Government ratifies mine ban treaty

Oct.28, 2003 (IRIN)

The government of Sudan has completed its ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty six years after signing it, thereby committing itself to destroying all stockpiled antipersonnel mines within four years and clearing all mined areas in the country within 10 years.

The ban will come into force on 1 April 2004, and will commit Sudan to destroying its stocks by 1 April 2008, to demining all affected areas by 1 April 2014 and to reporting to the UN Secretary-General on measures taken to implement the treaty in a year's time.

The move follows the footsteps of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which signed a parallel Deed of Commitment to ban landmines in 2001, committing itself to a "total ban" on landmines, including a "complete prohibition" on the use, production, stockpiling, or transfer of mines, as well as an undertaking to destroy any in its possession.

Welcoming the decision, Rae McGrath, the country representative of Land Mine Action, told IRIN it was time for the international community to assist Sudan, now that the political will was there to change the status quo.

"No country can take on the task without financial and technical assistance from the international community," he said. "It is quite clear that mines in Sudan have come from the former Soviet Union, China and European countries such as Italy and Belgium, and that they have profited from it. There is a responsibility to support the process so that peace now means peace," he said.

While the landmine situation in Sudan has not been properly surveyed, McGrath said Sudan undoubtedly had a "major problem". Any areas of long-term conflict, or towns that had been under siege were likely to have landmines, he added.

Despite the international commitments made by the government and the SPLM/A, both sides have repeatedly accused each other of continuing to use mines.

A UN Mine Action Service official reported that government garrisons evacuated under the terms of the Nuba Mountains ceasefire agreement were ringed by antipersonnel mines. Other incidents of mine-laying were also reported - but not confirmed - around the southern oil fields of Bentiu, particularly around Ler, in western Upper Nile, as well as Yuai, Waat, and Akobo in Upper Nile, according to the Landmine Monitor Report 2003, compiled by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

On many occasions in recent years the government had stated that it did not produce, import, or export antipersonnel mines, and that it had no stockpile, according to the report. But a fax received from the Sudanese Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs in July 2003 stated that it had "very few mines in storage, and the ones in storage are used for practice only", which was at odds with previous statements, it said.

Government-backed militia groups, who may not feel "bound" by international legal obligations, have repeatedly been accused of using mines.

The government has also accused the SPLA of using mines in Eastern Equatoria, as well as in other areas.

In March 2003 Nhial Deng, the chairman of the SPLM Commission for External Relations, Information and Humanitarian Affairs, conceded that "there may have been limited mine use by the SPLA", but that it had not found anyone actually using mines.

Deng reported that the SPLA leadership was "too preoccupied with peace talks" to have fully discussed the mine issue with its members, and said incidents of mine use were due to a lack of information among junior officers.

But "it also appears that senior officers are confused about or unaware of restriction on mine use," says the Landmine Monitor Report.

Nevertheless, mine clearance remains an important issue for a peaceful Sudan, according to both sides. "One of the first issues that needs to feature prominently in the pre-interim period is the landmine issue," Deng stated. "Mines are still causing problems despite the ceasefire. If peace returns and people begin to move and cultivate, mines will inevitably become more of a problem," he said.

An SPLM/A workshop held in Kapoeta county at the end of last month made a series of recommendations on how to implement the landmine ban, including giving direct orders to commanders and soldiers not to use mines under any circumstances; introducing a mine-ban curriculum in training for the SPLM; and introducing laws to ban mines and penal sanctions for those who disobey.

"In general, a change of attitude regarding the use of landmines needs to be fostered," said a summary of the recommendations. "Signing the Deed of Commitment is not enough if there is no political will, and without the support of the people, nothing can be done," it said.

In the Nuba mountains, where mine clearance has begun, progress has been slow due to mistrust on both sides. As of mid-2003, both the government and the SPLM/A had only provided information on the boundaries of minefields and mined routes, without any maps, detailed information or numbers of landmines, the ICBL reported.

According to Commander Abd al-Aziz Adam al-Hulw, the SPLA governor of the region, the SPLA has only agreed to "very limited" demining of roads in the region, because it continues to fear a breakdown of the ceasefire.