Issue 6.1, April 2002


Ethiopia and Eritrea Mine Action Coordination Center:  UNMEE-MACC

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The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, along with eight other local NGOs, are working to rid their lands of the mixture of AT and AP mines laid in conventional military patterns during conflicts dated back to 1935.

By Bob Kudyba, United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea Mine Action Coordination Center

UNMEE Indian Battalion (INDBAT) engineering platoon reconstruct the access routes in the region of Barentu.


The conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia can be traced back to before the period of Italian colonization, which commenced in 1935. Many attempts to secure an independent Eritrea finally succeeded in 1993, when Eritrea gained formal independence from Ethiopia. However, relations soured between the one-time allies when Eritrea introduced its own currency (the Nakfa) in November 1997, creating a trade war between the two nations.

On May 13 1998, Ethiopia’s Parliament declared war on Eritrea. After the 1998 fighting failed to achieve any clear advantage to either side, the Ethiopians and Eritreans fell into a trench warfare situation reminiscent of World War I. In order to reinforce this system of trench lines, extensive patterns of mines—both AT and AP—were laid to strengthen and reinforce the positions. As one side gained advantage and took control of a trench system, mines were laid on the opposite side, creating a confusing array of defense systems. Shelling of targets by artillery and bombing attacks by aircraft contributed to the problem with UXO littering the battlefields. In fact, some estimates say that UXO outweigh the problem of mines 15:1.

The Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities signed by Ethiopia and Eritrea in Algiers on June 18  2000, provided for an immediate cessation of all armed and air attacks and requested the assistance of the UN and the Organization of African Union (OAU) in its implementation. In particular, the parties called on the UN to deploy a peacekeeping mission under the auspices of the OAU to monitor the cessation of hostilities.

This process is for the continuation of proximity talks between the two parties, leading to a comprehensive peace agreement on issues related to the final definition of the border between the two countries; the current border is the old Italian Colonial border. This undertaking has yet to be resolved, particularly the agreement on the final border definition and line.

With respect to demining and mine action activities, the agreement says, “. . . both parties shall conduct demining as soon as possible with a view to creating the conditions necessary for the deployment of the Peacekeeping Mission, the return of civilian administration and return of the population as well as the delimitation and demarcation of their common border. The Peacekeeping Mission, in conjunction with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) will assist the parties’ demining efforts by providing technical advice and coordination. The parties shall, as necessary, seek additional demining assistance from the Peacekeeping Mission.”

Landmine and UXO Situation

In addition to the residual threats posed by landmines and UXO from old conflicts, the recent conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea (1998—2000) poses a significant threat throughout the conflict area. This threat is primarily confined to the “no man’s land” that runs between the trenches along the confrontation lines (May 1998 and May—June 2000).

These mine fields contain a mixture of AT and AP mines that are laid mainly in conventional military patterns. Additionally, unmarked and unrecorded nuisance mine fields and point targets can be expected outside the trench lines through the conflict area.

Although large numbers of mines have been reportedly removed or destroyed by both forces, either during the conflict or immediately after it, neither side has the technical means to conduct mine clearance to international humanitarian standards. Subsequently, a significant residual risk remains. In addition, UXO has increased the contamination in the conflict area, particularly in the trench and other battle areas.

Concept of Operations

The United Nations has selected the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to implement the United Nations Mission Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) Mine Action Program on its behalf, initially through funds made available through the Voluntary Trust Fund (VTF) for assistance in mine action. This decision is consistent with the UN mine action policy, which recognizes UNOPS as a principle service provider within the UN system for integrated mine action programs. If required, UNOPS will be capable of supporting the mine action program past the expiration of UNMEE’s mandate and beyond the requirement for emergency assistance.

The Secretary General’s report to the Security Council of August 9 2000, stated the following objectives for the Mine Action Coordination Center (MACC):

  • To provide and coordinate mine action in support of the operational needs of the peacekeeping force, mainly inside the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ), including the provision of technical advice to and monitoring of the mine clearance activities of the Ethiopian and Eritrean parties.
  • To facilitate and coordinate international mine action assistance, in support of humanitarian relief efforts, including the repatriation of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP).

The MACC will have the following responsibilities:

  • assessing the landmine/UXO threat.
  • managing landmine information.
  • planning and coordinating operations.
  • managing quality assurance (QA).
  • assisting with resource mobilization as necessary.

The MACC will establish mine action priorities to serve both operational needs of the peacekeeping force within the TSZ and wider humanitarian needs both inside and outside the TSZ. Based on these priorities, the MACC will use available mine action assets including UN peacekeeping, NGOs, and commercial and government assets, in order to conduct mine action with an emphasis on:

  • Mine Risk Education (MRE) for peacekeepers and UN, government and relief employees active in the previously contested areas.
  • MRE for local population returning to these areas.
  • Rapid mine survey of previously contested areas to better ascertain the extent and specific nature of the landmine/UXO problem in the previously contested areas.

NGOs in Eritrea

There are currently eight NGOs undertaking programs in Eritrea, namely Eritrean Demining Agency (EDA), Danish Church Aid (DCA), Danish Demining Group (DDG), HALO Trust, RONCO, RONCO/EDA and Mines Awareness Trust.

Eritrean Demining Agency
The EDA includes the following personnel:

  • One 60-person manual team deployed after a successful training phase in Sector Center.
  • Two 60-person manual teams deployed after a successful training phase in Sector West.
  • Two 4-person MRE teams located in Sector West.
  • One 6-person MRE team located in Sector Center.

The program has also been supported by three International Staff members from MineTech, a commercial company, who are acting as Technical Supervisors in support of three EDA national teams.

Danish Church Aid (DCA)
DCA consists of the following:

  • Four 10-person manual clearance teams sponsored for EDA in Sector West.
  • Six 10-person manual clearance teams sponsored for EDA in Sector Center.

Danish Demining Group (DDG)
The DDG has the following teams:

  • Two Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Quick Response Teams (QRT) in Sector Center.
  • Two EOD QRT in Sector West.
  • Four Demining Sections.

HALO Trust
HALO Trust provides a number of personnel, including:

  • Ten 28-person manual clearance teams.
  • Nine mechanical clearance teams.
  • Four 8-person mechanical units.
  • One 7-person CHUBBY route clearance team.
  • One 3-person dog team.
  • Two 8-person EOD teams.
  • Two 5-person Survey teams.
  • One mine-marking team.

RONCO consists of:

  • Seven Explosive Detection dogs (EDD) and handlers.

RONCO/EDA is made up of:

  • Two 60-person manual clearance teams.

Mines Awareness Trust
Mine Awareness Trust contains the following teams:

  • Four 4-person community based facilitators developing a community-based MRE program to implement in both Sector West and Center.

Mine/UXO Clearance Operations

In 2001, the MACC consolidated its position within the UNMEE concept of operations and orchestrated an extremely productive capability. Several new appointments have arrived to complement
the existing MACC infrastructure, bringing a wealth of experience from other programs such as Yemen, Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Iraq and Azerbaijan.

Clearance activities have centered on the TSZ, primarily in the Western and Central Sectors. Priority is given to clearing areas where there is a confirmed landmine and UXO threat that impacts the local population or potential refugee population.

Large areas of the TSZ were surveyed by the HALO Trust. A comprehensive National Landmine Impact Survey will be undertaken in 2002. This will permit an extensive review of dangerous areas and the allocation of resources, including MRE programs and mine victim support activities. This will be extensively supported by the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) database.

Mine contamination is extensive, and most common mine types have been encountered within the region. The UXO contamination problem, while not unique, is responsible for a great percentage of accidents, particularly with teenage males, who are attracted to the shape and color of UXO and investigate objects out of boredom or curiosity.

A recent spate of incidents caused by deeply buried AT mine is a reason for concern and has led to the MACC working actively with the UNMEE force and related agencies in a concerted attempt to defeat the menace.

Training and National Capacity Building

With the arrival of additional international personnel, a training development plan has been mapped out, which focuses on building national capacity. Basic demining and team leader courses have been successfully completed, with Train-the-Trainer and Technical Survey courses to follow shortly. The focus of Train-the-Trainer courses will be to provide a core of national training cadre to staff the proposed National Training Center, which is to be designed and constructed at Asha Golgol, outside Asmara.

This training center will be responsible for all national demining training activities and will be managed under direction of the Eritrean Mine Action Program (EMAP). The focus of this project is to build a sustainable national capacity for all demining activities in Eritrea.

EOD/UXO Problem and Solution

Eritrea has a serious UXO contamination problem; some 200,000—250,000 mines and three million pieces of UXO are said to be present in Eritrea. Older sources estimate between 500,000 and one million landmines. Either way, the amount of UXO littering Eritrea outnumbers the landmines by at best 3:1 and at worst 15:1. Perhaps as many as three million pieces of UXO remain at large in Eritrea. The majority of women and children killed or injured in Eritrea as a result of the debris of war in recent times have been struck down by UXO and not by landmines.

The range of UXO types encountered in Eritrea varies, although, as in most conflict environments, the vast majority are comprised of the smaller weapons of war such as grenades (including an array of rocket-propelled grenades), mortars and artillery projectiles. There are significant numbers of other items, ranging from cluster munitions and large airdropped bombs to projectile carriers and rockets. To date there have been no reports of chemical or biological weapons being discovered, and the booby trap threat remains low.

The majority of explosive ordnance is of American or Russian origin, but items of UXO are encountered from other countries such as Italy, Yugoslavia and China. The historical range of UXO in Eritrea is wide, including items left over from World War II as well as the more recent debris from the 30-year struggle. The majority of the UXO contamination is in the TSZ, but other historical battle sites (such as Nakfa and Keren in the north of the country and Massawa on the east coast) remain a threat.

Currently, there are insufficient EOD assets to cope with the UXO problem in time to ensure the security of returning IDP and refugees. This is not only due to the deficiency of appropriately trained personnel, but also to the geographical scale of the problem that leads to poor response times for EOD incidents.

However, a 12-month EOD development plan has been developed to provide EOD trained personnel at all levels. The indigenous EOD capacity will be capable of planning, coordinating, conducting and monitoring EOD operations independently of international supervision. Another move is afoot to provide direct EOD support to Mine Awareness Education (MAE) teams working in those areas most at risk.

MAE teams are placed ideally to collect information on the whereabouts of UXO and, in many instances, are presented with the problem directly by the people they are working with. By providing direct EOD support, the UXO problem can be handled most efficiently, ensuring the safety of the MAE teams and the local population, which rapidly reduces the contamination problem and builds confidence within the community.

Quality Assurance

The QA department of the UNMEE MACC currently consists of a Chief of QA with two International Supervisors and three National QA Inspectors. These are divided into a headquarter element and two field teams. The aim of the QA department is to develop national capacities to assume responsibility for these functions in the future.

The QA department performs a number of roles and is tasked with accreditation, licensing, monitoring and conducting investigations. The responsibilities are achieved by implementing a comprehensive accreditation and licensing process based on the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) as well as other mine action program documentation, from which the QA department has developed National Technical and Safety Standards (TSS). The TSS are fundamentals that all agencies and NGO have to follow in order to receive accreditation and licensing before working in the mission area.

Once the accreditation and licensing process is completed, the QA department shifts its attention to the field monitoring of the agency by performing a QA site inspection at each work site of the agency at least once a month. This is supplemented by unannounced visits. The QA visit/inspection consists of evaluating and compiling a report on the particular site as well as conducting samplings in accordance with the TSS. The site manager signs a copy of the report, and a copy is left with him. The original report is forwarded to the Chief of QA who compiles all the reports on a monthly basis with a cover letter and forwards them to the respective agencies for action.

The QA approach being implemented in Eritrea is effective at this early stage of the program; the numbers of non-compliance are generally low, and to date there have been no demining-related accidents.


One of the mandates of the MACC is to provide mine action information to UNMEE, other UN agencies, NGOs and mine action agencies working in Eritrea. This includes the collection, processing and dissemination of all mine-related information.

The primary tool in the management of mine action information is the IMSMA database. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) and the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) in Switzerland have developed the IMSMA software. It is currently installed in 22 countries worldwide and serves as a perfect tool to implement IMAS standards through software among other functions.

Among the complimentary data of MACC is a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) with various digital maps of the scale 1:1,000,000 to 1:100,000 from different sources. This is operated through Arcview software. Additional small databases to support IMSMA have been developed in-house on the basis of MS Access or have been adapted from external sources. They maintain information about mine risk education, field questionnaire results, administrative data, etc.

All IMSMA, GIS and relational database data is stored physically in the computer system of MACC, which consists of a series of networked PCs operating on Windows 2000. The main features, which are collected through standard IMSMA forms by mine action agencies, the Eritrean Defence Force and individuals consist of:

  • Dangerous area surveys.

  • Minefield surveys.

  • Clearance (completion) reports.

  • Mine incident and accident reports.

  • MRE data with activity reports and questionnaire data.

This data is mainly displayed and printed in the form of maps (in A3 to A0 format). Most of them are requested with a 1:100,000 topographic background, which is derived either from scanned image maps (raster files) or from vectorized maps (shape files).

Attention is given to full transparency of the system, which includes documentation, user guidelines (manuals), a metadata bank, and the following assumption about conventions and information system standards: "If a system is not transparent and well documented, it will not contain information, but just data."

The databases of the MACC are considered as part of a service function to users for optimal provision and coordination of mine action. There is an "open data" policy at the MACC that encourages the release of information to anybody who can make appropriate use of the information and resources. The section currently handles some 15-30 requests for maps and reports per week.

The following additional activities are planned to enhance the information system at MACC in 2002:

  • Integrating management tools in software and data compilation to enable the system to move one step beyond the "inventory only" status and to give adequate tools to the management in terms of planning resources, timeframes, budgets and constraints.

  • Integrating MRE into mine action (with mine awareness achievements, field work and questionnaire results).

  • Integrating a scheme for quality control of data to enhance and monitor data quality.

  • Disseminating data and electronic access to data through the Internet and/or e-mail.

  • Analyzing data (including summaries, breakdown analysis, statistical processing, presentations, etc.) for better use by management levels and decision makers.

  • Continuing to improve data.

Mine Risk Education Strategy for Eritrea

Starting in 1994, limited MRE activities in Eritrea were conducted in the context of the Eritrean Humanitarian Demining Program (EHDP). These were subsequently suspended in 1998 due to the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

After the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and the establishment of the TSZ in 2000, UNHCR, with the technical support of UNICEF and the Eritrean Demining Agency (EDA), resumed MRE efforts in the form of emergency activities in the regions of Tessenei and Gash Barka. These activities were mainly concerned with the returning refugees and IDPs.

Since 2000, UNICEF, whose mandate under the UN mine action policy is to assume responsibility for MAE activities, has been mobilizing the necessary financial and human resources to conduct and ensure immediate and long-term MRE programs in Eritrea.

In collaboration with the UNMEE MACC, EMAP and EDA, UNICEF first launched critical emergency awareness activities in high-risk areas of Gash Barka and Debub. In the meantime, UNICEF has assigned a full-time mine awareness coordinator to the UNMEE MACC to ensure a strong and long-term integration of MRE with all other ongoing mine action activities in Eritrea.

The UNICEF MRE Coordinator assists EMAP, EDA, UNMEE MACC, government ministries, UN agencies and NGOs in developing a comprehensive and well-integrated MRE program. This program aims to address the emergency and longer-term MRE needs of high-risk communities throughout Eritrea. In this context, EMAP, in cooperation with UNICEF and UNMEE MACC, has already established an inter-agency MRE working group, which consists of UN agencies, national and international government ministries, agencies and NGOs, as well as mine clearance organizations. The group meets monthly in Asmara. A similar working group has been established on a regional level. This group also meets regularly. In August 2001, UNICEF sponsored an inter-agency MRE workshop in Asmara to review emergency MRE activities in Eritrea and to identify key aspects of longer-term MRE strategy for Eritrea, emphasizing improved implementation, capacity building, coordination, monitoring and evaluation.

These early efforts, driven by UNICEF, have led to the formal development of a long-term MRE strategy for Eritrea. This official MRE strategy supports the overall UN mine action strategy for Eritrea. Based on the MRE needs identified by UNICEF in its early stages of involvement in Eritrea, several goals and objectives have been established for Eritrea’s long-term planning of MRE operations.

The main goal of the Eritrean MRE program is to reduce the number of mine/UXO-related accidents and incidents among high-risk populations in the TSZ and adjacent areas through a comprehensive, well-integrated and multifaceted MRE program. The Eritrean MRE program aims at institutional and local capacity building, MRE community facilitator’s training, coordination and reporting mechanism establishment and the MAE integration into mine action and other humanitarian sectors.

The following is a list of the program’s specific objectives:

  • Establishing a national institutional MRE capacity.

  • Coordinating MRE activities at the national and regional level.

  • Integrating MRE activities with mine action and other humanitarian sectors.

  • Establishing national MRE training capacity.

  • Conducting community-based MRE in affected communities and for IDP.

  • Conducting MRE for returning refugees and following up with their respective communities.

  • Incorporating MRE into the school system.

  • Developing a mass media strategy for MRE.

  • Conducting landmine safety training for peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel.

The author would like to acknowledge his fellow colleagues at the MACC. In particular, he would like to thank the EOD/Training Officer, The Chief of QA and the Chief of MRE, who assisted in the drafting of their respective areas of expertise. He would also like to thank the Chief of Information, who assembled the final product and did a lot of work on the presentation. Finally, he would like to acknowledge other useful MACC source documents that were not attributed to a specific author, which helped provide a background on the landmine problem in Eritrea.

*All photos courtesy of UN/DPI

Contact Information

Bob Kudyba
Operations Officer
United Nations Mission In Ethiopia and Eritrea
Mine Action Coordination Center
P.O. Box 920
Tel: +(291-1) 151991-2115
Fax: +(291-1) 150666/151991-2108

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