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


Key developments since March 1999: The major mine awareness program run by Norwegian People’s Aid ended in May 2000. There are no humanitarian mine clearance programs underway. There were reportedly forty-two mine accidents from November 1999 to March 2000.

Mine Ban Policy

The sovereignty of the Western Sahara remains the subject of a dispute between the government of Morocco and the Polisario Front (Frente Polisario, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro). The Polisario’s Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic is not universally recognized and has no official representation in the UN. Therefore it was unable to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. However, Polisario representatives have stated on a number of occasions, including in March and April 2000, that the Saharawi government would sign and ratify the treaty, if eligible to do so.[1] At the same time, officials continue to speak of a possible need for the weapon. According to Mr. Dah Bendir, who is responsible for Polisario Mine Engineering, “Due to the actual situation of uncertainty, we cannot make a commitment to destroying all the mines we have, because we may go back to war tomorrow morning. But it’s our will to do so when the conflict is finally resolved.”[2]

The non-governmental Saharawi Campaign to Ban Mines (SCABAM) was established in early 2000.

Production, Transfer, Stockpiling, Use

The Polisario is not known to produce or export mines. It has imported mines from Algeria and perhaps other nations. It has also acquired mines by lifting them from the Moroccan defensive walls. Polisario acknowledges having a stockpile of antipersonnel mines, but will not disclose the number and types of mines.[3] Polisario is not known to have used antipersonnel mines in 1999 or 2000.

Landmine Problem[4]

Western Sahara is heavily mine-affected. After years of colonial and post-colonial conflict, mines and UXO litter the landscape. Moroccan and Polisario forces fought intermittently from 1975 to 1991, when a cease-fire went into effect and a UN peacekeeping force, MINURSO, was deployed to the region. The cease-fire resulted in a territory that is divided between the Polisario and Morocco by defensive walls, known as berms (earthen walls of about three meters in height). Both sides have fortified these walls with mines

Estimates of the number of mines in Western Sahara range from 200,000 to 10,000,000.[5] Thirty-five different types of AP mines and twenty-one different types of AT mines from twelve states have been confirmed by MINURSO to exist in the territory.[6]

The most mine-affected area in Western Sahara is thought to extend up to ten kilometers to the east of the berms. The location of UXO, which are distributed throughout the entire territory, is unknown. The desert conditions of sand, wind and occasional heavy rain make mine shifting a constant phenomenon.

Survey and Mine Clearance

Some clearance has been conducted by militaries from both sides, though it only totals a small percentage of the problem. A Swedish Demining Unit operated for several months in 1998. Polisario and MINURSO have cooperated in identifying and marking danger areas along MINURSO patrol routes. A UN report on the Western Sahara in January 1999 recommended a pilot demining project, but there does not appear to have been any follow-up on this.[7] The Global Landmine Survey sent an exploratory mission to the Western Sahara to look at the feasibility of a Level One Survey, but no further action has occurred.[8]

The Polisario liaison with MINURSO told Landmine Monitor about an agreement reached between Polisario and the UN “related to the destruction of mines in the area and since then we have been destroying all types of mines and UXO that we have found in our region.”[9] According to Fadli Mohamed Ahmed, a Saharawi officer who represented the Polisario in an international landmines conference held in October 1999 in Catalunya, Spain, the Polisario have cooperated with the UN by presenting maps of minefields and suspected areas.[10]

The most recent report of the UN Secretary General states that “during the period 13 May 2000 to 3 July 2000, 278 mines and unexploded ordnance were marked and 124 destroyed on the Moroccan side while 488 were marked and 177 destroyed on the Frente Polisario side.”[11] Between 6 December and 22 May 2000, both sides in cooperation with MINURSO conducted 28 disposal operations for UXO and ammunition.[12]

Mine Awareness

Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) conducted a mine awareness program from April 1998 until May 2000, educating about 90,000 Saharawi refugees. NPA had a mine awareness team in each of the main refugee camps (Smara, Aaiun, Auserd, and Dajla), as well as in a smaller camp based at a women’s training school. It also conducted mine awareness through the media, such as radio programs.

Landmine Casualties

The Saharawi Campaign to Ban Mines believes that since November 1999, the number of mine accidents in Western Sahara has increased, noting that about forty-two accidents occurred between November 1999 and March 2000. SCABAM attributes this to the fact that the northern part of the country experienced heavy rainfall, leading to more movement throughout the region, and resulting in an increase in mine/UXO accidents.

Survivor Assistance

Mine victim access to emergency services, especially in remote areas, is limited to military medical facilities. In preparation for repatriation, the Saharawi government, supported by Spanish NGOs and aid committees for the Saharawi people, began the construction of two hospitals in Western Sahara. However, these hospitals lack staffing and basic equipment for medical assistance. All the seriously wounded patients have to be taken to the National Hospital located in Rabouni. Many mine accident victims do not receive assistance until two or three days after the accident occurs. Other victims die on their way to medical treatment, as in some cases the closest health facility can be up to forty hours away.

SCABAM has begun a survey of landmine survivors, and identified about 360 amputees living in the four main Saharawi refugee camps, near Tindouf, Algeria. The majority of these amputees lacked prosthetics, while others had been using the same prosthetic device for ten years or more. SCABAM is seeking funding for a mine victim support project to provide prosthetics to the amputees.

<PALESTINE | International Campaign to Ban Landmines>

[1] Statement by Sinniya Ahmed at the NGO-sponsored “Engaging Non-State Actors in a Landmine Ban” conference, Geneva, 24-25 March 2000; interview with Mr. Mohamed Haddad, liaison between Polisario and MINURSO, Rabouni, Algeria, 10 April 2000.
[2] Interview with Polisario Mine Engineer Mr. Dah Bendir, Rabouni,Algeria, 9 April 2000.
[3] Ibid.
[4] For a more detailed description of the landmine problem, see Landmine Monitor Report 1999, pp. 921-924.
[5] U.S. Department of State, “Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis,” 1998, p. A-2.
[6] MINURSO, “Western Sahara: Updated Mine Situation,” February 1998. See Landmine Monitor Report 1999, p. 922, for details.
[7] “Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation Concerning Western Sahara,” 28 January 1999.
[8] Global Landmine Survey, information sheet, undated.
[9] Interview with Mr. Mohamed Haddad, liaison between Polisario and MINURSO, Rabouni, Algeria, 10 April 2000.
[10] Interview with Polisario officer Fadli Mohamed, Rabouni, Algeria, 28 April 2000.
[11] “Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation Concerning Western Sahara,” S/2000/683, 12 July 2000, pp. 3-4.
[12] “Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation Concerning Western Sahara,” S/2000/461, 22 May 2000, p. 3; “Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation Concerning Western Sahara,” S/2000/131, 17 February 2000, p. 3.