Ethiopia, Meet Eritrea:
An Overview of the Landmine Situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea as a Result
of the Border Conflict
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Sparked by a controversy over Eritrean seaports, Ethiopia and Eritrea
were drawn into a three-year border war that took numerous lives and
permanently injured an already struggling economy. Now that the fighting
has ceased and negotiations are being conducted, United Nations and
humanitarian aid organizations are working to piece the two broken nations
back together and eliminate the landmine threat.
by Susanna Sprinkel, MAIC
Stick two children in a room together, and they will immediately become
friends. Give one of them a toy, and the other is likely to go through
extreme measures to take it away. Ethiopia, meet Eritrea. Although the two
countries are in no way like children, the story of the border war is much
the same. Once Eritrea gained independence in 1993, it became close allies
with neighboring country, Ethiopia. Years later, a number of upsets
occurred between the two nations that broke out into a full-fledged border
dispute lasting from 1998 to 2000. One might wonder how two nations who
were once close friends could turn so quickly into bitter enemies. It is
simple; they both wanted what they felt was rightfully theirs. The result
was years of bloodshed and a mass of landmines/UXO that would cripple the
economy for years to come.
Conditions between the two nations began to sour in 1997, when Eritrea
attempted to establish its own currency, which they hoped could be easily
exchanged throughout both nations. Later, when Ethiopia started issuing
maps with the Ethiopian Tigray Region expanding across Eritrean territory,
hostilities were exacerbated. These along with a number of other
frustrations led Eritrea to believe that Ethiopia was planning to seize
their land. Ethiopia had lost all of its seaports once Eritrea, which lies
along the Red Sea, became an independent nation. In July of 1997, Ethiopia
invaded the Eritrean village Bada, and relations continued to go down hill
Overview of Landmine Problem
Both countries were infested with landmines/UXO prior to the border
conflict, which not only halted clearance operations but also increased
the number of unexploded artilleries. The full extent of the problem is
unknown at this time, but as a part of peace and demilitarization efforts,
both countries have provided minefield records to the United Nations.
Recent estimates place 200,000–250,000 leftover landmines and three
million UXO in Eritrea alone.1 The areas that pose the greatest risk as a
result of the conflict are in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) that lies
between the two nations and in the disputed Tigray Region. Since May 2000,
157 reported casualties have occurred in the TSZ, and it is likely that
many more have gone unreported.2
Mine Action Operations
The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea Mine Action
Coordination Center (UNMEE MACC) is coordinating mine action activities in
Ethiopia and Eritrea. UNMEE MACC is working in conjunction with the
Ethiopian Mine Action Office (EMAO) and the Eritrean Mine Action Programme
(EMAP) to further develop their clearance, surveying, quality assurance,
mine risk education and victim assistance capacity. Over the course of
2002, UNMEE MACC plans to train additional demining teams, including
Mechanical Demining and Mine Detection Dog (MDD) teams, perform a Landmine
Impact Survey of contaminated areas and develop a rapid response network.
UNMEE Slovakian deminer at work. c/o
Clearance and Surveying
In Eritrea, seven non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have sent teams to
perform clearance and surveying activities. These include the Eritrean
Demining Agency (EDA), the Danish Church Aid (DCA), the Danish Demining
Group (DDG), HALO Trust, RONCO and RONCO/EDA. Altogether they have over 60
manual clearance, mechanical clearance, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD),
MDD, survey and marking teams working in Eritrea. Current clearance
efforts are focused on the TSZ, and plans are being made for activities in
other contaminated regions.
Mine Risk Education
As refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) return to their native
lands, there is an increased need for Mine Risk Education (MRE) in
Ethiopia and Eritrea. The greatest concern is for the children who have
been separated from their families during the dispute. United Nations
International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is working with the UNMEE
MACC to develop MRE programs in refugee camps and other high priority
areas. MRE efforts are being focused on the Tigray and Afar regions of
Ethiopia and several high-risk communities in Eritrea. These efforts
include developing a classroom mine awareness curriculum and airing radio
broadcasts of the local problem. Additionally, UNICEF officials plan to
train aid and relief workers not only how to avoid the landmine threat but
also how to spread awareness to others.
Even though Ethiopia and Eritrea are two of the world’s poorest countries,
both were fully equipped with artilleries from previous conflicts.
Governmental and humanitarian organizations are now working to restore the
economic stability of both nations who lost nearly 100,000 lives in this
brutal dispute. On April 13, 2002, a clear borderline was finally
established, and one can only hope that these two countries, whose people
are exhausted from fighting and fleeing, can become allies once more.
1. Bob Kudyba, UNMEE MACC. “Ethiopia and Eritrea Mine Action Coordination
Center: UNMEE MACC.” Journal of Mine Action. Issue 6.1. pp.13-17.
2. UNMEE MACC.
May 2, 2002.
Mine Action Information Center
Tel: (540) 568-2810