Landmines trigger panic among Al-Hasaba residents

Published on 9 April 2012 in Report
Ghayda Al-Ariqi (author)

Ghayda Al-Ariqi


The residents of Al-Hasaba district in downtown Sana'a are afraid to walk the streets of their neighborhood, the scene of fierce battles last year between Saleh's forces and opposition tribesmen, for fear of stepping on a landmine. Several landmines have already exploded in Al-Hasaba, leaving people maimed.

In May of last year, an armed conflict broke out between security forces loyal to the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and supporters of the powerful tribal chief Sadeq al-Ahmar. The war did not last long. However, tensions remained high for almost a year.

Some mines have exploded in the past several months in the neighborhood, leaving two military personnel with an amputated leg.

Abdulhakim Al-Sharabi, the Chief Security Officer of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, located in Al-Hasaba, said that seven of his colleagues were wounded when a landmine exploded near the ministry.

Additionally, a boy lost his leg when an object he had mistaken for being a toy detonated near a wall of the ministry.

Abdu Al-Nahari, and Nabil Saed, both shop owners in the area, told the Yemen Times that there are landmines in Al-Hasaba. However, they stressed that the neighborhood is now more secure, after security forces demined some of the area.

"The ministry of Trade and Industry had been mined. But special teams demined the place in early March. Some mines were found in the ministry's mosque," said the guards at the gate of the Trade and Industry Ministry.

However locals believe that mines remain in some parts of Al-Hasaba.

The guards pointed out that the mines were being laid by security forces in a bid to deter Al-Ahmar tribal militias from seizing government institutions during last May's pitched battles. Despite this, Al-Ahmar's followers managed to take control of many government facilities in the area.

On December 4, 1997 Yemen signed the UN Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction in Ottawa, Canada. The UN convention was ratified in Yemen on September 1st 1998, according to Muneer Al-Saqqaf, General Secretary of the Legal Affairs Ministry.

Mansour  Ezzi, the director of Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC), told the Yemen Times that there are more than 828 type of mines, 529 of which are anti-personnel. He pointed out that only nine types of mines have been used in Yemen so far.

The residents of Al-Hasaba noted that unlike most of the government institutions, the area within the vicinity of the offices of the Standing Committee of the former ruling General People's Congress is completely empty of mines.    

“If we take into consideration the constant movement in the area, we realize that it's not mined. If it had been mined, you would not see anyone walking in the area,” Ezzi said.

However, he noted that there are unexploded projectiles in the area and that they are potentially even more dangerous than landmines. 

YT: Has Al-Hasaba been mined?

Ezzi: We were surprised when we heard that a mine had exploded in Al-Hasaba because its streets are paved and the area is densely populated.

Keeping in mind that the area has some of the busiest streets in Yemen's capital and is one of the most populated districts, I wouldn't think it had been mined at all.

However, there are unexploded shells in the area and these shells are likely scattered in Al-Hasaba.

So far, YEMAC has not started its job in Al-Hasaba, and we don't have adequate information about the situation there to do so.

Al-Hasaba is a very sensitive area that we cannot start sweeping until we have direct orders from the government.

YT: Do mines look different from shells?

Ezzi: Of course. The projectiles are the shells of rockets, artillery, or tanks. They were meant to hit a certain target, but sometimes they don't explode.

If these unexploded projectiles detonate, they are far more dangerous than landmines. Mines target the leg and maim whoever steps on them. However, the projectiles can hit many people at the same time, and they leave people dead, with their limbs scattered all over the place.

The projectiles represent no threat if no one touches them. The only ones who should deal with these projectiles are special teams from the YEMAC.

YT: Who is responsible for laying the mines?

Ezzi: Mines are laid when there is an armed conflict between two states or two armed groups. The mines are used for defensive purposes. Laying mines is easy, simple and affordable. A landmine may cost only $3-13. But clearing a mine is very expensive, as we have first to sweep the whole area in order to find it.

YT: Based on your experience in the field of mines, what do they look like?

Ezzi: If I'm to talk about both the anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, there are more than 828 types of mines, 529 of which are anti-personnel. In Yemen, only 9 types of mines have been used across the country.

YT: Is it possible that some areas in Sana'a have been mined?

Ezzi: Sana'a has been declared a mine-free area. However, it’s not clear regarding unexploded projectiles.

YT: Why has the mine-clearing program been suspended?

Ezzi: Actually, the program has not been completely suspended, as we have been working since 2010, but in a limited capacity.

Unfortunately, we are constrained by financial problems. Our limited work was due to deficient support from the international donors.

Although the support was not sufficient, I thank the USA, Germany, EU states and Australia, as they have been the only source of support recently.

YT: Would you like to say anything to the new National Unity Government and the donors regarding the demining program or people's safety?

Ezzi: I urge the government to put the issue of landmines and projectiles on top of its agenda at the Friends of Yemen meeting, the Donors Conference and the UN, as they represent a very grave danger.

I would like to say to the donors of Yemen that your first package of support helped us go a long way. Hence, I call on them to continue their financial support during this difficult period and not to abandon us at this stage, especially since we are close to declaring Yemen a nation free of mines, in accordance with the Ottawa agreement.

Also, I would like to urge Yemen's citizens, whether they are in Al-Hasaba or elsewhere, to report any strange objects they find to the police and to YEMAC, and never to touch the objects.