Somaliland: Through Finland Expertise the Country is being freed from mines

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Somalilandsun- As a result of the long civil war, large areas in Somalia are contaminated with mines. Mine clearance operations taking place in Somaliland and Somalia, supported by Finland, progress slowly but save human lives.

Red and white stones dot the routes cleared between thorn bushes. Having the white side of a stone up means that an area has been cleared, while there is no stepping on areas marked with a red stone. The sun is blazing down from a clear blue sky as Ahmed Hasani bends down on his knees in a minefield located in the central part of Somaliland.

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Deminer Ahmed Hasani. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu.

A helmet protects the head and a demining vest the torso, but his arms and legs are missing any protection. The deminer marks off an area of half a metre with two plastic tubes and a rope. Sweat drips down his face as he uses scissors to clear the land of thorn bushes. Hasani stands up and runs a metal detector over the area. No pieces of metal are detected in this square, so he moves on to the next one.

Finland supports humanitarian mine clearance both in Somaliland and Somalia. The international HALO Trust organisation started the operations in Somaliland, an area more stable than the rest of Somalia, as early as in 1999. Finland has been supporting this work since 2004. The goal is to declare Somaliland free of mines in 2019. More than 580 trained deminers will, however, remain in the region to help in case any individual pieces of ordnance are still detected.

Saving children from mines

Mahamud Iman Hasan has worked in mine clearance operations of HALO Trust for 12 years. He leads a team of deminers in Somaliland. Hasan and his family live just one kilometre away from the clearance site.

“The situation used to be bad. Camels and goats walked right into explosives, and it was not unusual to see children play with explosives. Many people have lost their leg because of mines,” Hasan says.

Hasan used to work for the army of Somaliland. Local knowledge acquired during the war is helpful in the work. Soldiers remember where mines were laid, so their assistance is of great help in the operations of HALO Trust.

Mine clearance in 40-degree heat is exhausting, so the work is divided into 15-minute working periods followed by a 10-minute break.

“We cannot lose our concentration for a second, otherwise we put us all in danger,” Hasan points out.

Thanks to mine clearance, all of Hasan’s children can go to school, the oldest son is even studying at a university.

“The best thing is, however, that my children can play safely in our village thanks to the work we are doing.”

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Mahamud Iman Hasan was able to provide education for his children thanks to mine clearance. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu.

Because the operations in Somaliland are coming to an end, HALO Trust has already moved on to clear mines elsewhere in Somalia, for example in the region next to the Ethiopian border. Mahamud Iman Hasan was training new employees for the region. The mine situation in Somalia is difficult. The decades-long civil war left the country with large areas contaminated with mines. In addition, weapons and munitions dating back to the British colonial era and the conflict with Ethiopia between the 1940s and 1980s are found in Somalia.

Large areas in Central and Southern Somalia are still uncleared because of the poor safety situation. The situation is worsened by the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab, which is constantly laying new mines and explosives in areas under its command in Central and Southern Somalia. Thus far, HALO Trust has managed to survey 114 minefields in Somalia, where 56 landmines and more than 2,000 items of unexploded ordnance have been destroyed.

In Somalia, mines have so far been cleared only from the most important places such as airports and main roads.

“After the civil war, a few commercial companies came to the country to clear the most important traffic routes. This work was important for the functioning of society, but it also made the subsequent clearance operations more difficult. As only some of the mines were removed, the placement lines of explosives were broken, which makes it difficult for us to find the rest of the explosives,” says Edward Lajoie, Deputy Manager of the mine clearance programme in Somalia.

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Before demining, the area to be cleared is marked off precisely. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu.

Women as deminers

A metal detector beeps to indicate that metal has been detected. Long ago, an army arsenal exploded in the clearance site of Somaliland, spreading pieces of metal to a large area in its surroundings. Abdi Rahman Dayib, clearing a square, marks off the area with white plastic laths. He digs a wall further away with a hoe and starts scratching dirt sideways towards the plastic laths. Doing an up and down movement could set off the possible explosive. Finally, he drags out a small piece of metal with a magnet. It is a harmless, two-centimetre piece of a projectile. If the finding had turned out to be a mine, it would have been left where it is and exploded later.

One of the objectives of humanitarian mine clearance is to support the employment of women in the area. Employing women has been easier than expected in Somaliland.

“Women are our best deminers. They sustain longer, concentrate better and are committed to the work,” says Edward Lajoie.

Many widows and single mothers who provide for their families alone and therefore are in need of paid employment work as deminers.

“It is important for us that our work benefits the entire community,” Lajoie says.

Minttu-Maaria Partanen

The author of the article is a freelance journalist

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