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Country Reports
WESTERN SAHARA, Landmine Monitor Report 2005

Western Sahara

Key developments since May 2004: The Swiss-based NGO Geneva Call visited Western Sahara in June 2005, and Polisario indicated its support for a comprehensive ban on antipersonnel mines. From April 2004 to April 2005, 354 mines and items of unexploded ordnance were discovered and marked, and 30 explosive ordnance disposal operations were carried out on both sides of the barrier dividing Morocco and Western Sahara.

Mine Ban Policy

Sovereignty of the Western Sahara remains the subject of a dispute between the government of Morocco and the Polisario Front (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro). The Polisario’s Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic is not universally recognized and has no official representation in the UN. It is not eligible to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty.

From 3-10 June 2005, the Swiss-based NGO Geneva Call conducted a field mission to Western Sahara. Geneva Call met with the Saharawi President, Minister of Defense, UN peacekeeping mission (MINURSO), NGOs and mine survivors, and discussed the issues of a mine ban, mine clearance, mine risk education and victim assistance.

The President of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic and Secretary-General of Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz, informed the Geneva Call mission that Polisario will either sign the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment, or declare a similar position.[1] The Deed of Commitment calls for a comprehensive ban on use, production, trade and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines, and cooperation on mine action. Previously, Polisario representatives have stated, most recently in March 2002, that the Saharawi government would join the Mine Ban Treaty if eligible to do so. However, at the same time, they have spoken of a possible need for antipersonnel mines.[2]

Polisario is not known to have produced or exported mines. It has stated that it acquired mines in the past by lifting them from the Moroccan defensive walls (berms).[3] Polisario maintains that it no longer has a stockpile of mines. It keeps 1,606 disarmed antipersonnel mines on display in the Saharawi Liberation Army Military Museum, which is open to visitors. Polisario told the Geneva Call mission of their intent to destroy those disarmed mines.[4]

Both Polisario and Morocco used mines extensively in the past. Polisario and Moroccan forces fought intermittently from 1975 to 1991, when a cease-fire went into effect and the UN deployed a peacekeeping and observer force.

Landmine/UXO Problem and Mine Action

Western Sahara is affected by mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) as a result of years of conflict.[5] The 1991 cease-fire resulted in a territory that is divided between the Polisario and Morocco by defensive walls built by Morocco, known as berms (earthen walls of about three meters in height), which Morocco fortified with antipersonnel and antivehicle mines. Despite the landmine problem, approximately 10,000 Saharawi nomads live in mine-affected areas on both sides of the Moroccan berms.[6]

There is no formal mine action program in Western Sahara. However, under bilateral military agreements signed by Morocco and Polisario in early 1999, both parties agreed to cooperate with the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in the exchange of mine-related information, marking of mined areas, and the clearance and destruction of mines and UXO in the presence of MINURSO observers.[7] This agreement does not cover minefields along the defensive walls (berms).[8] Polisario has stated that it provided MINURSO with all maps and necessary information in 1991.[9] A comprehensive landmine impact survey has not been carried out.

MINURSO carries out joint military operations, with Polisario forces in territory on the Western Sahara side of the berms and with the Royal Moroccan Army on the Moroccan side; when mines and UXO are discovered they are marked by MINURSO, which then monitors their destruction in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operations.

From April 2004 to April 2005, MINURSO, in cooperation with the Royal Moroccan Army and Polisario, discovered and marked a total of 354 pieces of mines and UXO; 30 EOD operations by Polisario and the RMA were monitored.[10] The data reported does not indicate what quantities were found and destroyed on each side of the berm.

MINURSO is based in Laayoune, in Western Sahara. In 2003, MINURSO installed the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA), in order to improve the operational capability of its military component and to support a wider mine action program. In March 2005, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) visited MINURSO, and provided training for its civilian and military personnel in the use of IMSMA, which has been updated. The UN Secretary-General reported that MINURSO intends to set up a joint (military-civilian) section to manage and update IMSMA.[11]

Landmine Casualties

In 2004, there was at least one new mine casualty in Western Sahara. On 4 March, a 10-year-old girl lost her leg in a mine incident in the region of Assa, while grazing cattle and goats in the desert.[12] On 6 May 2004, a civilian vehicle hit an antivehicle mine near Awsard.[13] It is not known if there were any casualties in this incident. In 2003, one civilian was killed in the only reported mine incident, in the area of Mijek (southern sector).[14]

In 2005, MINURSO had recorded one mine incident as of July.[15]

The total number of mine casualties in Western Sahara is not known. Between 1992 and 2003, more than 46 mine/UXO casualties were reported, including at least 13 people killed and 33 injured. In addition, between March 2000 and March 2001, Moroccan authorities registered 51 military casualties from antivehicle mines and UXO explosions in Western Sahara. However, reporting of casualties is not believed to be comprehensive. In April 2000, Norwegian People’s Aid identified 320 landmine amputees in the Saharawi refugee camps.[16] There have reportedly been more than 2,500 landmine casualties since 1975.[17]

Survivor Assistance

Access to emergency services, especially in remote areas, is limited to military medical facilities. There is a medical center in Laayoune and two medical stations in Awsard and Smara. Mine casualties can face a two or three day drive to the national hospital in Rabouni, near Tindouf, Algeria. Due to the difficult terrain, prostheses are in constant need of repair.[18]

The International Committee of the Red Cross supports a prosthetic workshop at the Ben Aknoun center in Algiers, Algeria, to provide access to physical rehabilitation for Saharawi amputees. In 2004, the center provided 38 prostheses and 43 orthoses; none were for mine survivors.[19]

The Chedid Chreif Center in the refugee camp in Rabouni provides shelter, medicines, basic supplies, and socioeconomic reintegration activities to mine survivors and other war victims. The director of the center has established a self-help system, in which local authorities, NGOs and individuals spend time with survivors, and provide financial or material aid, if needed. In 2004, 81 people were assisted.[20]

The French NGO Triangle provides assistance to people with disabilities in the Dakhla refugee camp for Saharawi people. Services include several community and welcome centers, awareness raising and education.[21]

Some Spanish and Italian NGOs reportedly provide funding for artificial limbs for amputees in Western Sahara.[22]

[1] Interview with Pascal Bongard, Geneva Call, Geneva, 17 June 2005; Geneva Call Press Release, “Geneva Call’s mission in disputed Western Sahara: New Progress in the fight against landmines,” Geneva, 15 June 2005.

[2] Interview with Mohamed Sidati, Minister for Europe for the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, Oslo, 20 March 2002.

[3] Interview with Pascal Bongard, Geneva Call, Geneva, 17 June 2005. In June 2002, Polisario told Landmine Monitor that its forces have in the past removed antipersonnel and antivehicle mines from Moroccan minefields and replanted them to hinder Moroccan Army troop movements. Polisario response to Landmine Monitor, 27 June 2002.

[4] Interview with Pascal Bongard, Geneva Call, Geneva, 17 June 2005.

[5] See Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 1071, and Landmine Monitor Report 1999, pp. 921-924.

[6] Interview with Maj. M. Morrow, Mine Information Officer, MINURSO, Laayoune, 7 January 2001.

[7] Military agreement No. 3 on the reduction of hazard from mines and UXO, 12 March 1999.

[8] See Landmine Monitor Report 2004, pp. 1072, 1241.

[9] Polisario response to Landmine Monitor, 27 June 2002.

[10] Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara, S/2005/254, 19 April 2005, p. 3.

[11] Report of the UN Secretary-General, S/2005/254, 19 April 2005, p. 3.

[12] Email to Landmine Monitor from Rainer Chr Hennig, Editor, Afrol News, 18 March 2005; “Nouvelles hebdomadaires du Western Sahara: Territoires occupées et sud Maroc,” Western Sahara Referendum Support Association, 10 April 2005.

[13] “Statistics Discovered & Destroyed UXOs/Mines: The Period from Jul 2003 to Jul 2005,” sent to Landmine Monitor (HI) by Enrico Magnani, Information Officer/IMSMA Focal Point, MINURSO, Laayoune, 7 September 2005.

[14] For more information, see Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 1241.

[15]"Statistics For Discovered & Destroyed UXOs/Mines: The Period from Jul 2003 to Jul 2005,” sent to Landmine Monitor (HI) by Enrico Magnani, MINURSO, Laayoune, 7 September 2005.

[16] For more information, see Landmine Monitor Report 2004, pp. 1241-1242.

[17] Email to Landmine Monitor (HI) from Gaizi Nah Bachir, Researcher and Anti-mines Activist, Western Sahara, 3 September 2005.

[18] Email to Landmine Monitor (HI) from Gaizi Nah Bachir, Western Sahara, 3 September 2005; see also Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 1242, and www.un.org/Depts/Cartographic/map/dpko/minurso.pdf.

[19] ICRC Physical Rehabilitation Program, “Annual Report 2004,” Geneva, July 2005, pp. 37, 44. The statistics for 2004 are incomplete.

[20] Email to Landmine Monitor (HI) from Gaici Nah Bachir, researcher and mines activist, 25 September 2005, with information provided by Brahim Moulay Ahmed, Director, Chedid Chreif; Information provided to Landmine Monitor (HI) by Melainin Lakhal, Secretary-General of the Union of Saharawi Journalists and Writers (UPES), Western Sahara, 27 August 2005.

[21] See Triangle Generation Humanitaire website, www.trianglegh.org.

[22] Interview with Pascal Bongard, Geneva Call, Geneva, 17 June 2005.