by David Gonzalez
On a deserted Mozambican road, a boy runs after a soccer ball. Suddenly, an explosion rocks the countryside. When the dust settles, the boy lies still, his right leg twisted and bloody.

The war is over, but its consequences persist in a senseless form of violence — landmines, perhaps planted before its victims were born, during the anti-colonial struggle, the Rhodesian war, or the more recent conflict between the government and the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo).

Landmines are a nightmare for parents. “Our children are lively. They run here and there, with mines still around,” a 6O-year old man from Tete province lamented. Experts warn that children’s curiosity makes them accident-prone in mined areas, and that their bodies hardly withstand the explosion.

The use of mines against civilians is increasingly repudiated. But only one-fifth of UN member states have complied with the 1980 ban on those weapons. Although some major manufacturing countries have recently suspended landmine exports, Human Rights Watch (HRW) analyst, Steven Goose, fears that enormous technological strides are being made in industrialized countries, and that production is expanding to developing nations.

Each year, 96 manufacturers world-wide make enormous profit from producing 5-10 million Antipersonnel landmines. The United States, Italy, China, the former East Germany and Soviet Union, and particularly South Africa, produced most of the land mines planted in Mozambique and Angola.

For small countries with security problems, land mines have become an ideal defensive weapon. Highly valued for their pre-emptive effect of creating panic and destruction, and hampering enemy advances, they are also inexpensive, long-lasting and require little know-how.

Mozambique’s plight is an example of how those advantages of landmines turn into peace-time liabilities. Mercedes Sayagues, World Food Programme (WFP) regional spokesperson, related how one single mine can keep a Mozambican road closed for weeks. “Such is the power of landmines,” she stressed.

World-wide demining would cost no less than US$85 billion. With 30 million mines, Africa is the worst affected continent — ironically, the region most devoid of finance and expertise for demining.

The Mozambican peace process is often upset by landmine threats. According to Landmines in Mozambique, the HRW report, the weapons have already claimed 10,000 victims. Close to 7,000 mainly civilian casualties occurred since 1980, 500 of them after the 1992 ceasefire agreement.

There might be as many as two million landmines planted in Mozambique, so complete demining might take up to 15 years. Lack of reliable minefield maps and the existence of over 50 distinct models, from 15 different countries, further delay the clean-up.

Although the UN began to supervise a mine-clearance plan in early 1993, the government and Renamo only approved it in November. The delay was blamed on technical problems, but the HRW report claims it was caused by local political bickering and the UN’s bureaucratic procedures.

Several governments and organizations are assisting Mozambique in de-mining and training of local experts for the job, but a greater effort is needed. UN sources claimed that they had difficulties negotiating a major contract to clear some 2,000 kilometres of priority roads with European contractors who “didn’t like our proposals for checking their work”. Official Mozambican sources have criticized foreign contractors’ lack of interest in landmine-cleaning deals and accused them of looking for profit.

Surprisingly, landmines cost as little as US$3, but de-activating each weapon requires 300 times that figure. Some industrialized countries that export landmines were betting on even greater benefits from clean-ups (see Rhoda Njanana’s “Landmines: The Invisible Killer that Continues to Haunt Southern Africa”, Southern Africa News Features, SARDC, November 1993).

On 30 June, Lisbon’s Radio Renascence reported that the UN finally awarded a major demining contract worth US$5 million to a consortium of “companies which are particularly experienced in this field, that is, the manufacture of war materia1.” Among the contractors was Meham [phonetic], a company made up of former South African officers who helped Renamo for the last 15 years.

The radio report considered the decision reasonable and quoted UN sources as saying that “no one is better placed than these groups” to tackle the clean-up. But some humanitarian organizations protested against the deal.

These contractors can offer lower tender prices, and therefore win contracts, due to the profits they make on the sale of more landmines. One of the South African companies currently lifting mines in Mozambique under a UN contract continues to sell their mines to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita).

Many believe that contributors to the landmine problem must cooperate to its solution. “Once the manufacturers sell landmines, they wash their hands of them,” protested US Senator, Patrick Leahy of Vermont recently.

To date, only 269 kilometres of Mozambican roads — roughly one-tenth of the priority target — have been cleared of mines. With elections two months away, the flows of relief supplies, demobilized soldiers, returnees and voters would mean renewed risks of landmine casualties, just when peace efforts are to be crowned. (SARDC)

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