sexta-feira, 10 de abril de 2009

Landmine Action hosts conference in Saharawi camps to celebrate International Day of Landmine Awareness and Assistance

On Saturday, to mark the fourth International Dar of Landmine Awareness and Assistance, Landmine Action (LMA) brought together representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Saharawi Association for the Victims of Landmines, and the Ministry of Defense of the Saharan Arabic Democratic Republic (SADR), to confirm the commitment of all parties involved to the removal of landmines, cluster bombs, and unexploded ordinances from the Western Sahara.

The representatives gathered with journalists, filmmakers, SADR military leaders, local Saharawi civilians, and Spanish students at the headquarters of the Association of Families of Saharawi Political Prisoners and Disappeared People (AFAPRADESA).

During the conference, LMA officials discussed in detail their past activities and future plans in the Western Sahara, where the British NGO first got involved in 2006 stated its commitment to the Oslo Convention and invited the group to assist in the Western Sahara.

In 2007 and 2008, the organization performed its survey of the area and began removal of the landmines, cluster bombs, and ordinances it encountered. By November of 2008, LMA had visually cleared over 3,765,000 square meters and had performed subsurface scans on another 63,000 square meters. Within this area, the NGO destroyed 1,877 items, including 550 BLU63 cluster bombs.

Landmines, cluster bombs, unexploded aircraft shells, and other ERWs plague the Western Sahara, making it one of the most contaminated countries in the world. Some ordinances have sat in the desert since World War I, while other were placed during the 1980s and early 90s during the Saharawi people’s war against the Moroccans for control of their territory, which had been a Spanish colony since the 1880s.

In addition to its activities in surveying and clearance, LMA also provides maps to local shepherds and nomads, marks out routes for other NGOs working in the area, hosts emergency medical training sessions for its workers, assists the Polisario Front with the destruction of its ordinance stockpiles, and shares its information with both MINURSO and the Polisario to ensure the safety of those operating in the zone.

“Our overall goal,” said Ahmed Sidali, “is to save lives on the east side of the wall.”

Addressing the participants of the conference, the SADR Ministry of Defense’s coordinator with Landmine Action, reaffirmed the unyielding support of the SADR government to work hand in hand with the anti-landmine NGO, while noting that Morocco has yet to sign the 1997 Oslo Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, which over 150 other countries have signed.

Azziz Haydal, director of the Saharawi Association for the Victims of Landmines, also presented, emphasizing that the plethora of landmines still polluting the part of the Western Sahara under Polisario control pose a constant threat to the local shepherds, travelers, and wildlife. He also pointed out that the most recent landmine victims were three Saharawis who sustained injuries last week when they came across a cluster bomb.

Haydal went on to assert that the Western Sahara is one of the regions of the world most plagued by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERWs), and as the Saharawis continue their campaign to eradicate the ordinances from the region, Morocco continues to plant them in the section of the Western Sahara that it currently controls.

“The biggest obstacle to our campaign to remove all of the landmines from the Western Sahara is the lack of political will on the part of Morocco,” added Azziz.

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