News Briefs

  1. U.S. Donations to Lebanon Help with Immense Needs
  2. Landmine Soap Helps to "Clean up" Contamination
  3. Extra $5M Brings U.S. Demining Contribution to $25M for FY09
  4. More NSAs Join Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment
  5. Research on Mine-detecting Bees in Croatia
  6. Kurdish Seasonal Mine Action Magazine Published
  7. Former U.K. Military Officer Announced as New UNMAS Director
  8. New Report on U.S. Humanitarian-Demining Efforts Published
  9. Art Exhibit Showcases Mine Victims
  10. Humanitarian Demining Workshop Held in Bogotá
  11. Lebanese Deminers Stories Told in Documentary
  12. Over 100,000 Explosive Disposal Charges Made in Cambodia

 

1. U.S. Donations to Lebanon Help with Immense Needs

The United States has contributed $1.5 million to Mines Advisory Group for landmine clearance in Lebanon. Twelve thousand square kilometers (7,456 square miles) of land in Lebanon are affected by cluster bombs, which remain from the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Many of these bombs failed to detonate on impact and pose a continuing risk to the Lebanese population.

Recently, there has been a reduction in funding by donors for mine-clearance groups in Lebanon, which has led to fears that clearance in the country could come to an end. BACTEC, a commercial demining team based in the United Kingdom, was forced to end operations in the country. The Swedish Rescue Services Agency and Norwegian People’s Aid are both lacking funds, while DanChurchAid has cut its demining teams from five to two. The U.S. donation will keep 10 clearance companies in Lebanon until the 2009 summer’s end, although MAG is still seeking donations to continue its work.

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2. Landmine Soap Helps “Clean up” Contamination

In 2006, Parsons The New School for Design graduate Hideaki Matsui designed and created a natural, landmine-shaped soap known as Cleanup. The following year, Alison Keehn and Benjamin Packer, two students from Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, created the Social Entrepreneurship Network and brought this product to the market.

Cleanup soap works in conjunction with its nongovernmental organization partner, the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Facility, to help eliminate landmines throughout 88 countries by donating a portion of the sale to landmine-related charities and organizations. Each bar of soap costs US$8, and two out of the eight dollars are donated to Cleanup’s demining partners in support of landmine removal, assistance for landmine survivors and the Cambodia Landmine Museum. The soap’s packaging contains further information about demining and areas that are affected by landmines and explosive remnants of war.

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3. Extra $5M Brings U.S. Demining Contribution to $25M for FY09

In response to the international decrease in funding for mine action in Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of State is providing an additional US$5 million to mine-action groups in the country. These funds will be distributed to Afghan Technical Consultants, Demining Agency for Afghanistan, Mine Clearance Planning Agency, Mine Detection Center, Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghanistan Rehabilitation, and The HALO Trust. The additional funds will enable 34 more mine-action teams to be fielded to remove the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war across the country.

Afghanistan has been heavily contaminated with mines, small arms/light weapons, unexploded ordnance and munitions since 1979, following the invasion of the Soviet Union. Estimates indicate that more than four million Afghans are affected by these weapons, which contaminate an estimated 2,229 communities in the country.

The funds will help the demining teams clear three square kilometers (two miles) affecting 19 communities in Afghanistan. These communities have been highly affected by landmines, where 1,162 families living in the area have experienced 78 mine-related accidents in the past few years. The land, once released, will help the communities return to grazing livestock and growing crops, and ensure their safety against landmine casualties.

The funds are provided in addition to the $20 million already contributed for the 2009 fiscal year by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

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4. More NSAs Join Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment

Two armed non-state actors in the Middle East and one in India, as well as the Somaliland House of Elders in Northeastern Africa, have recently signed the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and Cooperation in Mine Action. The Zomi Reunification Organization in India and the Somaliland House of Elders signed the document in March 2009. The next month, the “Komalah–The Kurdistan Organization of the Communist Party of Iran” and the “The Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan,” signed the document. By signing the document, all parties involved agree to ban anti-personnel mines, as well as take part in necessary mine action.

Both the Komalah–The Kurdistan Organization of the Communist Party of Iran and the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan are located in Iran and have used anti-personnel mines in the past. According to a press release by Geneva Call, both groups recognize the devastating effect anti-personnel mines have had on the country, particularly in the Kurdish provinces of Iran.

The ZRO, an armed non-state actor based in northeast India, became the 36th NSA to sign the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment. The ZRO is the third NSA in northeast India to sign the commitment, pledging to ban anti-personnel mines and execute and contribute for necessary mine action. Before it signed the Deed of Commitment, the ZRO reported that it was able to complete destruction of its stockpiles and clear mines it had laid after completing dialogue with Geneva Call in 2008.

Despite their repeated interest, Somaliland has not been able to join the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, as they are not an internationally recognized state. However, the law recently passed in the House of Representatives and House of Elders is modeled on the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and includes consequences for noncompliance as well as provisions for monitoring implementation.

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5. Research on Mine-detecting Bees in Croatia

Over the last two years, Zagreb University Agronomy Professor Nikola Kezic and his team have been training bees to detect landmines. Under Kezic’s direction, the bees are being trained for landmine detection in Croatia, which is still plagued with landmines from its civil war in the early 1990s.

While mines are costly and time-consuming to find and remove, the bees can provide a quick and inexpensive approach to landmine detection. Known for their keen sense of smell, the bees are trained to associate the smell of food with explosive chemicals such as Trinitrotoluene, or TNT found in landmines. After training, the bees are sent to areas for quality assurance that have already been demined, where they search for the smell of explosives. If the bees land on an area where no mine had previously been found, a demining team will investigate to make sure no mines have been overlooked.

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6. Kurdish Seasonal Mine Action Magazine Published

The Fria Society for Mine Action Professionals recently published its third issue of the Kurdish Seasonal Mine Action Magazine. The Kurdish-language publication, which is produced by FSMAP, is meant to be an educational aid for the organization’s members and includes articles on topics such as mine-risk education, mine-action news, current research on demining methods and analyses of different communities within Iraqi Kurdistan that have been affected by explosive remnants of war. The magazine’s readership is not limited to members of the organization, however, as the publication is circulated among other related parties within Iraqi Kurdistan, ranging from government institutions and ministries to independent nongovernmental organizations and private companies working in the field.

The publication’s staff includes some of the area’s top mine-action experts, including FSMAP Director Jalal J. Hussien, Editor-in-Chief Gaylan K. Anwer and Managing Editor Ako Aziz Hamad, all of whom also work for the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency, the region’s mine-action organization.

FSMAP, formed in late 2006, is a nongovernmental, nonprofit group that seeks to support mine-action personnel and organizations inside the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The organization has a membership of over 650 people and aims to help its members find jobs and assist their rehabilitation in the event of a demining accident. FSMAP also works with the Iraqi government and mine-action authorities to promote the creation of mine-action programs and initiatives within Iraqi Kurdistan.

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7. Former U.K. Military Officer Announced as New UNMAS Director

The United Nations Mine Action Service has announced that Maxwell Kerley has assumed the role of Director of UNMAS. Kerley joined the United Nations in May 2003, transferring from his post at the United Kingdom Permanent Joint headquarters, where he was responsible for providing logistic and personnel support to U.K. military deployments around the world.

Born in 1952, Kerley enlisted in the British Army in 1970, and went on to join the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, where he commanded at the platoon, company and battalion levels. From 1995 to 1997, Kerley commanded a logistic brigade that took him through two tours in the Former Yugoslavia, and was part of the team responsible for forming the Defense Logistics Organization in the United Kingdom.

UNMAS was formed in 1997 to act as the United Nation’s main resource for carrying out mine action. It is responsible for coordinating all aspects of mine action within the U.N. system, and it provides direct assistance during humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.

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8. New Report on U.S. Humanitarian-Demining Efforts Published

The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs recently released the eighth edition of To Walk The Earth In Safety, a comprehensive report on U.S. activities related to mine action and conventional-weapons destruction. The report covers efforts in 43 countries by the interagency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program and the more than 60 partner organizations the State Department collaborates with to raise awareness and resources.

The United States government has contributed more than $1.4 billion to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance since 1993. The U.S. Department of State spent $123.1 million in assistance in 2008. The State Department continues to work bilaterally and multilaterally with international partners to provide humanitarian assistance and enact stricter controls on weapons, stemming the flow of illicit weapons and stabilizing regions. The latest edition of To Walk The Earth In Safety also includes information on U.S. efforts to destroy excess small arms/ light weapons, ongoing efforts with physical security and stockpile management, and the menace of man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS).

The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, divisions of the Department of Defense and U.S. Army, James Madison University’s Center for International Stabilization and Recovery, the Organization of American States and several in-country centers are profiled in the report, including the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance, the Mine Detection Dog Center for Southeast Europe, and the Iraqi Mine and UXO Clearance Organization.

A PDF version of the eighth edition is available at http://www.state.gov/t/pm/rls/rpt/walkearth/. To request a printed copy of To Walk The Earth In Safety, e-mail your complete mailing address and postal (or ZIP) code to Stacy B. Davis at DavisSB@state.gov. To Walk The Earth In Safety is produced and published by the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery on behalf of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

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9. Art Exhibit Showcases Mine Victims

Award-winning photographer Gervasio Sánchez’s latest work, Mined Lives, Ten Years Later, published in 2007, has been on tour around the world since 2008, and will continue to be showcased in numerous cities in 2009. Sánchez began the “Mined Lives” series in 1997, and he followed up with the featured survivors five years and, most recently, 10 years after originally photographing them. The series of books, published by Editorial Bloom, share the message that there is still a vast amount of work to be done to solve the landmine problem around the world as victims continue to suffer.

Born in Cordova, Spain, in 1959, Sánchez became a journalist in 1984, and has worked with the BBC, the Telegraph, Heraldo de Aragón and La Vanguardia. He has published numerous photographic works focusing on areas involved in conflict, including The Siege of Sarajevo, Victims of Pinochet and now the Mined Lives series. In 1996, Sánchez was awarded the Cirilo Rodríguez Award, the highest award the Spanish government extends to journalists working abroad. He has also been awarded the Human Rights Award for Journalism. On the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1998, Sánchez was named United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Special Peace Envoy.

Mined Lives, Ten Years Later focuses on landmine survivors in some of the world’s most landmine-affected countries, including Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique and Nicaragua. The 2007 edition of the series also includes Iraq and Colombia. The goal of the traveling exhibition is to raise awareness of the landmine problem not just with the general public, but also with the media and political institutions that may not place as much emphasis or awareness on the landmine issue as is needed for substantial change to occur.

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10. Humanitarian Demining Workshop Held in Bogotá

From 9 to 12 June 2009, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement hosted the Taller de Planificación del Desminado Humanitario en Colombia (Colombia Humanitarian Demining Planning Workshop) in Bogotá, Colombia. The workshop was facilitated by the Mine Action Information Center at James Madison University, and was attended by representatives from the U.S. and Colombian governments, international organizations, and key stakeholders in Colombia’s work against landmines.

More than 40 participants worked together to draft a plan of action for Colombian humanitarian-demining activities. They will use the plan as a guiding document for developing future mine-action activities. The plan emphasized integration and cooperation among military forces, national authorities and international partners.

The workshop opened with speeches from Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón and Andrés Davilla, Director of the Programa Presidencial de Acción Integral contra las Minas Antipersonal (PPAICMA, the Presidential Program for Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Landmines). Presentations by international counterparts from the Organization of American States, Jordan’s National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation, Mines Advisory Group, the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Southern Command and the Colombian military forces followed.

Working groups discussed ways forward with command-and-control models for mine action and how to best manage information gathered by survey and demining teams. The groups developed a 13-point Plan of Action, which was presented to a closing session of about 100 dignitaries and representatives from mine-action organizations, diplomatic missions to Colombia and landmine survivors.

The closing session was addressed by the Honorable William Brownfield, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, and Sergio Jaramillo, Colombian Vice Minister of Defense. COL (ret) Dennis Barlow, Director of James Madison University’s Mine Action Information Center in the Center for Stabilization and Recovery, and representatives from PPAICMA also spoke.

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11. Lebanese Deminer’s Stories Told in Documentary

Remnants of War, a feature-length documentary about the post-war environment in Lebanon, was recently shown at the 20th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The film was the first feature-length documentary by director Jawad Metni, an Arab-American filmmaker of Lebanese descent who grew up in Texas. Metni’s film was chosen from about 500 films submitted for the festival. Only 21 feature-length films and 11 shorts were screened at this year’s festival.

Metni, who still has family in Lebanon, felt helpless as he watched the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah unfold before him while living in New York. Close to one million cluster munitions were dropped on Lebanon by Israel in the conflict, and it is estimated that 30 percent of these munitions failed to detonate. The munitions posed an immediate danger to the Lebanese people and continue to present difficulties to civilians in the area. The conflict spurred Metni to move to Lebanon for seven months in 2007, filming the lives of deminers in South Lebanon. Working with a shoestring budget, most of which was used for living expenses, Remnants of War is devoid of narration. Instead, the film showcases the deminers themselves, allowing them to speak about their lives, hopes and fears for the future of their country.

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival is a program of Human Rights Watch, a group that highlights human rights violations around the world. Coordinators at the festival noted that each year’s submissions are more professional and sophisticated, with high production values and musical scores. Films are chosen, however, based on their ability to present the issues at hand.

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12. Over 100,000 Explosive Disposal Charges Made in Cambodia

Golden West Humanitarian Foundation’s Explosive Harvesting System team in Cambodia, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, has harvested over 100,000 disposal charges from unexploded ordnance in Cambodia. The Explosive Harvesting System began in 2005 as a joint project between the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation and the Cambodian Mine Action Centre.

Most research and development projects are constructed and developed in Western countries and shipped abroad, but the Explosive Harvesting System was constructed directly in Cambodia. The system is designed to safely remove ordnance from anti-tank mines and large-caliber projectiles, and convert them into disposal charges for demining teams. These charges are produced at a low cost and provide an effective and environmentally safe method for clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance. Recovered explosives are provided at no charge to the humanitarian mine action nongovernmental organizations working in Cambodia.

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