Tags: Sudan.mine | removal | war

South Sudan Struggles With Bombs Removal

Thursday, 25 Feb 2010 10:59 AM


MUNDRI, Southern Sudan — Sudan's civil war ended five years ago, but its legacy remains in the cluster bombs that can still be found on the fertile banks of the Yai River.

This meandering Nile tributary bisects Mundri, a desolate, southern trading center. An historic stronghold of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Mundri saw intense fighting during the latter years of the war, which lasted from 1983 to 2005.

In addition to pitched ground battles, the town endured frequent bombings by the northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). Although the bombings tapered off in 2003, their tangible and potentially lethal remains lie scattered in fields along the river.

“The northern army [SAF] used a lot of cluster bombs in this area,” says Murjan James, an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) technician leading clearance operations in Mundri. “Many of the [cluster] sub-munitions failed to explode and are buried under the surface.”

The presence of sub-munitions poses significant risks to this largely agrarian community. Food, charcoal, building materials and other staples are extracted from the land using methods that could easily detonate a so-called “bomblet.” As more refugees and displaced persons return to Mundri in this period of calm, the demand for land is rising.

“We need the land here to be cleared so that our people can cultivate it,” says Bullen Abiatara Ariwara, the county commissioner for Mundri. “Many here are dependent on agriculture for everything,” he adds.

A case in point is Kerila Jenuba, whose family land in the Mili Lugu area of Mundri is heavily contaminated with sub-munitions. From 1996 to 2004, the family sought refuge in a forest near Bangolo, some 20 miles south of Mundri. Upon return, Jenuba found the family lands littered with the small bombs.

“We are cultivating the land that is clear of bombs,” she says. “But there are still so many in that end,” she adds with a sweeping arm gesture. A small banana tree marks the location where clear land ends and the contaminated area begins. “We are fearful of planting near those bombs but without doing so, we have barely enough food to survive.”

Jenuba says that under ordinary circumstances, her family’s farming would yield a surplus to be sold in local markets, generating income for other needs. Instead, she joins millions of others in southern Sudan for whom food access is not guaranteed.

Murjan James and his unit of technicians from the Danish Demining Group (DDG) face the arduous task of clearing land of explosives. Under blistering sun, two-man teams carry large, rectangular metal detectors over narrow swaths of earth. All metal readings are marked for excavation with red flags.

“It’s a time consuming process,” says Justin Green, a technical advisor with DDG. “Since we’re close to a main road, there is a fair amount of metal litter, all of which generates a detector reading.” Because of this, a technician may spend 15 cautious minutes excavating a soda can. “It’s a slow process,” Green says.

Along these riverbanks, however, such excavations are often not in vain. On Jan. 15 and 16 alone, the team discovered 13 sub-munitions in a search area of approximately 600 square meters. In December, they found and destroyed 68 in an adjacent field.

“We’re seeing quite a high strike rate,” says Green, who ordered the initial search area expanded due to the numbers. “We were not expecting this many.”

The impact of the clearance is immediate. Keliopa Ndarago Davidson, 75, lives on the edge of the search area. He spends his days listening to BBC radio while EOD technicians search the adjacent fields for sub-munitions. He returned to the area in 2006, one year after a peace agreement ended the war between the north and south.

“Many people ran away when the Arabs started throwing bombs near the riverbanks,” he says. “When we came back we found Mundri empty.”

Since EOD teams cleared the field near his homestead in December, Keliopa expanded a patch of sweet potatoes that helps defray his food costs. As clearance continues, he believes others will do the same. “Once they know it is safe they will cultivate these lands the way they did before the war” he says.

While clearance teams like the one in Mundri make gradual progress, the prospect of renewed war threatens to undo their efforts. Earlier this month, a group of 10 well-known aid groups released a report warning that without sufficient international support and mediation, southern Sudan risks descending into chaos. Upcoming presidential elections, rising tribal violence and an independence referendum in 2011 are seen as potential sparks for a new war.

“We hope that there will not be another war,” Murjan says as he winds detonator cable after destroying 10 sub-munitions. “But there are some people here who have different mentalities.”

© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 
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Sudan.mine,removal,war
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2010-59-25
Thursday, 25 Feb 2010 10:59 AM
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