Landmines remain problem on Ethiopian, Eritrean borders

The main humanitarian issue in the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict is the plethora of landmines at the border threatening the lives of many. The UNMEE de-mining department has issued various reports relating to the safety of the civilians living near the Temporary Security Zone.

I spoke with a UNMEE official in the humanitarian department about the mine issue and the many problems that have been faced. There are currently a number of de-mining companies from countries such as the United States, South Africa and Kenya working on this region. However, working at the border has not been easy for them.

The mines at the border come from four different wars; from the colonial war, the war of Eritrean independence from Ethiopia, the Ogaden War between Ethiopia and Somalia and the recent conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Regardless of when the mines were planted, the fact remains they have severely injured some and killed others. In the last conflict it is estimated a total of 500,000 people were moved from the border in fear of the war and the mines. The main problem the UNMEE official pointed out is there are mines in the region that have not been recorded. This has posed some difficulty for the de-mining workers, as well as for the local population. According to the official, both Ethiopia and Eritrea initially refused to give the UNMEE the maps of where the mines were laid. The two countries were refractory for a simple reason: they did not have maps for all the mines that had been laid. In the town of Shilalo, Eritrea, there have been some anti-tank mines that have been discovered that are not mapped. This is also the case in the town of Senafe, Ethiopia.

Many of the mines that have injured people are unexploded ordnances. UXOs are munitions that have been fired, but remain unexploded. Other types of mines include the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. In Eritrea alone there are about 26 types of mines from different countries in the world such as the United States, the former Soviet Union, Belgium, Yugoslavia, China and Germany.

Many of the mines have been laid near the capital city of Eritrea, Asmara. About 10 km from Asmara a man was driving a truck when he drove over an anti-tank mine. This incident happened in an area that was not recorded or marked on a map as having mines. Individuals between ages seven and 14 have been the most affected by land mines. In June 2004, a 6-year-old boy saw a suspicious object. He tried to handle the object in question, which exploded in his face and killed him. Around the same time, a farmer was digging when his ax hit a land mine that exploded and killed him.

How can these casualties be avoided? The UNMEE official said the main preventive mechanism has been spreading awareness and educating the people about land mines. For those who are not reached during the educational seminars, there are plenty of signs, written in the native languages, in the area telling people where not to go and which areas have land mines. The official said civilians have learned to avoid some roads that may not be mapped as having mines, because of casualties that may have occurred on the particular road.

When one comes into contact with a mine, they either lose their lives or are severely injured. Many people have lost their limbs due to mines. The Red Cross has a Prosthetics Orthopedics Center. This center enables many who have lost their limbs to receive artificial limbs for about $2. I was invited to the center and given a chance to speak with some people who had been hurt by mines at the border. I walked in the center and saw some people who had no limbs at all. They were all sitting in a room waiting to receive their limbs.

I met three young men who had served in the Ethiopian army. Their names are Getachou Gobeze, Babeker Amdan and Isac Kalifa. Gobeze and Amdan are 25 years old, and Kalifa is 24. All three men were injured during combat in June 2000. Gobeze and Amdan were immediately taken to the army hospital in Addis Ababa in the army helicopter. After a while they were told about the Orthopedics Center where they received artificial limbs. Gobeze was shot; however, Amdan and Kalifa were injured by land mines. All three of them were injured in the legs.

The day Kalifa was injured, he was fighting in Badme, the town contested by the two governments. He remembers shooting at the Eritreans when a landmine exploded and ripped off his entire leg below his knee. He experienced excruciating pain, and he said he had never been so scared in his life.

“I was so scared, and my family was also very scared and sad for me,” Kalifa said.

When he was injured, an army official drove him to Gondar, a town near the border in the Tigray region. He was taken to the army hospital where he stayed for one month before being taken to Addis Ababa. He was advised to go to the Orthopedic Center to receive an artificial limb. All three of these men said they were not angry about the war, and they did not harbor any resentment for what had happened to them because it was their job to serve their country.

They have all gone back to school since they cannot be part of the army. Gobeze is studying marketing;

Amdan and Kalifa, on the other hand, never had the chance to go to school when they were younger, so they have decided to go to elementary school. They have new hope and inspiration thanks to Red Cross.