History of Minelaying
Somaliland is an unrecognised de-facto independent state located in northwest Somalia in the Horn of Africa.
During colonial times, the region was the British Somaliland Protectorate. It did not join a united Somalia until 1960. British Somaliland became independent on 26th June 1960 as the State of Somaliland, and Italian Somaliland's independence came four days later, whereupon the two entities immediately merged on 1st July 1960 as the Somali Republic. Between 1981 and 1991, the Somali National Movement (SNM), a rebel army of mostly northern Somali followers, waged an armed insurrection against the regime of Mohamed Said Barre and his Somali National Army (SNA). This period saw the indiscriminate use of landmines against the civilian population, their homes and farmlands.
In 1991, after the collapse of the central government in Somalia, the people of Somaliland declared an independent Republic of Somaliland that now includes six of the eighteen administrative regions of Somalia.
The majority of the landmine problem in Somaliland comes as a result of over 18 years of warfare. Most of the minefields were laid during 1979 - 1988 war between Somalia and Ethiopia (known as the Ogoden war) and later during Somalia civil war in 1988-1991 that led to Somaliland’s de-facto independence. It’s believed that some additional minefields were laid during the more recent conflict over border disputes between Somaliland and Puntland.
In general, minefields in Somaliland fall into one of the following groups:
- Border defence. Laid in the 1970’s by the Somalia National Army (SNA) consisting of anti-personnel (AP) and anti-tank (AT) mines to prevent mechanized assault by Ethiopia during and immediately after the Ogaden war.
- Border defence. Laid in the 1980’s by the SNA (mostly AP) to prevent incursions by the Somaliland National Movement (SNM) and other rebel groups operating from Ethiopia - and later laid in the disputed areas in Somaliland and Puntland border.
- Base defence. Perimeter minefields laid in the 1980’s by the SNA around military positions on or near the border (AP & AT) to protect against attacks.
- Routes. Laid by the SNM on roads and tracks used by the SNA in order to disrupt logistics.
And to a lesser extent:
- Routes. Laid by the SNA on tracks running towards Ethiopia to prevent refugee exodus.
- Factional/Clan. Sporadic mining based around land or blood-feud disputes.
The most recent use of landmines in Somaliland took place between 1994 and 1995 when militias opposed to the regime of Somaliland President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and loyalist forces fought fierce battles in Hargeisa (the capital) and areas south and east of Hargeisa.
In 2009 the Somaliland House of Representatives approved legislation banning the use of anti-personnel (AP) mines.
The urban centres of Somaliland, in particular the capital Hargeisa, were heavily mined with mines laid around refugee camps, private houses and airports.
Large perimeter anti-tank and anti-personnel minebelts, were established surrounding military camps; minefields were created along the border with Ethiopia; roads, paths, bridges and water storage areas were mined, as were areas surrounding smaller military positions. Many of these areas remain uncleared and therefore unused due to the threat of mines and all remain a serious and real threat to the local population.
The majority of mines found in Somaliland are plastic-bodied minimum metal mines. This combined with rocky, laterized, metal contaminated ground and inconsistent depths at which the mines were laid, makes detection of mines difficult.
The war between Ethiopia and Somalia left behind large amounts of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Somaliland, with thousands of items of UXO littering Hargeisa and other regional centres. The existence of mines and UXO in Somaliland threatens the lives and livelihoods of both sedentary and nomadic populations.
HALO teams have come across evidence of explosives having been harvested from mines, (in particular anti-tank mines), and explosive ordnance, for illegal re-sale or re-use. Explosive harvesting is potentially harmful to country-wide and regional security and stability.
HALO continues to state that the only way to remove the impact that mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) have on a population in as short a timeframe as possible is through large scale mineclearance operations.
HALO currently operates from two locations in Somaliland. The program headquarters is based in Hargeisa that provides support to HALO operations in the west of the country. In 2010 HALO opened a new location in Burao ahead of the programme expansion to the east of the country.
HALO’s program in Somaliland was established in 1999 and employs over 630 national staff members. HALO operates 60 mine action teams in Somaliland slit between 48 manual clearance teams, two battle area clearance (BAC) teams, two explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams, one survey team, three mechanical teams, two mine risk education (MRE) teams and two Community Outreach Risk Education (CORE) teams. This capacity is deployed across all six regions of Somaliland from Awdal region in the north-west to the regions of Sool and Sanaag in the east.
More recently, HALO has been conducting a re-assessment to identify the remaining mine problem and the assets required to clear the remaining minefields in a realistic timeframe, to take Somaliland towards a 'mine-impact-free' state.
In support of this, HALO is speeding up demining operations in Somaliland by expanding its manual and mechanical capacity and continues trialling new equipment and procedures that have the potential to dramatically improve clearance rates, reducing the amount of time required for HALO to remain in Somaliland. As an example, with the introduction of new detectors, many of the difficulties faced by Somaliland’s laterized soil have been overcome in recent years allowing for great increases in productivity over previous manual clearance techniques.
As of March 2014, HALO has cleared over 1,360 hectares of mined land and over 18,340 hectares of former battlefield areas which has been returned to local communities. During this process, over 250,000 explosive items (landmines and ammunition) have been destroyed from 310 minefields and battle areas. Cleared land, that has been put to immediate productive use either for grazing or agriculture, access to water reservoirs, markets, neighbouring communities and village/town expansion has had a significant impact on communities and their livelihoods.
Besides conducting clearance for humanitarian and development benefits, HALO is also addressing the problem of explosive security. A Weapons and Ammunition Disposal (WAD) program has been established to work with both the police and the military to assist in the safe storage of ammunition and rehabilitation of weapon armouries.
Requirement for Continued Clearance
There remains a clear requirement for continued support of humanitarian mineclearance operations to avoid casualties, and so that the population of Somaliland is no longer impacted by the threat of mines and ERW.
HALO estimates that another 4 years of mineclearance are required to declare this region mine-impact-free. HALO will continue to concentrate the intervention in Somaliland throughout all six regions. As of March 2014, there are 208 confirmed hazardous areas that require further clearance in Somaliland. Some 10 square kilometres are contaminated by landmines and a further 15 square kilometres are contaminated by Explosive Remnants of War other than landmines. The vast majority of the remaining minefields in Somaliland are roads which block rural communities’ access to markets and infrastructure. Other minefields principally block agricultural and grazing land - two activities that currently form the backbone of Somaliland’s economy.
HALO Somaliland is supported by the United States Department of State Office of Weapons Removal & Abatement (PM/WRA), and the Governments of Germany, Finland, The Netherlands, Norway and Ireland. In the past, HALO Somaliland was also funded by the United Kingdom (DFID), Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and The Julia Burke Foundation.
HALO Somaliland is currently looking to further increase the number of donors and therefore increase the clearance capacity to deal with the remaining threat. Further expansion of the program will ensure faster clearance of the minefields, particularly in the east of the country.