Freeing Casamance from the threat of mines
Although the conflict between the Senegalese army and the rebel forces of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) appears to be slowly fading, populations still face the threat of anti-personnel mines. At the beginning of December, Handicap International launched a mine-clearing programme. The first operations in the village of Diagnon, east of Ziguinchor, began in mid-December and aim to clear 30,000 square metres of land of mines, barbaric weapons that primarily kill and mutilate civilians.
Mine clearer, Daniel Manga, practicing how to use a sensor to locate a mine in the mine-clearing team’s training area, shortly before heading to two areas that actually need to be cleared. Diagnon, Casamance, Senegal. | © J-J. Bernard / Handicap International
These operations will take three months and will make a path and farming land at the entrance to the village, where the 500 inhabitants have not dared to go for many years, safe again. The Handicap International team involved is made up of 14 people and 2 explosive detection dogs:
‘During this long conflict, which began in 1982, mines were used erratically, at times without any apparent logic. They could be anywhere,’ explains Aziz Sy, head of Handicap International’s mine-clearing operations in Senegal.
Handicap International’s mine-clearing operations are an important aspect of their development activities. They make it possible to use agricultural land again: ‘In order to survive, many villagers need to farm fields they had abandoned, sometimes for several years, when they fled their villages because of the conflict. Now they have returned, but they are still afraid to venture into these fields,’ explains Charles Coly, head of Handicap International’s mine-clearing team.
These mine-clearing operations will also make it possible to expand paths and give isolated villages better access to the large markets along Route Nationale 6, the main road connecting Ziguinchor and Kolda. This will give farmers more opportunity to sell their crops and increase their income.
The sniffer dog team – comprising two dogs and a dog handler – plays a key role in these operations: ‘Dogs are more efficient than metal detectors, they are faster as well. They are also highly valuable as we often come across PRBM 35 mines; mines which contain no metal and cannot be found using metal detectors,’ adds Aziz.
Handicap International is planning to clear a total of 55,000 m2 mines by August 2016 in three locations, Diagnon, Bafata and Senger. In previous operations, the association contributed to the clearance of 1,800,000 m2 of land in Casamance between 2007 and 2012.
According to the authorities, close to 100,000 people still live within immediate danger of mines in Casamance.