While Landmine Monitor cannot verify use by Eritrea, there are serious, independent reports of use of antipersonnel mines by Eritrean forces.


In May 1998, Ethiopia and Eritrea went to war over a disputed border area. The two sides have accused each other of using landmines, and there are reports that more than 100,000 landmines have been laid. New use is compounding what was already a difficult landmine problem in Ethiopia and Eritrea. On 18 June 2000, the two countries signed an Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities. Article 8 of the agreement obligates both parties to demine the conflict frontier zone to allow UN peacekeeping forces and humanitarian agencies safe access.[1]

Mine Ban Policy

Eritrea has not signed or ratified the Mine Ban Treaty despite voting in favor of all pro-ban resolutions, including in December 1999, at the UN General Assembly. Eritrea did not attend the First Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Maputo in May 1999 and has not participated in any of the treaty’s intersessional Standing Committee of Experts meetings. Eritrea is not known to have made any official statements about the Mine Ban Treaty in 1999 or 2000. Eritrea is not party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons nor is it a member of the Conference on Disarmament.

Production, Transfer, Stockpiling

Eritrea is not known to have produced or exported antipersonnel mines. The Eritrean government claims not to have any antipersonnel mine stocks,[2] though such a statement is at odds with Eritrea’s acknowledged use of mines in the past (leaving aside current allegations).


While it is clear that antipersonnel mines were used by one or both parties to the recent conflict, Landmine Monitor has not been able to verify whether or not Eritrean forces are responsible for use of antipersonnel mines. However, there have been serious, independent reports (apart from allegations by the government of Ethiopia), as well as other credible indicators, that Eritrean forces have used antipersonnel mines.

In a February 2000 report regarding Eritrean human rights practices, the U.S. State Department said, “According to UN officials, [Eritrean] government forces laid approximately 50,000 to 60,000 landmines in the Badme area during their 8-month occupation of this disputed territory.”[3]

In early June 2000, humanitarian sources told the UN Humanitarian Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) that there was much concern that both countries had mined border areas, and that “it would appear to take some time before people are confident enough to go back to their homes” in areas affected by the conflict.[4]

Western journalists accompanying Ethiopian forces during the final Ethiopian offensive noted the existing presence of mines, and television images of the battlefield clearly showed the presence of both antipersonnel and antitank mines.[5] A journalist who visited the town of Zala Anbesa on 26 May 2000, the day after Ethiopian troops took it over from Eritrean forces, reported that the town had been mined and virtually destroyed by the Eritreans.[6]

For its part, Ethiopia soon after the start of the border war in May 1998 accused Eritrea of planting landmines in the conflict zone and areas of Ethiopia controlled by Eritrea, and continued to make allegations throughout the fighting. The Ethiopian government alleges that Eritrea planted more than 110,000 antipersonnel and antitank mines in the conflict zone.[7] In late May 2000, Ethiopia accused Eritrea of planting mines in border towns before losing control of them to Ethiopian troops.[8]

Landmine Monitor is unaware of a clear denial of use of mines on the part of the Eritrean government.[9] A letter sent to the government on 26 June 2000 explicitly requesting confirmation or denial had not been answered as of the end of July.

Eritrean opposition groups based in Ethiopia also allege that the Eritrean military has planted antipersonnel mines in Ayuman, Afambo, and Bada.[10] Authorities in Somaliland deported Eritrean and Ethiopian nationals suspected of laying mines on roads that lead from Berbera Port.[11] It is not possible for Landmine Monitor to assess the accuracy of such claims.

The U.S. State Department reported in February 2000 that Eritrea has provided support for armed opposition groups attempting to overthrow the Ethiopian government. These groups, mostly based in Somalia and Kenya, used landmines inside Ethiopia in 1999, according to the U.S.[12]

The Eritrean government alleged to Landmine Monitor in early 2000 that Ethiopian forces have been using landmines in the disputed territories,[13] and that the mines are to a large extent not mapped or marked.[14] The Eritrean government in late May and early June 2000 accused Ethiopia of laying mines in the towns Ethiopian forces were occupying.[15] In an aide-memoire dated 17 July 2000 to the OAU and UN, Eritrea said that “Ethiopia has and continues to plant new mines inside sovereign Eritrean territory, particularly in the areas which fall within the temporary security zone.”[16]

The government of Ethiopia denies that it has used antipersonnel landmines in the conflict with Eritrea or anywhere else since signing the Mine Ban Treaty.[17]

Landmine Problem

Even before the current Eritrea-Ethiopian war, Eritrea was heavily mine-affected. As of 1994, around fifty different antipersonnel and antitank mines from fourteen countries had been identified in Eritrea.[18] According to information provided by the National Demining Center to the U.S., 200,000-250,000 mines and 3 million UXO are present in Eritrea.[19] Older sources cite between 500,000 and 1 million landmines.[20] It is estimated that more than 5% of Eritrea’s total land area may be mine-affected.[21] Most of the mined areas are located in the mainly rural sections of northern, northwestern, and south provinces of the country.

Landmine accidents usually occur along old trench lines, army garrisons, farmlands, and water wells.[22] Areas that had been extensively mined include approaches to villages and towns, arable and pasture areas, roads, military camps, and bridges. Landmines were used in some of the most fertile and agriculturally important parts of the country and have created major problems for agriculture, locust control, rehabilitation, reconstruction, tourism, and development efforts in the country.[23]

Mine Action Funding and Mine Clearance

Soon after gaining independence, the Eritrean government embarked on a mine clearance program. Mine action in Eritrea is the responsibility of the Demining Project Office at the National Demining Headquarters in Asmara. The National Demining Headquarters has a command element, a historical research department, and a demining and training company,[24] and it has established project offices and camps in Karen, Asha-Golgol, and Nakfa.[25] Eritrea has prioritized its clearance program into the following categories: resettlement of refugees from the Sudan, transportation infrastructure to get the economy moving again, and general land use.[26]

According to the National Demining Headquarters, as many as 500,000 landmines were removed between 1977 and 1994.[27] According to the U.S. Department of State, “between May 1991 and May 1993, there were approximately 2,000 landmine incidents, which included civilian casualties and Eritrean military personnel involved in mine clearance operations.”[28] However, Eritrean officials state that since 1996, there have been no incidents involving Eritrean personnel engaged in humanitarian demining.[29]

The U.S. is the only international donor to assist Eritrea with demining. Between 1993 and June of 1998, the U.S. government provided around $8 million to Eritrea’s mine action program, including training and equipping nearly 400 military deminers. U.S. assistance to the Eritrean demining program was suspended as of June 1998 due to the outbreak of conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The program is expected to resume now that hostilities have terminated. Some $2.3 million is budgeted for fiscal year 2000, to provide mine-detecting dogs, training in explosive ordnance disposal and mine clearance, and the purchase of equipment.[30]

Survey and Assessment

There have been no comprehensive nation-wide surveys of landmine and UXO contamination in Eritrea. UNMAS planned an assessment mission to Eritrea in 1999, but it was not carried out due to the upsurge of conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.[31] Eritrea had been selected for a Level 1 landmines impact survey but this was also deferred due to the war.

Mine Awareness

The historical research department of the National Demining Headquarters along with the Department of Social Affairs and Eritrean War Disabled Fighter’s Association undertakes mine awareness projects.[32] The mine awareness efforts are largely carried out with local funding and suffer from a lack of funds and equipment. There is a general shortage of adequate medical services in Eritrea, and that tends to limit efforts to provide emergency or rehabilitation care and planning. There are continuous mine awareness programs run by the department of social affairs and the Demining Project Office. The funding for the programs comes primarily from the Eritrean Government, but UNICEF, OXFAM, and Radda Barnen had provided some support.

The mine awareness education programs involve community-based and in-school training, education to families, community elders and leaders and rehabilitation workers. More than 25,000 people throughout Eritrea are believed to have received mine awareness and prevention training from the Department of Social Affairs and the National Demining Headquarters. Those that received the training are estimated to have provided mine awareness education to more than 135,000 other people.[33]

Landmine Casualties

Casualty statistics have not been systematically kept in Eritrea. The government reported 2,000 incidents between May 1991 and May 1993. Government officials claim that 50,000-80,000 people have been victims of landmines in Eritrea since 1973. About 40% of those victims are believed to be children between the ages of 0-15. UNICEF and the Department of Social Affairs believe children and adult men working as sheepherders and wool collectors are the most likely victims of landmines in Eritrea.[34]

According to the Police Department registry, 137 deaths and 367 landmine injuries were reported between 1994 and mid-1999.[35] The police registry is not exhaustive and may not present a true picture of landmine casualties. Many victims in rural areas may not be reported at all.

Survivor Assistance

There are few medical and rehabilitation facilities in Eritrea and the capacity for emergency and post-operative care is severely limited. There is one doctor per 20,000 persons.[36] Critical cases are transported to the urban centers and later to the rehabilitation clinics in Asmara and May Habar.[37]

The treatment and rehabilitation costs for the victims are entirely covered by the Ministry of Health of the Government of Eritrea. Some financial and in-kind contributions are provided from private individuals or companies in Eritrea. The Norwegian Association of the Disabled provided aid for community-based rehabilitation projects in Eritrea in mid-1990s. There are currently no other international or non-governmental organizations that provide the needed medical and other special services to landmine victims in Eritrea.[38]

The Department of Social Affairs, in the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare, has an ongoing community-based rehabilitation program to assist the rehabilitation and reintegration of victims back into the society by promoting self-care and sufficiency.[39] This program has also been helpful in reintegration and resettlement of the victims, education, and awareness in issues related to handicap, for contribution/giving back to society and provision of special job or vocational training to the victims.

There are three prosthetic workshops in Eritrea, located in Asmara, Keren, and Assab. They produce prosthetic sockets, prosthetic knees and feet, arm and forearm and crutches. The equipment and training support for this project was provided by the Italian Government (through the World Health Organization, the Pharpe program) and Johanitar, a German organization. The Department of Social Affairs, in cooperation with the World Health Organization, is planning to build a national physical therapy center in Asmara for landmine victims and other persons with disability.[40]

The Landmine Survivors Network is in the process of establishing an amputee support network in the Eritrea, Zoba Maekel, whose targeted beneficiaries are going to be landmine survivors and any persons with limb loss. The project will be conducted under the umbrella of the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students.[41]

There is a new draft National Disability Policy of Eritrea that was discussed at a national conference at the end of 1999. Its implementation is expected to occur around the end of 2000. In addition to the funds the Eritrean government provides for medical treatments and health care needs of landmine victims, it also provides persons with disability continuous pension for living expenses and vocational training.


[1] Ethiopian and Eritrean foreign ministers signed the agreement in Algiers, Algeria on 18 June 2000. The President of Algeria, who holds the Presidency of the OAU for the 2000 cycle, brokered the agreement.
[2] Eritrean Ministry of Defense, “Answers to a Questionnaire Submitted by Landmine Monitor,” 16 May 2000. In its reply to the questionnaire, Eritrea states that it used mines in the past “during the armed struggle against the Ethiopian army. All the mines used were captured from the enemy. Almost all types of mines were Soviet and U.S. origin like PMN, POMZ-2, MON-100, MON-200, M16, M14 and M3, etc.” It states that Eritrea has never imported AP mines.
[3] U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices -- Eritrea,” 25 February 2000, p. 3.
[4] United Nations, IRIN News Briefs, “Ethiopia: Landmine Deaths in Irob,” 8 June 2000.
[5] BBC World television broadcasts in Europe viewed by Landmine Monitor researchers of the Ethiopian offensive during the period 13-17 May 2000 also clearly showed antipersonnel mines and antitank mines stockpiled at fighting positions.
[6] “Ethiopia says Eritrea laid 7,000 mines in and around border town,” AFP, Addis Ababa, 6 June 2000.
[7] For example see: Ethiopian Government Spokesperson, “Total Victory for Operation Sunset,” Ethiopian News Service, Addis Ababa, 28 February 1999; Professor Addis Birhan, “Mine Eritrea’s Minefields,” Wata Information Service, 6 March 1999; Statement of Dr. Waktasu Negeri to the FMSP, Maputo, 3 May 1999; Embassy of Ethiopia, Washington, DC, “30,375 Landmines Planted in Eritrea in Northern Ethiopia Demined,” 25 May 1999; Embassy of Ethiopia, Washington, DC, “Eritrean Landmines Pose Great Danger to Ethiopian Civilians,” 23 November 1999; BBC News Online, “De-Mining in the Horn,” 19 July 2000.
[8] “Ethiopia says Eritrea laid 7,000 mines in and around border town,” AFP, Addis Ababa, 6 June 2000.
[9] In the Ministry of Defense’s response to the LM questionnaire, dated 16 May 2000, the question “Is Eritrea currently using antipersonnel mines?” was left blank, while the question regarding past use was answered in the affirmative.
[10] Radio Voice of Red Sea Afars, “Eritrea Still Planting Mines on Ethiopian Border,” BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 28 March 2000.
[11] Ayaamaha (Somali Newspaper), “Somaililand Authorities Reportedly Deport Eritreans, Ethiopians over Land Mines,” BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 29 March 2000.
[12] U.S. State Department, 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ethiopia, 25 February 2000, p. 4.
[13] Interviews with Ato Abraham Yohannes, Embassy of Eritrea, Washington, DC, 28 January 2000 and 8 February 2000.
[14] Interview with Eritrean National Demining Headquarters official, Asmara, January 2000.
[15] IRIN-CEA, “Civilians returning slowly to Mined Town,” 2 June 2000; “Eritreans Assess Damage in Barentu,” BBC World (Africa), 2 June 2000; Ann M. Simmons, “Destruction, Danger Await Eritrean Returnees,” The Times, 2 June 2000; Patrick Graham, “Eritreans Don’t Think the War is Over,” National Post, 4 June 2000; “Eritrean Town Looted by Retreating Ethiopian Army,” Reuters, 2 June 2000; “Ethiopian Forces Reported Still in West Eritrea,” IRIN News Briefs, 31 May 2000.
[16] The aide-memoire was subsequently provided the UN Security Council and circulated as UN Security Council document S/2000/726, 21 July 2000. See also, “Eritrea Complains Ethiopia Violates Peace Pact,” Reuters, United Nations, 24 July 2000.
[17] For a recent denial, see: “Ethiopia: 40,000 landmines removed from central front,” Ethiopian Television, Addis Ababa, in Amharic, BBC Monitoring, 20 June 2000.
[18] For a complete list of landmines found in Eritrea, see Landmine Monitor Report 1999, pp. 197-198.
[19] U.S. Central Command, “U.S. Government Humanitarian Demining Country Plan for Eritrea (Conditional, FY 2001 & 2002),” 23 February 2000.
[20] 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, 25 April to 2 May 1998, p. 20.
[21] Naizghi Ghebremedhin, “Reconstruction and Development following Armed Conflicts,” Environment and Security, vol. 1, no. 2., 1997.
[22] Eritrean Ministry of Defense, “Answers to a Questionnaire Submitted by Landmine Monitor,” 16 May 2000.
[23] List compiled from interview with Eritrean Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, Asmara, 14 January 2000; Kurt Hanevik, “Landmine injuries in Eritrea,” at http://www.uib.no/People/mfakh/LM/Lmsocio.html; Naizghi Ghebremedhin, “Reconstruction and Development following Armed Conflicts,” Environment and Security, vol. 1, no. 2., 1997; Andeberhan W. Ghiorghis, “The Human and Ecological Consequences of War in Eritrea,” Conflicts in the Horn of Africa: Human and Ecological Consequences of Warfare, Terje Tvedt (Ed.), Uppsala University (Sweden), 1993.
[24] U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, 1998, p. 27.
[25] Interviews with National Demining Headquarters official, Asmara, 23 December 1999, 7 January 2000, 10 January 2000, 14 January 2000.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid; Eritrean Ministry of Defense, “Answers to a Questionnaire Submitted by Landmine Monitor,” 16 May 2000.
[28] U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, September 1998, p.27.
[29] Interviews with National Demining Headquarters official, Asmara, 23 December 1999, 7 January 2000, 10 January 2000, 14 January 2000.
[30] U.S. Department of State, FY 00 NADR Project Status, p. 2; U.S. Central Command, “U.S. Government Humanitarian Demining Country Plan for Eritrea (Conditional, FY 2001 & 2002),” 23 February, 2000; Human Rights Watch, “Clinton’s Landmine Legacy,” July 2000, pp. 33-34.
[31] Interview with UNMAS official, The Hague, Netherlands, 17 May 2000.
[32] Interviews with personnel from the Demining Project Office, Department of Social Affairs, 12 January 2000, 14 January 2000; Interviews with official of the Eritrean War Disabled Fighter’s Association, Asmara, 27 December 1999, 11 January 2000.
[33] Interview with National Demining Headquarters official, 7 January 2000. Asmara, Eritrea and Interview with Department of Social Affairs official, Asmara, 12 January 2000, 14 January 2000.
[34] UNICEF, “Landmine Education and Awareness Support in Eritrea – a proposal for funding,” 1996.
[35] Eritrean Police Department, “National Accidents Report 1999,” undated, provided to Landmine Monitor by National Demining Headquarters.
[36] Interview with personnel from the Department of Social Affairs, Asmara, 12 January 2000, 14 January 2000.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Interview with personnel from the Eritrean Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (ERREC) and War Disabled Association of Eritrea, 11 January 2000.
[39] Ibid.; Interview with Department of Social Affairs officer, Asmara, 12 January 2000, 14 January 2000.
[40] Interview with Sue Eitel, Landmine Survivors Network, The Hague, Netherlands, 17 May 2000.
[41] Ibid.