News Briefs

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  1. Off-the-shelf Solutions Save Lives in Iraq
  2. Robotic Ankle Research Takes Step in Right Direction
  3. Destruction of the Millionth Weapon
  4. HDI Announces New Spokesperson
  5. Oslo Process Meeting Makes Progress in Banning Cluster Munitions
  6. Cambodia Pushes Back Mine Clearance by 10 Years
  7. Solomon Islands Officials Warn Against UXO Tampering
  8. Initial Iraq Landmine Impact Survey Completed
  9. Mine Ban Enters into Force in Jordan
  10. Swiss Exploring Gender in Mine Action
  11. EOD Training Underway for Afghan Soldiers and Policemen

1. Off-the-shelf Solutions Save Lives in Iraq

Military personnel in Iraq are using an ever-increasing list of unconventional, civilian materials to provide new solutions to common problems. Insurgents in the country bury improvised explosive devices along roadways frequented by U.S. military personnel, concealing the weapons under dirt and other debris.

The U.S. Army's Rapid Equipping Force responded by strapping civilian-made leaf blowers to the front of vehicles. The blowers, usually used by golf courses, had only to undergo some minor fortification of a rotating nozzle before they were field-ready.

The REF has also had success in adapting other civilian items to the Iraqi conflict. Red lasers are often difficult to see, so the REF began importing green lasers from Taiwan, where they are used for civilian purposes like teaching and bird watching. Soldiers can use the easy-to-see green lasers to warn motorists approaching checkpoints that they must stop. Alternatives, like firing warning shots, frequently scare motorists, who in turn accelerate, forcing soldiers to open fire.

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2. Robotic Ankle Research Takes Step in Right Direction

Garth Stewart, 24, lost part of his leg while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq. This summer he took a big step toward improved recovery with the world's first robotic ankle. The device, which is unique in design and function, uses tendon-like springs and an electric motor, to propel users forward. This forward motion helps reduce fatigue while improving balance and providing a better, more fluid gait.

Conventional prostheses have a passive response toward walking, requiring more energy expenditure for amputees with prostheses than non-amputees. The new ankle was created through the Center for Restorative and Regenerative Medicine, a collaborative effort that includes the Providence (R.I.) Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, Brown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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3. Destruction of the Millionth Weapon

The United States celebrated the destruction of more than one million weapons worldwide with celebrations around the globe. On 9 July 2007 at 12:00 noon GMT, "Millionth Weapon Destruction" events were held, simultaneously crushing or cutting a small arm or light weapon in at least one country for every region in which the State Department is actively engaged in destroying such weapons.

The events occurred in Albania the Ukraine (Europe), Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Africa), Afghanistan (Asia), and Honduras (Latin America). The celebration marked the destruction, through State Department programs in more than 25 countries, of one million small arms and light weapons, more than 90 million pieces of ammunition, and more than 21,000 man-portable air defense systems.

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4. HDI Announces New Spokesperson

The Humpty Dumpty Institute announced the appointment of a new spokesperson to the Institute, Mary Wilson formerly of the musical group, the Supremes. Wilson will work as an ambassador for HDI and will raise public awareness concerning landmines and other explosive remnants of war.

Wilson is a 1988 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, the two other members of the Supremes. Wilson's travel schedule filled with clearance-related activities early; she visited the Jaffna Peninsula of Sri Lanka to review mine clearance and a dairy development program. She visited a Laotian school food program.

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5. Oslo Process Meeting Makes Progress in Banning Cluster Munitions

Representatives from 138 nations and 140 civil societies concluded the third major international conference on cluster munitions in early December 2007, noting that a cluster ban treaty will likely be signed in 2008. The conferees, meeting in Vienna, Austria, reported that important progress was made on issues like victim assistance, clearance, stockpile destruction, and international cooperation and assistance.

Members of the civil societies came from more than 50 countries and praised the progress made at the conference. The need for standardized and monitored victim assistance was particularly important to these organizations, which sought consensus on assistance to victims and their families and communities, as well as on obligations to clear contaminated areas and stockpiles. Survivors of cluster munitions accidents also participated in the conference.

The most contentious part of the conference concerned the prohibition and definition of a cluster munition. While some representatives wanted to seek a total ban on all cluster munitions, some countries called for exemptions to certain weapons with self-destruct capabilities and failure rates of a certain percentage. Other countries called for a transition period in which banned weapons still could be used. Despite disagreements over certain parts of a possible future treaty, the conference ended optimistically.

The Vienna meeting was preceded by a similar meeting at the end of May 2007, with more than 60 countries meeting in Lima, Peru. The Oslo Process will continue in February 2008, concluding in Dublin, Ireland, in May. African countries will meet in March in Uganda to consolidate their position as a region. A treaty signing ceremony in Oslo, Norway, is expected for later in 2008.

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6. Cambodia Pushes Back Mine Clearance by 10 Years

The government of Cambodia announced in late 2007 that its mine clearance efforts would not be completed until at least 2020. Representing one of the world's most contaminated countries, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that predictions made in 2000 for a 10-year window of clearance were overly optimistic.

Details or rationale for the extension were not given by Hun Sen at a meeting on Cambodian demining efforts, although the Prime Minister did say that the government expects the budget for landmine clearance to increase in coming years.

Every year, hundreds of Cambodians become casualties to landmines and other explosive remnants of war, which still litter the country after decades of conflicts. Demining groups from around the world have been collaborating with the government's own demining agency to clear the countryside since 1992. More than 2,900 square kilometers (1,120 square miles) remain contaminated, and progress in demining these areas has been slow.

Prime Minister Hun Sen cited a large number of U.S. landmines and unexploded ordnance items, left behind in Cambodia from massive bombing campaigns in the 1970s, as an enduring problem for the nation.

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7. Solomon Islands Officials Warn Against UXO Tampering

Police forces in the Solomon Islands are increasingly concerned by reports that members of the public are engaging in the illicit sale of unexploded ordnance to scrap-metal dealers. The country, located just east of Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, consists of nearly 1,000 islands with a land mass of about 28,400 square kilometers (10,965 square miles).

An increase in scrap-metal trafficking on the islands has raised concerns from officials, as most of the UXO being moved remains from the World War II era and may be unstable due to deterioration. Members of the government's explosive ordnance disposal unit have said that individuals trying to sell a large variety of WWII-era explosives have approached scrap-metal collectors.

Officials also pointed out that, in addition to being extremely dangerous, tampering with or moving UXO is illegal.

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8. Initial Iraq Landmine Impact Survey Completed

The first phase of a three-year survey on 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces has been completed. The Landmine Impact Survey is an important tool for the government of Iraq and international donors, allowing a temporary blueprint to be made for clearance for landmines, unexploded ordnance, abandoned munitions, and other explosive remnants of war. Hazards like these threaten one in every five Iraqis, according to the U.S. Department of State, whose Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement funded the $4 million survey.

The survey was conducted in the provinces of Babylon, Basrah, Dahuk, Dhi-War, Erbil, Karbala, Missan, Muthanna, Najaf, Qadissiya, Sulaymaniyah, Tameem and Wasit. Work will proceed in the remaining five provinces—Al-Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Salah ad-din—as security conditions permit.

The survey will allow the government and international donors to improve the allocation of demining and clearance resources. It was completed, the State Department reports, by Iraqi citizens, including teachers and doctors, and was done via foot, car, tractor and even donkey. The survey also helped shed light on communities and villages not known to exist, opening these non-traditional communities to outside resources.

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9. Mine Ban Enters into Force in Jordan

Following a royal decree, the 2008 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban became an official part of Jordanian law. The Kingdom of Jordan, which signed the Ottawa Convention banning the use of landmines in 1998, has been working to eradicate landmines and other explosive remnants of war since that time. The new law represents a deepening of the government's commitment to addressing the landmine problem in the kingdom.

States Parties to the Ottawa Convention are obliged to make consistent progress toward eliminating the threat posed by landmines, and Jordan created the National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation in 2000 to direct policy for and supervise mine-action activities. The NCDR is chaired by HRH Prince Mired and directs management and regulatory activities, as well as coordinating mine- action programs and supervising the implementation of best policies and procedures.

The 2008 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban now provides national legal punishments for anyone emplacing AP mines in Jordan as well as anyone trading, developing, possessing or handling mines on other ways. There are also punishments for anyone aiding or abetting any of these prohibited actions. Exceptions to these regulations are provided to approved government parties actively involved in landmine eradication-most notable are members of the Jordanian Armed Forces who use mines in explosive ordnance disposal training exercises.

Those found guilty of violating the statutes of the new law are subject to steep fines, imprisonment and hard labor. Additionally, anyone who provides information to authorities on illegal activities can receive legal protection for his/her assistance.

The new law also establishes the NCDR as the lead mine-action coordinating and supervising agency in the country. The NCDR is no officially responsible for working with the armed forces and outside agencies to ensure successful collaboration. The 2008 AP Mine Ban also gives the NCDR the authority to make requests of international organizations for information as well as assistance with equipment and training.

Although it has made remarkable progress in addressing the landmine situation within and along its borders, Jordan anticipates that its original deadline for landmine clearance by May 2009, as dictated by the Convention, may need to be extended to 2011.

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10. Swiss Exploring Gender in Mine Action

The initiative to understand the topic of gender in mine action has recently generated significant discussion throughout the global community. Specialists exploring this area are shedding new light on the dissimilar practices, behaviors and communications of males and females in order to improve international mine-action activities in the field and office. As part of the Gender and Mine Action Programme, the Swiss Campaign to Ban Landmines is currently researching and producing a gender integrated manual that synthesizes recommendations with actual case studies.

Not only will the manual answer the question of why mine-action practitioners should be more cognizant of gender issues, it will also answer the question of how gender-attentive procedures may be implemented. For the latter purpose, the SCBL hopes to integrate legal theory and accessible resources to make progress easily attainable. Practicality is imperative, since the manual is intended for a broad audience of mine-action organizations, governments, donors, civil-society actors, gender-focused organizations and community-based organizations.

The first section of the manual will elaborate on gender as it relates to each of the five pillars of mine action. This section will include and overview of the current state of affairs, real-world illustrations, best practices and unsuccessful enterprises. The manual will highlight recommendations to promote realistic applications of the information presented. The second section of the manual will feature five in-depth case studies of Lebanon, Mozambique, Sudan, Sri-Lanka and Colombia. Reports for each country will include details about the current mine problem for that country, insight about the regional gender situation, best practices and successful fender initiatives. Recommended topics for further research and piloting will also be incorporated.

The SCBL would appreciate participation in providing diverse personal perspectives for the manual. Though the formal submission deadline of 15 February 2008 has passed, e-mail Marie Nilsson at m.nilsson@scbl-gender for more information or to send comments. SCBL is interested in receiving a broad range of pertinent content: project examples, initiatives, tips, ideas, measures of achievement, successful integration stories, unsuccessful initiatives, problems and relevant photos.

Additionally, the Journal of Mine Action's upcoming Issue 12.2 will focus upon gender in mine action, and related articles are now being accepted. Please see the "Call for Papers" on the back cover of this magazine for more information.

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11. EOD Training Underway for Afghan Soldiers and Policemen

Nearly 40 soldiers and policemen from the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police have completed the first of five phases in training to be explosive ordnance disposal technicians. The Explosive Ordnance Disposal School, ANA's first branch training facility outside Kabul, is located at Camp Shaheen.

The facility is adjacent to a 72 square kilometer (28 square mile) demolition range that will figure prominently in the remaining four training phases. The training is being conducted by 20 Afghan and international instructors from RONCO Consulting Corporation in the hopes of speeding the demining of Afghanistan, one of the world's most heavily mine countries. Demining efforts in the country are more than two decades old, but total clearance of the millions of mines could take decades.

RONCO based the training program on a successful endeavor in Az Zubair, Iraq, which trained Iraqis for three years in country-specific threats. The 22-week program, designed to be challenging, addresses issues specific to Afghan EOD efforts and Safety.

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