Sudan conflict raises familiar specter of a landmine-contaminated wasteland

Special Sudan conflict raises familiar specter of a landmine-contaminated wasteland
Sudan and South Sudan are among the nations most impacted by unexploded ordnance. (UNMAS)
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Updated 31 January 2024
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Sudan conflict raises familiar specter of a landmine-contaminated wasteland

Sudan conflict raises familiar specter of a landmine-contaminated wasteland
  • Social media posts and recent tragedy suggest use of device becoming more common by warring sides
  • Indiscriminate weapon and other unexploded ordnance make no distinction between combatants and civilians

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania: Ten Sudanese civilians were killed on Jan. 20 when the bus they were traveling in struck a land mine on a road in Al-Jazirah state, south of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, where fighting between rival military factions has been ongoing since April last year.

The tragedy’s aftermath was marked by a deafening silence from the warring parties, the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces. However, the incident, reportedly the first of its kind in this war, has revealed a perilous new reality for Sudan.

The UN Mine Action Service is yet to examine the site of the blast, so the type of explosive device used has not been confirmed. Social media users in Sudan, however, say the use of antipersonnel land mines is becoming more common, posing a deadly new threat to civilians.

“Prior to the onset of the ongoing crisis, the UN assisted victims of land mines and other explosive remnants of war,” Mohammad Sediq Rashid, head of the Sudan Mine Action Programme and part of the UN peace operation, told Arab News.




As Sudan absorbs the worrying precedent set by the Jan. 20 bus tragedy, its struggle is all too familiar elsewhere in the region. (AFP/File)

“Since the conflict started, we have been driving awareness-raising campaigns among internally displaced people, refugees, and frontline humanitarian actors by alerting the risks and promoting safe behaviors.”

The vehicle caught in the explosion was reportedly transporting passengers from the east of the state, seized by the RSF in late December, to Shendi, a small town in River Nile state, known for its ancient pyramids.

Since there is no history of land mines being used in this area, allegations are circulating on social media suggesting that the device may have been planted relatively recently by the SAF in a bid to frustrate the RSF advance into the region.

Given the inability to independently verify what took place, it is impossible to apportion blame. However, if more of these devices have been planted across Al-Jazirah and elsewhere, bitter experience suggests this tragedy will not be the last.

Produced for as little as a dollar, these indiscriminate weapons make no distinction between combatants and civilians, remaining primed in the earth for several decades, long after a conflict has ended.

The devastating impact of land mines and other unexploded ordnance extends beyond the immediate toll on lives and limbs. They can impede communities’ access to valuable land, hindering agricultural activities and the construction of essential facilities such as hospitals and schools.




Produced for as little as a dollar, these indiscriminate weapons make no distinction between combatants and civilians. (UNMAS)

Rashid says education is a critical part of the land mine response. “Children, in particular, are vulnerable, drawn to the curious appearance of remnants without fully grasping the danger,” he said.

And the impact of antipersonnel land mines exploding can be long lasting. “The consequences encompass not only physical injuries but also psychological trauma, economic deprivation, and social exclusion,” he added.

In the global context, approximately 61 countries and regions are currently grappling with the persistent threat of land mine contamination, exposing thousands of individuals to the daily risk of life-changing injuries and death.

Among those nations, Sudan stands out as one of the most severely impacted by antipersonnel land mines and unexploded ordnance, according to UN classification.

Unlike China, India, Pakistan, Russia and the US, Sudan has ratified the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, commonly referred to as the Mine Ban Treaty. However, successive Sudanese governments have failed to meet their obligations under the convention.

Antipersonnel land mines have been used by combatants in Sudan across multiple conflicts. During these periods of protracted strife, all parties involved have deployed these devices, leaving behind a legacy of contamination.




Sudan stands out as one of the most severely impacted by antipersonnel land mines and unexploded ordnance, according to UN classification. (UNMAS)

Before the current crisis, marked by more than 13,000 reported fatalities, Sudan had begun the arduous task of clearing land mines. But with a contaminated area encompassing more than 172 million square meters of land, it took more than two decades to clear just 80 percent of them.

Now this latest bout of violence has introduced further contamination, extending the demining timeline, with experts estimating that the time needed to eliminate all explosive ordnance in Sudan could take generations.

The complexity deepens when mines are planted in urban areas. Towns and cities, which will be vital for the post-conflict recovery, will face a daunting task of clearing explosive remnants after the war ends.

Given that much of Sudan’s demining focus has been on rural areas, additional training will be needed to handle urban clearance operations.

Similarly, in South Sudan, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011, unexploded ordnance continues to maim and kill despite commendable efforts to remove it.

“Our communities have learned to live with the land mines and have learned how to avoid them; yet land mines still continue to damage human lives, animals and vegetation,” Suzanne Jambo, a South Sudanese political analyst, told Arab News.

Moreover, unexploded ordnance complicates the already challenging delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial goods.




Sudan plunged into chaos after monthslong tensions between the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, left, and the Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, exploded into open fighting last April. (AFP/File)

Mukesh Kapila, the former UN representative in Sudan, who previously spearheaded an initiative to demine major roads leading to South Sudan, emphasized “the critical nature of such programs for the secure repatriation of refugees from neighboring countries.”

Given that Sudan has seen the displacement of some 1.4 million people across its borders since mid-April, many of them seeking safety in Chad, South Sudan, and Egypt, reinstating such demining efforts has become imperative.

“Back then, we faced the challenge of reinforcing UN aid vehicles with ballistic blankets before dispatching food convoys,” Kapila told Arab News. “In the Nuba Mountains, the land mines were basic and manufactured within Sudan using Iranian technology.”

FASTFACTS

• 13,000 Sudan death toll estimated by the ACLED project.

• 10 months of fighting as of January between SAF and RSF.

• 10.7m people forced from their homes since April 2023 (IOM).

The international community, through organizations like UNMAS, has historically played a role in assisting victims of explosions of land mines and other remnants of war.

Rehabilitation efforts encompass medical support, vocational training, and community sensitization.

However, the ongoing conflict in Sudan has added layers of complexity to the situation. Hospitals and essential service providers, already strained by violence, face challenges in offering assistance.

The vulnerability of land mine victims has intensified as humanitarian access becomes increasingly challenging.

The picture is similar in other parts of the Arab world where conflict has left the land saturated with explosive remnants.

Maj. Gen. A.K. Bardalai, a former deputy head of mission and deputy force commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, said one of the main challenges is accurately identifying the affected areas and the quantity of mines.

“In the absence of records, clearing agencies must proceed cautiously, making the process time-consuming and laborious,” he told Arab News. “Determining precise timelines for complete demining in Africa is also challenging.”

Drawing on his experience in Lebanon, where cluster munitions were left over from fighting with Israel, Bardalai said demining efforts can take decades, even when combatants supply clearance teams with detailed records of where antipersonnel land mines were planted and ordnance fell.

When these records are not provided or not made at all, then clearance operations can take even longer.




The UN Mine Action Service is yet to examine the site of the Jan. 20 blast in Al-Jazirah state. (UNMAS)

As Sudan absorbs the worrying precedent set by the Jan. 20 bus tragedy, its struggle is all too familiar elsewhere in the region. The parallel experiences of Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gaza underscore the universal challenges posed by land mines.

The Mines Advisory Group, a British nongovernmental organization, says Gaza faces years of clearance work due to the density of unexploded ordnance. The West Bank, too, has suffered more than 60 years of land mine contamination.

Unless a lasting ceasefire can be reached between the SAF and RSF, Sudan will no doubt see further contamination, setting back its recovery by decades and putting future generations at risk.

 


Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat
Updated 17 April 2024
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Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat
  • Tehran’s charge d’affaires to UK: ‘Another mistake’ by Israel will be met by ‘stronger’ response
  • Weekend drone, missile salvo a ‘legitimate’ defensive operation, West given ‘considerable warning’

LONDON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to drag the West into a “total war” in the Middle East, Iran’s top diplomat in the UK has warned.

In his first comments since Tehran’s drone and ballistic missile attack last week, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, Iran’s charge d’affaires to the UK, said “another mistake” by Israel would be met by a response, The Guardian reported.

Tehran would carry out a stronger attack without warning, unlike last week’s strike, which was communicated days in advance, he added.

The salvo of more than 300 drones and ballistic missiles came in response to the April 1 Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria, which killed senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials.

Matin said: “The response to the next mistake of the Zionist will not take 12 days’ time. It will be decided as soon as we see what the hostile regime has done. It will be immediate, and without warning. It will be stronger and more severe.”

Israel has committed to responding to the Iranian attack but has yet to release any information.

Matin said Iran had ruled out attacking civilian targets or completing its nuclear weapons program, both before the escalation and following any potential Israeli response.

US and European leaders have called for calm in conversations with Netanyahu, but have also urged the launch of a new round of sanctions on Iran in the wake of last week’s attack.

Matin denied that Tehran had made a strategic error in launching the strike, saying Western powers are “losing credibility” in the Middle East and the US will end up leaving the region.

“This is a good opportunity for Western countries to demonstrate that they are rational actors, and they are not going to be entrapped by Netanyahu and his goal, which is to be in power for as long as he could actually stay in power,” Matin added.

“Iran has considered its actions very carefully, and understood that there is a trap, but not for Iran: For the Western countries and allied countries in which they are drawn by the Zionist state into a total war inside the Middle East, and the whole world soon may be unable to control the consequences.”

Before Iran responded to Israel’s strike on its consulate, Tehran had urged Western officials to condemn the Damascus attack and push for a ceasefire in Gaza, Matin said.

But figures, including UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, rejected the Iranian requests. “As Cameron mentioned, rightly, every nation has the right to defend itself against this kind of flagrant breach of diplomatic and international law,” Matin said, adding that Iran’s drone and ballistic missile attack had only targeted Israeli military sites.

“Iranian forces didn’t target any populated sites so as to prevent human casualties, nor did it attack government buildings and centres. It was a legitimate defence operation that was conducted in a way that gave considerable warning,” he added.

“Now, I can say that the mission is accomplished. And that’s it. That’s what we have announced very publicly, that that mission is concluded.”

Tehran had been forced to reinstate deterrence in the wake of the consulate strike, Matin said, adding that the response had displayed “military capabilities, missiles, and drones more powerful than what all the international community expected from Iran.

“Nobody can, at the moment, imagine that Iran is Iran of the Iran-Iraq war. Iran is now a regional superpower.”


At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE
Updated 17 April 2024
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At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE
  • UAE witnessed record rainfall with 254 mm, the most since records began in 1949
  • Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, facing significant disruptions 

DUBAI: Authorities and communities across the United Arab Emirates were clearing debris on Wednesday after a torrential downpour killed at least one person and caused damage to homes and businesses.
The UAE witnessed a record rainfall with 254 mm falling in Al Ain on Tuesday in less than 24 hours, according to the national meteorology center. That was the most since records began in 1949, before the country was established in 1971.
Although heavy rains had eased by late Tuesday, disruptions were continuing on Wednesday with Emirates airline suspending check-in for passengers departing Dubai airport until midnight.
Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, said it was facing significant disruptions after the heavy rains delayed or diverted flights and had impacted flight crews.
Passengers departing Dubai were advised against heading to the airport and to check their flight status with their airline.
“We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.
Emirates said passengers who were already in transit would continue to be processed but warned that delays to departures and arrivals should be expected. The Dubai airport website showed hours-long delays for some arrival and departure flights.
Local media reported that an elderly Emirati man in his 70s died on Tuesday morning when his vehicle was caught in flash floods in the Ras Al Khaimah emirate, in the country’s north.
In neighboring Oman, 19 people died, including school children after three consecutive days of heavy rain, according to Omani media, which published images of flooded communities.
The Times of Oman reported that more rain was expected on Wednesday. In Dubai, the skies were clear but in some areas the roads were quiet after the government ordered its employees and all schools to work remotely for a second consecutive day.
UAE media and social media posts showed significant damage from the torrential downpour in some parts of the country, including collapsed roads and homes inundated by water.
Social media posts on Tuesday showed flooded roads and car parks with some vehicles completely submerged. Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck in a kilometers-long traffic jam for hours.


Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack

Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack
Updated 17 April 2024
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Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack

Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack
  • Iran is bracing for a possible Israeli retaliation, with Israel’s war cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss a response

DUBAI: Iran said on Wednesday its military was ready to confront any attack by Israel, with the air force saying it was prepared for action.
Iran’s navy commander said also that it was escorting Iranian commercial vessels to the Red Sea.
Iran carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel last weekend in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus on April 1.
Israel has said it will hit back and its war cabinet was meeting on Wednesday to discuss options.
“Any attack by the Zionist regime (Israel) on our soil will be dealt with a severe response,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Wednesday at a parade held for Army Day, state media reported.
The commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force warned at the same event that its warplanes, including Russian-made Sukhoi-24s, were in their “best state of preparedness” to counter any Israeli attack.
“We have full readiness in all fields, including our air coverage and bombers, and are prepared for any operation,” Brig. Gen. Amir Vahedi said.
A direct attack on Revolutionary Guards bases or nuclear research facilities within Iran is one of the options Israel has to strike back. Targets outside of Iran are also a possibility.
Admiral Shahram Irani said the Iran Navy was escorting Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
“The Navy is carrying out a mission to escort Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea and our Jamaran frigate is present in the Gulf of Aden in this view,” Irani said.
Tehran was ready to escort vessels of other countries, he added.
The Red Sea has seen significant disruption to Israel-bound shipping due to attacks from Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.
On April 13, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged container ship in the Strait of Hormuz which Tehran says is linked to Israel.


Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE

Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE
Updated 17 April 2024
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Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE

Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE
  • Record rainfall in UAE, Al-Ain witnesses 254 mm in fewer than 24 hours
  • Long delays for some flights to and from Dubai International Airport

DUBAI: Travelers were warned against heading to Dubai International Airport and advised to check the status of their flights with the airline due to the heaviest rainfall in 75 years, Emirates News Agency reported.

Dubai Airports said flights continued to be delayed and diverted following the deluge and urged passengers to contact airlines for the latest travel information.

“We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.

Emirates Airlines suspended all travel procedures for passengers leaving Dubai on Wednesday, but added they would continue for arrivals and transit passengers. The Dubai airport website showed until midnight. The airport’s website showed extensive delays for some flights.

The UAE witnessed a record rainfall on Tuesday, with the National Center of Meteorology reporting that 254 mm fell in Al-Ain in fewer than 24 hours. This is the highest level since records began in 1949.

On Wednesday morning, the authorities were busy clearing up the debris following the downpour, which caused chaos across the country.

In Ras al-Khaimah, the country's northernmost emirate, police said one 70-year-old man died when his vehicle was swept away by floodwater. 

In neighboring Oman, 19 people died, including children, following three consecutive days of heavy rain. Local media published images of flooded communities and the Times of Oman reported more rain was expected on Wednesday.

The skies were clear in Dubai, but the roads were quiet in some areas after government employees and all schools were ordered to work remotely for a second day.

UAE media and social media posts showed significant damage in some parts of the country, including collapsed roads and flooded homes. Others included images of roads and car parks under water, with some vehicles completely submerged.

Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck for hours in long traffic jams.


Israeli war cabinet puts off third meeting on Iran’s attack to Wednesday

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv.   (AFP file photo)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv. (AFP file photo)
Updated 17 April 2024
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Israeli war cabinet puts off third meeting on Iran’s attack to Wednesday

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv.   (AFP file photo)
  • Israel has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry
  • President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekend that the United States, Israel’s main protector, would not participate in an Israeli counter-strike

JERUSALEM: A third meeting of Israel’s war cabinet set for Tuesday to decide on a response to Iran’s first-ever direct attack was put off until Wednesday, as Western allies eyed swift new sanctions against Tehran to help dissuade Israel from a major escalation.
Military chief of staff Herzi Halevi had promised that Saturday night’s launch of more than 300 missiles, cruise missiles and drones from Iran at Israeli territory “will be met with a response,” but gave no details.
While the attack caused no deaths and little damage thanks to the air defenses and countermeasures of Israel and its allies, it has increased fears that violence rooted in the six-month-old Gaza war is spreading, with the risk of open war between long-time adversaries Iran and Israel.
Iran launched the attack in retaliation for an airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 attributed to Israel, but has signalled that it now deems the matter closed.
An Israeli government source said the war cabinet session scheduled for Tuesday had been put off until Wednesday, without elaborating.
President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekend that the United States, Israel’s main protector, would not participate in an Israeli counter-strike.
Together with European allies, Washington instead strove on Tuesday to toughen economic and political sanctions against Iran in an attempt to steer Israel away from massive retaliation.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he was “leading a diplomatic attack,” writing to 32 countries to ask them to place sanctions on Iran’s missile program and follow Washington in proscribing its dominant military force, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a terrorist group.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the US would use sanctions, and work with allies, to keep disrupting Iran’s “malign and destabilising activity.”
She told a news conference in Washington that all options to disrupt Iran’s “terrorist financing” were on the table, and that she expected further sanctions against Iran to be announced in coming days.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell
, speaking in Brussels after an emergency video conference of EU foreign ministers, said some member states had asked for sanctions against Iran to be expanded and that the bloc’s diplomatic service would begin working on the proposal.
Borrell said the proposal would expand a sanctions regime that seeks to curb the supply of Iranian drones to Russia so that it would also include the provision of missiles and could also cover deliveries to Iranian proxies in the Middle East.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said earlier on Tuesday that several EU members had promised to look again at extending sanctions, adding she would head to Israel within hours to discuss how to prevent an escalation.

’CALM HEADS’

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
told Netanyahu in a call on Tuesday that escalation in the Middle East was in nobody’s interest and would only worsen insecurity in the region, so it was “a moment for calm heads to prevail,” Sunak’s office said.
Sunak had said on Monday the Group of Seven major democracies was working on a package of measures against Iran. Italy, which has the G7 presidency, suggested any new sanctions would target individuals.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani told state TV on Monday night that Tehran’s response to any Israeli counterattack would come in “a matter of seconds, as Iran will not wait for another 12 days to respond.”
The prospect of Israeli retaliation has alarmed many Iranians already enduring economic pain and tighter social and political controls since major protests in 2022-23.
Since the war in Gaza began in October, clashes have erupted between Israel and Iran-aligned groups based in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Israel said four of its soldiers were wounded hundreds of meters inside Lebanese territory overnight, the first known Israeli ground penetration into Lebanon since the Gaza war erupted, although it has regularly traded fire with the heavily armed Lebanese Hezbollah militia.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby declined on Monday to say whether Biden had urged Netanyahu in talks on Saturday night to exercise restraint in responding to Iran.
“We don’t want to see a war with Iran. We don’t want to see a regional conflict,” Kirby told a briefing.
Some analysts said the Biden administration was unlikely to seek to sharpen sanctions on Iran’s oil exports due to worries about a big spike in oil prices and angering top buyer China.
In a call between the Chinese and Iranian foreign ministers, China said it believed Iran could “handle the situation well and spare the region further turmoil” while safeguarding its sovereignty and dignity, according to Chinese state media.
Iran’s weekend attack caused modest damage in Israel and wounded a 7-year-old girl. Most missiles and drones were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and with help from the US, Britain, France and Jordan.
In Gaza itself, where more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli offensive according to Gaza health ministry figures, Iran’s action drew applause.
Israel began its campaign against Hamas, the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza, after the militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, by Israeli tallies.
Iran’s attack prompted at least a dozen airlines to cancel or reroute flights, with Europe’s aviation regulator still advising caution in using Israeli and Iranian airspace.

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