Fri, Dec 28, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Yemen faces land mine terror
decades after civil war ends

Those involved in eradicating land mines say these hidden killers ‘exist in every single area’ in Yemen and that anti-tank mines have even been adjusted so that a child could set them off

By Jon Gambrell and Malak Harb  /  AP, ADEN, Yemen

Illustration: Mountain People

They lurk under shifting desert sands, amid the debris of urban roadsides and inside abandoned schools, some set to go off at the lightest touch.

Land mines scattered by Yemen’s Houthi rebels are largely unmapped and are to remain a threat even if the latest push for peace succeeds in halting the conflict, those involved in their eradication say.

While the Houthis’ use of Scud and other retrofitted ballistic missiles has drawn attention for striking deep inside Saudi Arabia, their widespread use of mines represents a risk for generations to come in the Arab world’s poorest country.

“Mines today exist in every single area of Yemen,” said Ousama al-Gosaibi, the program manager for the Saudi Arabian-funded Masam demining project, during a trip to the southern city of Aden organized by the Saudi Arabian military. “It’s not being used as a defensive [or] offensive mechanism. It’s being used to terrorize the local population across Yemen.”

A Houthi official said the rebels widely use mines, but added that Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes have left behind ordinance that is just as deadly.

Yemen’s war pits the Iran-aligned Houthis against the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported on the ground by the United Arab Emirates.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in the war since 2016, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), which tracks the conflict. The fighting has displaced 2 million people, spawned a cholera epidemic and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Millions wake up hungry each day, not knowing from where their next meal will come. Many civilian deaths in the war have been blamed on Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes, which have hit markets, health facilities and weddings.

Among the dangers facing combatants and civilians alike are land mines. The Houthis looted government armories when they captured much of northern Yemen, including vast stockpiles of anti-tank mines. Anti-personnel mines also litter the country, despite the government joining a 1997 international convention banning their use.

A UN panel of experts said in 2016 that the Houthis had used land mines in their retreat from the southern city of Aden. Since 2016, land mines and other explosives planted by the Houthis have killed at least 222 civilians and wounded others in 114 incidents, ACLED said.

“Due to the difficulty of obtaining accurate estimates, these figures are likely to make up a fraction of all mine detonations involving civilians in Yemen,” ACLED said.

Making things worse is that a third of all health facilities in Yemen are closed, Yemeni Minister of Health Nasser Baoum said.

“Mines have caused a huge problem,” Baoum said. “It’s OK for an army person to be injured during battle or to be hit by a mine, but for a child to be hit while she’s in the field or on the way to fetch water, that’s a tragedy.”

Al-Gosaibi accused the Houthis of reconfiguring anti-tank mines that previously needed more than 100kg of pressure to detonate so that they require less than 10kg — meaning a child could trigger the explosive.

Yahia al-Houthi, the former director of the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center, a Houthi-controlled demining center, said the rebels use anti-tank mines, but denied tampering with them to target individuals.

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