First national capacity for weapons clearance established in Western Sahara (U.K.)
On Tuesday 17 April 2007, Landmine Action held a graduation ceremony for the first group of Saharawi clearance operators
A decade after the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, the first fully-qualified national staff can begin the task of clearing the huge quantities of landmines and other explosive ordnance that threaten the lives of the people living and working in Western Sahara.
On Tuesday 17 April 2007, Landmine Action held a graduation ceremony for the first group of Saharawi clearance operators to complete the full Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) training course - they will now commence work in the Polisario controlled section of Western Sahara.
Since October 2006, Landmine Action has trained a national staff team of 12 demobilised Polisario army engineers in survey,
mapping, battle area clearance as well as medical procedures in order to develop a national capacity to undertake EOD operations in accordance with international mine action standards.
The ceremony, which took place at Landmine Action's headquarters in Tifariti followed by a practical demonstration at a central demolition site, was attended by the President of the Saharawi Republic; the Polisario Minister of Defence; the Force Commander for United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO); representatives from United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Saharawi Parliament; several non-governmental organisations; guests from political and civil society as well as national and international media.
United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has praised the work of Landmine Action's programme in Western Sahara, describing it as "essential to provide a safe environment for the local population and for United Nations military and civilian personnel".
Simon Conway, Director of Landmine Action said,
"The completion of training marks an important step for the Saharawi people towards establishing an independent, national capacity to address the significant landmine and ERW problem that blights the region. It is only when the landmines and cluster munitions that contaminate Western Sahara have been cleared that refugees will be able to return to their homes and families be reunited".
Notes for Editors:
-Western Sahara, a territory the size of France on the Atlantic coast of North Africa, was the focus of intense conflict between Morocco and Polisario, the Saharawi resistance movement from 1975 to 1991.
-The most heavily mined areas of the country are alongside the berm, a 2,400km long earthwork fortification that runs the length of Western Sahara dividing the Moroccan and Polisario controlled zones. However, the fighting has also left the wider region littered with explosive debris, including cluster bombs, and has made travelling in the territory lethal.
- An initial destruction of stockpiled anti-personnel mines was carried out in February 2006, after Western Sahara's Polisario Front signed a Deed of Commitment to the 1997 Ottawa Anti-personnel Mine Ban Treaty, agreeing to abide by a complete ban on the use of anti-personnel mines.
-Polisario, completed destruction of its remaining stockpile of 3321 anti-personnel mines on 27 February 2007. The stockpile destruction was supported by Landmine Action technical experts and witnessed by the Saharawi President, Mohamed Abdelaziz, Kurt Mosgaard, Force Commander of MINURSO and over 300 international guests
-Landmine Action's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and technical survey in Polisario controlled areas in Western Sahara commenced in August 2006 following road move of equipment from the UK to Western Sahara.
-Initial funding for this project was provided by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and the German Foreign Ministry. The programme is currently funded by the Norwegian Ministry of foreign Affairs.
-To date, Landmine Action's survey and clearance teams have surveyed over 300 areas in Western Sahara. Items found include artillery and air delivered cluster bombs sold to the Moroccan military by the USA.
-Landmine Action works to improve protection for civilians from the effects of conflict. Our policy, research and advocacy work focuses on establishing appropriate controls over the technology of violence.
-Landmine Action has been a member of the steering committee for the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) since it was established in 2003. The CMC has a membership of over 200 non-governmental organisations worldwide.
For more information on the Western Sahara project or the work of Landmine Action, contact:
Mikaela Wallinder Western Sahara Desk Officer 020 7820 0222; email email@example.com.
Therese Lyras Campaigns Manager 020 7820 0222; email firstname.lastname@example.org
For out-of-hours enquiries, please call 07843 387 149.
(Any views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of Reuters.)
Von: 18.04. 2007 www.alertnet.org by landmineaction.org