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Country Reports
MAURITANIA, Landmine Monitor Report 2001
 
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MAURITANIA

Key developments since May 2000: On 1 January 2001, Mauritania became the 100th State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty. A two-year US assistance program has helped create a long-term indigenous mine action program in Mauritania. By early 2001, 141 hectares and 202 kilometers of roads had been cleared, 27 minefields had been identified and some 3,200 antipersonnel mines and 2,300 unexploded shells destroyed. Mauritania has reported destruction of its antipersonnel mine stockpile (about 5,000 mines), and intends to keep 5,918 antipersonnel mines for training purposes.

Mine Ban Policy

Mauritania signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 3 December 1997, ratified it on 21 July 2000, and became the 100th State Party on 1 January 2001. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, steps have been taken towards the adoption of national implementation legislation.[1] The first transparency report as required by Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 was due by 30 June 2001, but had not been submitted by mid-July 2001. The Mauritanian Ambassador to the UN in New York had previously been informed that the report would be submitted on time.[2]

Mauritania participated in the Second Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in September 2000, and the intersessional Standing Committee meetings in December 2000 and May 2001. It also attended the Bamako Seminar on Universalization and Implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty in Africa, held in Mali on 15-16 February 2001. Mauritania did not vote on the UN General Assembly resolution supporting the Mine Ban Treaty in November 2000, because of “administrative and logistical problems that are not at all connected with the Mauritanian commitment against antipersonnel mines.”[3]

Mauritania is not a State Party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Production, Transfer, and Stockpiling

There are no reports that Mauritania has ever produced or exported antipersonnel mines. Reacting to last year’s Landmine Monitor report on the origin of Mauritania’s antipersonnel mine stockpile, the National Humanitarian Demining Office (NHDO) claimed that the majority of the mines came from Warsaw Pact countries, mainly the USSR and Czechoslovakia, and that Egypt also donated antipersonnel mines during the war. No mines were imported from China, and very few from Italy.[4] The precise types of mines have not been revealed.

Though previously unknown to Landmine Monitor, Mauritania reported that it destroyed its stockpile of approximately 5,000 antipersonnel mines over the course of the past three years. Mauritania has decided to retain 5,918 antipersonnel mines for training purposes.[5] It is noteworthy that the number retained is larger than the number of stockpiled mines destroyed. During the past three years, Mauritania has destroyed 8,084 antipersonnel mines, of which 60 percent came from stockpiles and the remaining 40 percent were located by demining teams during mine clearance operations.[6]

Landmine Problem

Mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) remaining from the 1975-78 war in the Western Sahara have prevented the economic development of significant areas of northern Mauritania; the United States has reported that mines were laid in a random fashion during many military operations.[7] Although it is impossible to have an exact picture of the extent of the current mine infestation, it is estimated that 50,000 to 100,000 mines remain from the war.[8]

According to Lieutenant-Colonel Ould Ahmed Tfeil Abdi, the NHDO Director, the Moroccan and Polisario Front forces were responsible for random minelaying, whereas Mauritania laid pattern minefields for defensive purposes around strategic and urban locations such as Zouerate and Nouadhibou; these minefields were cleared shortly after the end of the war.[9] The Mauritanian Army reportedly used ACID 51 antitank mines surrounded by APID 51 antipersonnel mines.[10] The army is said to have laid some 16,000 mines in the Nouadhibou area alone. An unknown number of mines were laid in the regions of Dakhlet Nouadhibou, Adrar and Tiris Zemmour.

In addition, the shifting of dunes, the instability of soils and the absence of natural barriers present huge obstacles to clearance operations and increase the danger for the civilian population.[11] For instance, after heavy rainfalls, two mines were found before they exploded on the railway used twice daily by goods trains between Zouerate and Nouadhibou. Demining training techniques have to adapt to this context, including how to probe and destroy mines under large sand dunes.[12]

Mines and UXO have also been found in other parts of the country that were not affected by the 1975-78 war. It is believed that these explosive devices are left over from the colonial period and were laid by the colonial army during “pacification operations.” Although no figure is available, the extent of the contamination is not considered significant and accidents are infrequent.[13]

According to the Ministry of Interior, some 294,000 persons could be considered affected by the antipersonnel mine problem.[14] The displaced population is expected to return to the cleared areas. But the suspected or established presence of mines still considerably limits movement, and consequently the daily lives of the nomadic population.[15] Between 1978 and 1999, at least 584 livestock have died as a result of mine accidents.[16] Cattle are the main economic resource of the desert population.

Mines also significantly restrict the development of the richest regions of the country, partially encourage rural depopulation and the consequent overpopulation of urban areas.[17] Even the south of the country suffers from the mines in the north. Instead of returning to the north during the transhumance period, most herders stay in the south and the grazing lands cannot regenerate properly from one season to another. Consequently, the population based in the south of the country sees its own land degenerating and the crop production slowly but significantly decreasing from year to year.[18]

Mine Action Funding and Support

There is no specific State budget line for mine clearance. However, an annual UM48 million (approx. US$194,128)[19] of the army’s budget is allocated to the costs of the NHDO, including costs for personnel, logistics and infrastructure.[20]

From 10 December 1998 until the end of 2000, Mauritania was integrated into a US demining assistance program. The three-phase program mainly consisted of training according to United Nations standards in mine clearance techniques, safety rules and mine awareness. The Mauritanian military engineers involved in mine action programs were also provided with the necessary equipment and materials. During the period of US assistance, a training school and the NHDO were set up. Today, the military trained by the US are training other Mauritanian deminers, which is the main condition for the sustainability of the assistance program. US funding for mine action in Mauritania in US fiscal years 1999 and 2000 (October 1998-September 2000) totaled $3.144 million, including $2.16 million in FY 2000.[21]

Mine Clearance

The Mauritanian army engineer corps has been involved in mine clearance operations since the end of the war, at a rate of two or three tasks per year resulting in the destruction of approximately 7,000 mines and 5,000 items of UXO between 1977 and 1999.[22] Sources claimed that in 1982, with very limited technical means and no external support, the engineers neutralized 60 tons of mines in the Adrar region of Mauritania (northeast of Nouakchott, south of the border with Western Sahara).[23] The demining teams suffered a number of casualties, due in part to the lack of protective equipment and appropriate tools.[24]

After a US policy assessment team visited in November 1998, the Humanitarian Demining Interagency Group (IWG) included Mauritania in the US humanitarian demining program. A Requirements Determination Site Survey (RDSS) was conducted from 21 to 28 February 1999. The humanitarian demining training program took place between January and November 2000.[25] The mission’s target was to “retrain, evaluate, equip, and assist the host nation in completing their final phase of demining training. The end result being two fully equipped demining companies with a mine action center able to conduct demining operations in accordance with UN demining standards. As a result, a total of 70 host nation personnel were trained.”[26] The training mainly covered staff organization, information and computer management, mine awareness, demining operating procedures, medical, communications and land navigation.[27] Two demining companies were trained and fully equipped and the NHDO was set up in Nouakchott, “capable of conducting demining training and operations in accordance with United Nations demining standards.”[28]

From the beginning of the US training program through January 2001, the demining teams of the NHDO (all staff are Mauritanian) have cleared and freed for productive use a total area of 141 hectares and 202 kilometers of roads (90 kilometers to ensure water supply to the town of Nouadhibou, eight kilometers between Nouadhibou and the Moroccan border, and 104 kilometers for the Paris-Dakar rally in the Bir Moghrein area close to the Moroccan sand wall).[29]

By February 2001, 27 minefields had been identified and some 3,200 antipersonnel mines and 2,300 unexploded shells reported cleared.[30] The operations have included both clearance and awareness programs. The first mission was carried out in Bir Moghreïn in November-December 2000 after the end of the US assistance program, and also targeted clearance operations for the Dakar rally. The second mission took place in Zouerate in April-May 2001. The next missions are foreseen for August-September 2001 in Nouadhibou, and November-December 2001 in Adrar.

The cleared land is for use by nomads and herders. However, greater efforts need to be made to inform and convince the target populations to use the cleared areas again.[31]

Mine Awareness

The US training also included an extensive mine awareness program, aimed at “training and validating the Mauritania mine awareness section of the NDO. The end-state is a self-sustaining, indigenous mine awareness program.”[32] The mine awareness section “conducts information campaigns at all levels aimed at educating the public about landmine hazards, preventing injuries and death, and encouraging effective local cooperation with military, government, and NGO demining activities.”[33]

The NHDO’s awareness section produced 100 billboards, 1,200 posters, 30,000 school-notebooks and 6,000 leaflets for soldiers, which were already partially distributed by 10 February 2001.[34] The awareness section personnel have been trained how to create a website and have produced awareness broadcasts on the local FM radio of Nouadhibou.[35] Mine awareness sessions are conducted by the awareness teams in schools and villages.[36]

The first awareness campaign took place on 7 November 2000 in Choum, (approximately 400 kilometers east of Nouadhibou along the border with Western Sahara).[37] The next mine awareness campaigns were planned in F’Derick, Bir Moghreïn and Zouerate between February and December 2001.[38]

Future Challenges and Planning

Despite the encouraging results, officials met during the Landmine Monitor visit to Mauritania listed several points that can still be improved. Firstly, the implementation of regional centers, which could allow quicker field interventions as well as a closer monitoring of the awareness and clearance programs on the spot. Second, existing maps should more reflect the actual situation of Mauritanian territory (the configuration is changing regularly) and with realistic scales.[39] Third, no mechanized means are available that could prevent sand dunes—and consequently mined areas—shifting. Finally, the lack of long-range communication means allowing regular contact between field teams and possible future regional offices and the National Office in Nouakchott.[40]

The first and fourth obstacles might be partly solved in the relatively short term—the establishment of a demining office in the north is planned for the next two years in the region of Nouadhibou.[41] Concerning mapping and long-range communications, the US Army provided GPS, as well as short-range Motorola radios to the demining teams.[42] A long-range radio system and related training are foreseen in the next year’s country plan.[43] There are no reports of plans to correct and update maps.

The lack of resources remains a problem in other specific areas of the mine action programs. Marking methods are rudimentary, such as stones on tracks or dry riverbeds, but need to resist the climatic and topographic desert conditions, particularly shifting sands and winds.[44] Medical support to the demining teams is poor. Although working conditions have significantly improved with the provision of appropriate safety rules and equipment, the deminers are poorly paid and do not benefit from any additional risk or field allowance.[45]

During 2001, three planned clearance teams will be dispatched to Nouadhibou, Zouerate and Adrar. Other urgent missions can be included in the plan if necessary.[46] The Mauritanian government priority for 2001 is to maintain the performance of already trained personnel. The training of a third demining team and strengthening of the existing programs will be targets for 2002.[47]

The NHDO is currently constructing a website that will describe the mine problem in Mauritania, explain how the NHDO is addressing the problem, “show a schedule for future demining operations and display contact information for any parties interested in supporting the operation.”[48]

The NHDO plans to involve NGOs in the mine action programs. Lieutenant-Colonel Abdi would like the NGOs “to be more involved in the overall demining campaign in Mauritania, and feels that greater publicity and assistance in this area is necessary.”[49] A total of 17 representatives from nine NGOs, five UN agencies and the US Embassy attended a meeting at the Demining Office on 8 March 2000.[50] Most participants showed interest to support the initiative, providing they would receive specific requests instead of “a vague request for support.”[51]

The ultimate long-term objective of mine action in the country is to “free the Mauritanian territory from all mines and UXO.”[52] Although there is no exact assessment of when this is likely to be achieved, the NHDO is planning for a minimum of ten years, and is based on the provision of adequate resources. The Mauritanian government contribution allows the maintenance and functioning of the NHDO but does not cover the expenses of the related programs.[53]

Landmine Casualties and Survivor Assistance

Because of the size of the country, the nomadic way of life and the consequent difficulties for effective administrative control of the territory, not all mine victims are recorded. A population census is planned to take place during the coming months or years. There is debate as to whether the census should refer to disabled persons and the reason for their disability. Such a census could obviously provide useful information about the number of mine survivors around the country.[54] The low population density in mined areas limits the number of mine incidents.[55]

Between 1978 and 1999, 341 deaths and 239 serious injuries as a result of mines and UXO were registered.[56] One incident was registered during 2000. A landmine exploded in Bir Moghrein, killing two young girls.[57]

A landmine exploded during the Dakar rally on 8 January 2001. A support car driver lost his left foot. “The accident took place after the race crossed into Mauritania from its starting point in Samara, disputed territory of Western Sahara.... [The] car was near the ‘sand wall’ built by the Moroccan army along the two territories’ international border to block advancement by Polisario Front.”[58]

The device was most probably an antivehicle or antitank mine. Geographically, the accident took place on Mauritanian territory.[59] According to Lieutenant-Colonel Abdi, this part of the territory is very close to the Moroccan sand-wall border and therefore the responsibility for the accident falls on the Moroccan Army.[60] A Moroccan representative questioned on this issue claimed that the accident clearly happened on the Mauritanian territory.[61]

With regard to accidents that may occur during clearance activities, “Given the complexity of the wounds caused by mines and the geographical situation of the minefields, no appropriate ways for immediate medical care and evacuation have been set up.”[62] Medical staff joining deminers in the field include eight first-aid workers but no doctors.[63]

Government policy does not make any distinction between a mine victim or survivor and other injured or disabled persons. Emergency cases are sent to Nouakchott or to the regional hospitals (there is one hospital per region), but the capacity of the medical facilities to deal with them are extremely limited throughout the country.[64] Community-based rehabilitation programs are being set up for the disabled in Mauritania,[65] but there are doubts as to their sustainability after NGO and IO support is withdrawn. Furthermore, the facilities dedicated to disability and rehabilitation are based in Nouakchott and therefore reach only a minority of the Mauritanian population.[66]

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[1] Interview with Kamil Majid, Director of the International Organizations Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nouakchott, 12 February 2001.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Interview with Lt. Col. Ould Ahmed Tfeil Abdi, Director, National Humanitarian Demining Office, Nouakchott, 10 February 2001.
[5] NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[6] Ibid.
[7] US State Department report (untitled) on landmines and mine action in Mauritania, Part 1: Summary, February 2000, provided to Landmine Monitor by Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in Nouakchott, 12 February 2001; NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[8] US State Department report (untitled) on landmines and mine action in Mauritania, Part 1: Summary, February 2000, provided to Landmine Monitor by Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in Nouakchott, 12 February 2001.
[9] Interview with Lt. Col. Abdi, NHDO, 10 February 2001.
[10] “Pose de mines en grantipersonnelpe au contrôle irrégulier,” provided by a confidential source, January 2000.
[11] NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[12] Cantipersonnelt. Jared D. Hill, Detachment Commander, After Action Review, Mauritania Humanitarian Demining Operation III, Memorandum, Department of the Army, 10 November 2000, para. 4: lessons learned.
[13] Interview with Lt. Col. Abdi, NHDO, 10 February 2001.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Interview with Moulaye Moulaye Omar, President of the NGO “Association Mauritanienne des Ingenieurs Agronomes et Filières associées” (AMIA), Nouakchott, 10 February 2001.
[16] NHDO, Réponses aux Questionnaires, January 2001.
[17] Interview with Moulaye Moulaye Omar, President of the NGO “Association Mauritanienne des Ingenieurs Agronomes et Filières associées” (AMIA), Nouakchott, 10 February 2001.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Exchange rate on 1 February 2001.
[20] NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[21] US Department of State, “Demining Program History,” 24 October 2000.
[22] US State Department report (untitled) on landmines and mine action in Mauritania, Part 1: Summary, February 2001, and NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[23] Confidential source faxed to the Landmine Monitor, January 2000.
[24] Interview with Lt. Col. Abdi, Nouakchott, 10 February 2001, and US internal report, February 2001.
[25] US State Department report (untitled) on landmines and mine action in Mauritania, February 2001.
[26] Capt. Jared D. Hill, Detachment Commander, After Action Review, Mauritania Humanitarian Demining Operation III, Memorandum, Department of the Army, 10 November 2000, para. 1, Summary.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid, para. 2, Findings.
[29] US State Department report (untitled) on landmines and mine action in Mauritania, Part 3: Maintenance and Logistics Support, February 2000, provided to Landmine Monitor by Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in Nouakchott, 12 February 2001; NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[30] National Humanitarian Demining Office, Réponses aux Questionnaires, January 2001.
[31] Landmine Monitor’s observations during a field visit from 12 to 15 February 2001, and interview with Lt. Col. Abdi, Nouakchott, 10 February 2001.
[32] Maj. Klein and Capt. Bell, mine awareness team brief, undated, p. 1.
[33] Ibid, p. 2.
[34] Ibid, p. 3, and NHDO, Réponses aux Questionnaires, January 2001, and annexed dispatch vouchers signed by the recipients on 1, 2 and 4 January 2001.
[35] NHDO, Réponses aux Questionnaires, January 2001, and annexed dispatch vouchers signed by the recipients on 1, 2 and 4 January 2001.
[36] Interview with Lt Moctar Abdel Fetah, Chief of the Mine Awareness Section, NHDO, 10 February 2001.
[37] NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[38] Interview with Lt. Col. Abdi and Lt Moctar Abdel Fetah, Nouakchott, 10 February 2001.
[39] The Landmine Monitor researcher observed that the ordnance maps were dated 1963 and 1972, and that the scales used were different from one map to another.
[40] US State Department report (untitled) on landmines and mine action in Mauritania, Part 3: Maintenance and Logistics Support, February 2000, provided to Landmine Monitor by Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in Nouakchott, 12 February 2001; NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[41] US State Department report (untitled) on landmines and mine action in Mauritania, February 2000, provided to Landmine Monitor by Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in Nouakchott, 12 February 2001.
[42] NHDO, Réponses aux Questionnaires, January 2001.
[43] Memorandum, Jared D. Hill, 10 November 2000, par 2, findings.
[44] Interview with Lt. Col. Abdi, Nouakchott, 10 February 2001, and Landmine Monitor field visit, 12-15 February 2001.
[45] Confidential source, former Mauritanian military, January 2000.
[46] NHDO, Réponses aux Questionnaires, January 2001, and annexed provisional planning of demining activities for year 2001, 4 November 2000. Interview with Lt-Col Abdi, Nouakchott, 12 February 2001.
[47] NHDO, Réponses aux Questionnaires, January 2001.
[48] Interview with Lt Moctar Ould Abdel Fetah, Nouakchott, 10 February 2001.
[49] Interim sitrep, ref. DTG 09 2000Z JUL 2000, US Army soldier meeting with Lt-Col Abdi, 9 July 2000.
[50] Department of the US Army, revised IO/NGO contact list, 1 March 2000, and sign-in roster, list of attendance, National Humanitarian Demining Office, 8 March 2000.
[51] Capt. Jared D. Hill, Detachment Commander, After Action Review, Mauritania Humanitarian Demining Operation III, Memorandum, Department of the Army, 10 November 2000.
[52] NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[53] Ibid.
[54] Debate during meeting at the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Nouakchott, 11 February 2001.
[55] FAO Mantipersonnel, Densité de Population de la Mauritanie (hab./km2), 1996, available on: <www.fao.org>.
[56] NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[57] Ibid.
[58] “Dakar Driver loses Foot in Explosion,” Associated Press, Rabat, Morocco, 8 January 01.
[59] GPS point: 2558320N 01145734W. Sources: MINURSO headquarters in Lay’oune and information provided by Western Sahara Landmine Monitor researcher, Washington DC, 8 March 2001.
[60] Interview with Lt. Col. Abdi, Geneva, 8 May 2001.
[61] Information provided by confidential source, Rabat, June 2001.
[62] Interview with Lt. Col. Abdi, Nouakchott, 10 February 2001, and NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[63] NHDO, “Information sur la Situation Générale des Zones minées en Mauritanie,” February 2001.
[64] Interview with Aïcha Ghaddour, Director of Social Affairs, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Nouakchott, 11 February 2001.
[65] Interview with Mohamed Ould Abba, Deputy Commissioner, Commission for Human Rights, Fight against Poverty, and Social Integration (Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme, à la Lutte contre la Pauvreté et à l’Insertion), Nouakchott, 12 February 2001.
[66] Fatimelou Idoumou, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, and Tombo Camara, President of the NGO “Action pour le Développement Social” (ADSM), Nouakchott, 11 February 2001.