Clearance and compliance in Casamance: is Senegal doing all it should?

Committee For Demining in Casamance demonstration on 1 March 2014 (Comité d'initiative pour le déminage en Casamance), an association of mine accident survivors, mine-affected IDPs, and clearance operators in Casamance©ICBL

Committee For Demining in Casamance demonstration on 1 March 2014 (Comité d’initiative pour le déminage en Casamance), an association of mine accident survivors, mine-affected IDPs, and clearance operators in Casamance©ICBL

Kathryn Millett, Mine Action Coordinator, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor

Version française

Senegal is contaminated by antipersonnel mines and to a very limited extent by ERW, a result of use by both the military and the Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC) prior to entry into force of the Mine Ban Treaty for Senegal on 1 March 1999. Senegal’s contaminated areas are located in the Casamance region between the borders of Gambia to the north and Guinea-Bissau to the south. As of December 2013, estimates of confirmed and suspected contaminated area in Casamance totaled approximately 1.3 km2 across four departments: Ziguinchor, Oussouye, Bignona, and Goudomp.

Senegal’s annual clearance rates have been consistently poor. Since receiving in 2008 an extension to its clearance deadline until 1 March 2016, a total of approximately 0.68 km2 of contaminated area has been reported cleared. Almost a third of this total was achieved in 2012 alone (0.21 km2). On average, clearance rates in Senegal over the 6-year period 2008-2012 stand at just over 110,000m2 (0.11 km2) per annum.

Senegal has taken to attributing the lack of progress to remaining instability in Casamance and to the difficulty of obtaining safe access to allegedly MFDC rebel controlled areas. Yet there is clear evidence to suggest that a large extent of the antipersonnel mine contamination in Casamance is contained in unmarked perimeter minefields of both former and active Senegalese military bases. These areas are not under the control of the MFDC; neither is it likely that the rebels would oppose the removal of mines at military installations.

Some of these areas were confirmed by non-technical survey (NTS) and are recorded in the national database, such as the village of Djirack, while others remain common knowledge—though unconfirmed through survey—among those displaced from villages such as Santhiaba Mandjack, Kouring, Badème, and Basséré. The reasons for Senegal’s delay in clearing these areas is not at all clear and therefore the subject of much speculation.

Location of confirmed and ;suspected hazardous areas in Casamance. ©ICBL.

Location of confirmed and suspected hazardous areas in Casamance. ©ICBL.

It is in the context of these poorly understood and unresolved issues that Senegal has continued to enlist the help of the international community for mine action activities. In 2012, the country received new clearance capacity and support with the arrival of Mechem and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), funded by the EU and Norway respectively, to the tune of about USD 1.7 million.

By 2013, with additional funding from the United States for Handicap International’s (HI) NTS teams and from Germany for NPA’s Mine Detection Dog (MDD) teams and for capacity-building for the Senegalese national mine action center (CNAMS), Senegal’s total demining capacity included at least 4 NTS teams, several teams of manual deminers, 11 MDDs, and one Digger D3 demining machine. Furthermore, technical assistance provided to the CNAMS resulted in an updated national database and the first-ever complete maps showing all land release activities undertaken so far, all remaining Confirmed and Suspect Hazardous Areas (CHA and SHA, respectively) recorded, and, perhaps most importantly, those areas of Casamance believed to be mine-affected but still requiring baseline survey. In other words, Senegal now has a good picture of what must be done to fully comply with Article 5 in a timely fashion and to avoid redundant or inefficient deployment of resources.

Despite the significant increase in capacity, funding, and potential for planning, only 0.24 km2 was reported cleared in 2013. Only one military site—Mpack/Kampada 2—was the subject of clearance, resulting in all of the mines found that year. If clearance rates do not improve, it is likely that Senegal will request a second deadline extension.

Developments in 2013-2014

In March 2013 at a meeting between MFDC leaders and CNAMS, the MFDC stated that CNAMS had reached a “red line” beyond which the safety of deminers could not be assured. While it is true that certain areas of Casamance appear to be more under the influence of various MFDC factions than of the Senegalese state, the same cannot be said of all the remaining suspected or confirmed minefields, especially those in Basse Casamance. But because there is a taboo on acknowledging that most of the mines in Casamance were laid by Senegalese forces, the CNAMS did not earnestly attempt to reassure the MFDC that mine clearance could continue in those areas without affecting the rebels’ security, nor did the Senegalese government do much to dispute their claims publically.

Regardless of how the situation was addressed in public, it is hard to understand Senegal’s ensuing course of action. Instead of tasking operators to any of its remaining former or active military minefields until a solution to the crisis could be found (which should be seen as relatively safe and fair for demining, not to mention a legal responsibility for Senegal to clear regardless of what the MFDC says, see assessment below), CNAMS continued to issue task orders for other areas which bordered on allegedly rebel-controlled or MFDC-sympathetic communities. Two months later in May 2013, 12 deminers from Mechem were kidnapped by MFDC members and held for 70 days.

Following this incident, clearance operations were suspended for security reasons until 25 November 2013, when Senegal announced that all subsequent demining operations would first be vetted by MFDC representatives in meetings with the CNAMS. Because multiple sources indicated that the MFDC did not fully trust the CNAMS as a neutral partner, and in an effort to ensure discussions would lead to increased information-sharing and operational safety in the field, operators requested to participate in these meetings but were refused by the CNAMS for unspecified reasons.

It was widely assumed that following the kidnapping, the wisest strategy would be for Senegal to task the operators in country with systematically clearing the remaining military minefields at both abandoned and active outposts. However, when clearance resumed following these closed-door meetings between the MFDC and CNAMS, it was limited to areas for which there were no credible suspicions of mine contamination. Task orders were issued by the CNAMS exclusively for the clearance of a dozen laterite quarries, and sections of the RN6 leading to them, which internationally-funded construction crews were planning to use to renovate other parts of the RN6 road from Ziguinchor to Kolda. Extensive survey efforts had already been undertaken along this road and the newly-updated national database contained no reports of mines or mine accidents in such quarries. Conventional wisdom and an understanding of the conflict held that there would have been no tactical reason to place mines in these quarries or along the road leading to them, and in some cases recent Google Earth images not only showed signs of consistent, intensive use, but also heavy truck traffic. Requests by operators for non-technical survey in these areas prior to deploying clearance resources were denied.

It should be noted that though some donors may require clearance of all areas for development projects, such clearance should not be seen as, or reported as part of a state’s Article 5 obligations since the land is not “dangerous due to the presence or suspected presence of mines.”

With that in mind, one wonders why Senegal did not instead opt for the “win-win situation” of deploying the considerable clearance resources of NPA and Mechem into its existing SHAs and CHAs under its own military control in places like Djirack, Santhiaba Mandjack, or others. This shift would have been a true gesture of goodwill and a confidence-builder towards the MFDC. Deminers’ security would have been considerably improved—if not guaranteed—given the Senegalese military presence at some of these bases, that local populations are vehement about wanting the mines cleared, and that it’s not in the MFDC’s interest to prevent the clearance of their adversary’s mines. And it would have sent a clear signal to the international community that Senegal was taking its Article 5 obligations seriously.

Instead, the reluctance to clear mines around active military installations raises questions of compliance with Article 1 which prohibits States Parties from making ongoing use of existing mined areas. While some might argue that military mines remaining in remote abandoned villages like Badème are relatively low priority, it is doubtful that the hundreds or perhaps thousands of undocumented IDPs from the region, whose only obstacle to returning home is the suspected mine contamination, would agree with this assessment. Of course treaty obligations require eventual clearance of all mined areas everywhere no matter what the current impact.

It is also hard to understand the rationale by which the MFDC has been made a full stakeholder in demining planning, and yet the CNAMS and the Senegalese military appear to have no formal or even informal information-sharing mechanisms. For example, neither the national database nor operator task dossiers have ever benefited from the military’s input of former or active bases where mines might have been used before signing the MBT. In fact, where military mines have been cleared by HI or Mechem in the past in places such as at Dar Salaam, Gounoum, Boutoute, or Mpack, these minefields were reported indirectly by local inhabitants. Military personnel, though officially part of the national mine action steering committee, do not attend CNAMS’ coordination meetings to provide briefings on the security situation, areas where the military has encountered MFDC mines or conducted its own clearance operations, ways to facilitate access to former or current military outposts requiring clearance, or on how to provide missing data on mines laid before becoming a State Party. Independent attempts by operators to open informal communication with local military authorities have also been reprimanded by the CNAMS.

In March 2014, NPA withdrew from Senegal, citing frustration at having been being kept “on reserve” for nearly 10 months, during which time CNAMS would not provide task orders to demine any of the CHAs or SHAs known to be of Senegalese military origin or under Senegalese military control, or to allow NPA NTS teams to work in previously unsurveyed areas believed to be contaminated by mines. NPA—and along with it Norwegian, German, and EU funding totaling over US$1.5million for 2014 —withdrew amid concerns that still more clearance tasks were planned for which there were no credible suspicions of mine contamination and where no non-technical survey would take place prior to clearance.

At present, Mechem funding is likely to run out by June 2014 and HI is only permitted to carry out limited non-technical survey, mine risk education and victim assistance. By mid-2014, Senegal will have almost no capacity to conduct any clearance operations in Casamance. Even if additional funding is obtained, it is doubtful that results will improve unless stakeholders place stricter requirements on how the funds are used and hold Senegal accountable to producing quality over quantity, using more effective indicators than simple numbers of square meters cleared or villages surveyed.

Clearly, the above analysis begs a number of questions that States Parties should put to Senegal in the context of its Article 5 implementation:

  • What is the rationale for CNAMS to require prior agreement with the MFDC on areas to be demined, as this is not systematically done in other countries in conflict? Has there been dialog with operators on their level of risk tolerance?
  • What steps have CNAMS/Senegal taken to engage with the MFDC and other stakeholders, including operators, to build trust? What more is planned in the coming months?
  • What steps are Senegal taking to involve the relevant stakeholders (affected populations, non-state armed groups, and especiallythe Senegalese military) in an effort to earnestly, transparently, and systematically address its mined areas?
  • In a recent radio interview the director of CNAMS indicated that prior MFDC agreement was not needed for areas under Senegalese military control, such as the minefields surrounding the military installations located in Djirack, Santhiaba Manjack and Kouring. Why are these areas not being cleared? Do the mined areas continue to have strategic value for Senegal?
  • What steps have been taken to get information on mines laid by Senegalese armed forces before joining the Mine Ban Treaty?
  • Why is Senegal tasking operators to clear areas where there has been no suspicion of mine contamination – specifically in the context of the project to renovate the RN6 road?
  • Why has Senegal abandoned the practice of systematically conducting non-technical surveys before deploying clearance assets to ensure evidence of mines exists?
  • Why is MFDC opposition to mine clearance also an obstacle to completing non-technical survey that would simply aim to confirm or deny the presence of mines?




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