Thursday, March 16, 2006

Clearing landmines for nuts, bananas and 30000 dollar in parking fee, part 3


A visit in the field
"Fucking dog!" The outburst could be heard all over the field. But for Kassim and the others it was not extraordinary. It was just one of the usual commands given by the dog handlers to congratulate the dog with a job well done.


For the rats there were no other reward than the giving of food, but there was neither the danger of the rat dragging you into the minefield. They had to concentrate on the rat which was moving in the field. This was the second rat they had on the same block, afterward they would put on a new rat on the same field. Three rats on each block, each rats used approximately ½ hour to search the field, 1 ½ hour on each field. Of course it could be done faster, but when working with landmines it was no need to hurry. The rats Kassim and his crew were working with were all licensed on the same conditions as the dogs. But one accident would mean the end of this recent development project.


Cerveja was standing 100 meter from Kassim and his team. He didn’t wear his PPE since he was out of the minefield. But he was dressed up in the peculiar blue overall and with a torn matching blue cap on his head to give some protection from the sun. On his lower back, strapped to his belt, hung his walkie-talkie. With this he could always be in contact with the workers in the field. He was looking down at his planning board. Altogether they were 25 persons in his 5th platoon, but today four were absent because of sickness. Together with him was one second in command, one paramedic in case of accidents and 22 manual mine clearers. The paramedic was sitting in the shadow of a tree in his red uniform, relaxing together with the workers who had their ½ hour break.

Luckily they had so far had none accidents in this field during survey or clearance, but you had five accidents in the field before they had begun the de-mining, two of which involved humans, three which involved goats. But in Mozambique the value of a goat is not to be laughed upon. Cerveja regards security as one of the most important aspects of working in the minefield. None who went out in the field would be allowed to move around without protective gear. This gear would not save you if you got hit directly but it would help you from the blast affected by a detonation. And in case of emergency he had smoke bombs 20 meters away to signal for incoming choppers.


Together with the smoke grenades he has also stored the explosives used for destructing the mines. Tomorrow they would get visit from an Austrian film crew and to their honor they would blow up two mines which where discovered a while ago. The crew had also asked to interview a person who had stepped on a mine. But luckily, though unluckily for the film crew, there was no one in the area at the moment that had had his leg blown off. The explosion of the mines would hopefully satisfy their needs. Even though they had found the landmines a long time ago they had to leave them in the ground until the whole area around was surveyed. If not the explosive particles spread out by the explosion would affect both the dogs and the rats which would smell explosives everywhere. So for now the mines was left in the ground, but marked off so no one would step on them. The worst nightmare for Cerveja was if some kid or adventurous backpacker would come to the field and curiously explore this fascinating metal half above and half under the ground.


The dog trainer stood beside him, he is originally from Zimbabwe, but had come to Mozambique to supervise the dog handlers and the dogs. Altogether they had three dogs working in this field today. The dogs had all arrived at this unit after 11/2 years of training but at arrival they still ½ year training left and also they had to get to know their handler before they had been deployed in an actual field. Last year two dogs had died of diseases; it was not the best place to work. They were surrounded by flies and mosquitoes and a lot of vegetation which had to be worked around and inside. When the sun came up and the temperature rose to around 30 Celsius, the job could be killing for both man and animals.

Cerveja was in charge of one of the nine squads working for ADP. In the area around Vilanculos there were two squads working. The other squads were spread all over Mozambique. Everybody who worked with him had been trough the training to become a deminer, and they were all aware of the danger which naturally came with the job. The area they worked on was an old camp used by Russians during the war. Cerveja could see the old intoxicated carcass of the military vehicles left there by the Russians. When they had set up the camp they had placed landmines around it to protect it from incoming enemies, in some areas up to ten mines spread on 5 square meters, but in opposition to the cars they had left no clues to where they had placed the landmines.


They had starting to clear this field in November 2004. They where given until July 2005 to finish the job, and the work was going well. 86% was already cleared after four months. But this was a field of only 45 000 square meters. All over in Mozambique there were still approximately 534.3 square kilometers left to clear according to international landmine monitoring, and Cerveja knew it would take more than the time given by the treaty to clear all the mines left in Mozambique.

The supreme instrument of terror
"As an instrument for war the landmine is supreme" says Cerveja, "One landmine may stop a whole regiment and the cost of producing and placing one may be less than a dollar" The number of different mines found in Mozambique shows this quite clearly. Some mines like the Anti Personnel mines are meant for killing or seriously injury people. Landmines most commonly found is the blast mines PMN and PMN 2. The name "blast mine" means that these mines are meant to give off an explosive blast when stepped upon, thereby they will, according to Bart Weetjens, cut off your ankle, if stepped upon with your toe, or your whole leg if you are unlucky enough to step on it with your heel.

Try spot the landmine

Another more sophisticated mine found in the fields around Vilanculos is the OZM-4 anti personnel mines. These mines not only explode when they are stepped upon, but an initial charge lifts the mine up to waist height before a new explosion shoots out metal fragments in 360 degrees. If you are lucky you will stay 100 meters away upon detonation an only get severe injuries. If you are 35 meters from it there would be small chances to survive. If you step on one, your family will save the burial expenses.

Another type of mine is the anti-tank mine used to disable vehicles, they need a greater amount of pressure to detonate than the anti-personnel mines, but often de-mining personnel have found anti-tank mines placed below anti-personnel mines. In such cases they work as booby traps for de-miners as the anti-tank mine is devised to explode when the anti-personnel mine is removed. Luckily no such mines have so far been found in the fields in Vilanculos. But the de-miners never know what to expect when they start digging in the ground when they get an indication of a mine.


Bart Weetjens is a convinced pacifist, but he sees the ability of using landmines both to stop the enemy and to give a halt to the society during a war. "The landmine is used as a supreme device of terror" he says. The mines in Mozambique were used, like in many other places, to spread terror amongst civilians. In one case a whole village had fled when a mine was triggered. After searching and clearing the area there had altogether been found four mines, one on the main road, one outside the school, one outside the church and one on the crop field. These four mines had taken one year to clear and caused 29 000 people to leave their homes. The civil war in Mozambique ended for good in 1993, but the landmines in the ground don’t seem to care, they will continue to be a threat for several decades to come if they are not spotted and demolished.

"There is a lot of work which have to be done if Mozambique should be mine free within the 2009 as stated in the landmine treaty, and without economical donations and expertise from abroad, Mozambique will never manage this deadline, and as a country it will struggle to finish the work that has begun." Cerveja is mainly a man in the field. The political lobbyism is not of his concern, but he knows that also his work will go down if the donors stop their flow of money. Together with him in the fields of Vilanculos there are mainly Mozambiquians working, they have learned to handle their job, but their government cannot afford to pay for it. The deployment of landmines may be cheap, but to remove them are both time consuming and expensive.

30000 in parking fee
For Sara Sekkenes, in her small office in Maputo, the job is to work on this political lobbying before the NPA and other organizations pull out, so the de-mining work in Mozambique may be continued also after the international organizations leave. But she also understands the donors’ unwillingness to give money meant for de-mining directly to the Mozambiquian government. The ability for money to disappear in this country would impress the most experienced magician. And the history of the Mozambiquian government’s economical contribution to the landmine clearing work is far from impressive. One of their main contributions has been to give tax exemption on all equipment used in landmine clearing imported to Mozambique. When taking into consideration that the import tax in Mozambique is 24% this is not at all bad. But when NPA tried to make use of this in importing mechanical mine clearance equipment from South Africa, the paperwork went so slow that NPA had to pay parking fee on the border to Mozambique. A fee of 30 000 dollars, which was more than what they would have paid in import tax. As a final push to the story the government in Mozambique asked the international contributors to pay the money which they didn’t get in import tax. This money could just as well have gone directly to the NPA in the first instance.


As such the situation is not easy to solve. Mozambique still needs the money and the training given by the international contributors and organizations, but they do no longer need the all year presence of these organizations. For Sara it was clear that she had to use the forthcoming year well to find a solution to the problem. If not the process already made in Mozambique may come to a halt and the country will struggle unnecessarily hard to develop.

A neverending hazardous job
How much the mine problem in Mozambique so far have cost the shattered society is impossible to estimate. Villages have been left desolated, crop fields have been wasted and development has been difficult. Ten years after the peace treaty was signed, Mozambique, with help from the international society, has finally managed to take control of the problem. Ironically this means that they are no longer a priority country, and as such of little interest to international politicians. But Kassim, George and Ceveja, and many with them, has still many years of work left. And on a global level their expertise will always be needed. “All over the world there are planted enough landmines to keep them busy for 500 years. And every year soldiers around the world plant out new landmines, adding 18 years more to these 500,” explaines Bart Weetjens


Two weeks ago the nightmare for Cerveja and his collegues took place. Luckily for Cerveja it happened in another platoon working in the fields around Chimoio. I only heard about the incident recently. A thirty year old man, working with demining in the field, got careless, with horrible consecuences. He entered the field without the PPE and he had not marked of the earlier searched area properly. After a break from the work he went back, the mine was impossible to see. The detonation surprised everyone and the young man was lying on the ground shocked from the blast and the pain. Luckily he had touched the mine with his toes first, his right foot up to the ancle was torn off, and the fragments from the mine had mutilated the right side of his face and his right hand. Fragments could also be found in his chest. But he survived, his vision was not destroyed and he kept most of his leg intact. He was extremly lucky, even though he will never get his foot back again. This accident was a reminder for everybody else, a reminder of the hazards that come with the job.





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