After 19 years of civil war, the people of Angola were able to celebrate Christmas and New Year in peace, thanks to the accord signed on Nov 20 between the government and the rebel forces known as Unita (the National union for the total independence of Angola). In the capital city of Luanda and its suburban areas residents have been repairing and color-washing their dilapidated houses and shanty dwellings as confidence in the peace grows.
A UN Security Council resolution dispatched 500 unarmed UN personnel to monitor the ceasefire is a further step in the right direction for the implementation of the peace accord.
Meanwhile, one of the worst legacies of war in Angola is a generation of amputees. Innocent civilians are the main victims of antipersonnel mines that have been indiscriminately laid all over the country. The new and somewhat shaky peace does nothing to reduce the impact of these killers, designed as they are to stay active for decades.
The government has taken the first steps in the long and difficult process of demining by bringing in a British mine advisory which has located a few mine fields and started a demining program.
It is estimated that there are more than nine million anti-personnel mines sown over Angolas 1,246,700 square kilometers second only to Afghanistan, where more than 10 million mines have been indiscriminately laid by combatants. Even though Unita is said to be keeping its combined armed forces of approximately 200,000 rebel forces who are yet to be disarmed and quartered. It is generally accepted that the combatants fire power has been greatly subdued by the peace accord, except for occasional allegations of skirmishes. Bur anti-personnel mines continue to take their tolls with reports of 100 150 people maimed and several killed each month, as civilians venture into their fields or into forests for firewood or timber to repair houses.
Anti-personnel mines were designed to disable the enemy, thereby introducing an element of fear to advancing armies. They are also designed to protect installations, army facilities, demilitarized zones and national borders. Since 1945, however, they have been used as strategic offensive weapons to control civilian populations.
There an estimated 300 models of anti-personnel mines, all designed to maim or kill by and igniting fragmentation due to foot pressure, which normally leads to amputation of the limbs. In rural areas, few victims die mostly as a result of profuse bleeding and lack of medical facilities. Normally the limbs affected have to be amputated and replaced with artificial limbs.
Demining is said to very difficult because the ordinance factories which manufacture anti-personnel mines often change their designs and materials. Plastics have largely replaced metal and in some instances, no metal is used in their manufacture and their chances of detection is simply not possible. They are also becoming smaller and cheaper now, costing less than (Thai) B.75 per mine which is another factor for their widespread uses on roads, bridges, agricultural land, forests and other public places used by civilians.
The International Committee for the Red Cross Society, which is the chief proponent of international measures to curb anti-personnel mines, said in a recent statement: The problem is exacerbated by the fact that it is extremely difficult to remove mines. Modern plastic mines are virtually undetectable and their removal is painstaking slow and a very dangerous operation. For example, it has been estimated that with the present methods, it could take more than 4,300 years to clear 20 per cent of the land in Afghanistan. In 10 months of demining operations in Kuwait following the Gulf War, 84 specialists were killed. A number of areas are so difficult t clear that they have simply been cordoned off and cannot be used again.
The United Nations adopted a land mine protocol the Inhumane Weapons Convention and Protocol II in 1980, but to it, now only 39 countries have become signatories to the protocol which is envisaged to safeguard the civilian population in warfare from the dangers of antipersonnel mines. Initiatives taken in February last year, and expected to be finalized in 1995, will revise the 1980 convention to define more carefully these weapons and control their use or ban their manufacture and use altogether.
Since 1989, the United Nations has taken up the responsibility of demining following internal conflicts. The mining program consists of mine-awareness and a clearance training; minefield surveys; planning, management and clearance.
The search of mines has already started in Angola. Demining experts are training a group of Angolans to prepare them for the demining program and the government has decided to support a prevention program which will focus on identifying the worst minefields.
Meanwhile, the social impact of mine victims, many of them young amputees, is traumatic and training is needed to get them back into the mainstream of the society. One hospital near Luanda makes prostheses, but it cant hope to meet the growing demand.
The government, with the help of international agencies and nongovernmental organizations is sparing no effort to meet the new post-war challenges of the mines.