YEMEN: Landmines stall IDP returns to the south
ADEN, June 27 — When Yemen’s Defence Ministry announced in mid-June that militants of the Ansar al-Sharia group, which had controlled the southern governorate of Abyan since May 2011, had been routed, 40-year-old Saleh Salim Abu Khalil decided to go and check on his home in Al-Kood District.
Khalil’s plan was to bring his six-member family home after they were displaced to Aden almost a year ago. Shortly after arriving in the district, however, he was killed by a landmine.
“On the second day of his visit, we were deeply concerned why he hadn’t called us back as he promised,” his wife Khadija told IRIN. “On the third day, we got the bad news that he was killed in a landmine explosion.”
In nearby al-Mahfad District, a man called Salim Atef was killed on 24 June - with his wife and three children injured - in a blast at their home: It turned out that one of the children had inadvertently brought a UXO remnant into the house, local witnesses told IRIN.
According to local officials, landmines are a primary obstacle to the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Aden and Lahj governorates.
Jaar local council member Mohsen Bin Jameela, who has been displaced with his family in Aden since July 2011, said several dozen families whose homes are undamaged, have decided not to return after hearing that landmines are claiming lives on a daily basis.
Secretary-General of Zinjibar local council Ghassan Faraj said at least 42 people have been killed in landmine blasts in the governorate over the past two weeks.
“Twenty nine of them have been killed in Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan Governorate, another nine in Jaar District and four in al-Kood Distirct,” he told IRIN. “Dozens of others have been wounded. In Zinjibar town, traces of planted landmines are very visible in the main streets and suburbs. As a result, most of the town’s inhabitants couldn’t return home.”
On May 12th, the army launched a large-scale offensive, driving Ansar Al-Sharia militants out of almost all areas previously under their control. Hundreds of militants and dozens of soldiers were killed, according to the Defense Ministry.
Official statistics indicate that more than 100,000 people were displaced from Abyan to neighboring Aden and Lahj governorates as a result of clashes between the army and Ansar al-Sharia militants.
Efforts are under way to demine the area. On June 13th the National Mine Action Programme (NMAP) began to clear landmines in Zinjibar, Jaar, Khanfar and Lawder districts. “A large number of anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines have been planted… Clearing the entire governorate of landmines may take more than three months,” Mansour al-Azi, director of NMAP, told IRIN.
Engineering teams have removed more than 3,000 landmines and UXO remnants around Zinjibar and Jaar cities, according to a report by the Governor’s Office in Abyan.
On June 19th Yemen’s cabinet ordered NMAP to demine all districts which have been under the control of Ansar al-Sharia militants, according to Mohammed Al-Shaddadi, a member of parliament from Abyan who attended the meeting.