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Landmine Threats Down, IED Threats Rising

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 2 2015 (IPS) - Almost 90 percent of recent deaths or serious injuries to United Nations peacekeepers in Mali have been attributed to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a U.N. panel has heard.

Ahead of International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on April 4, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is this week hosting a series of events and discussions in New York.

The theme of the 2015 awareness campaign is ‘More Than Mines,’ encompassing a range of other explosive hazards besides traditional landmines, according to UNMAS Director Agnès Marcaillou.

“This issue, thought to be an issue of the past, has come back in full force. ‘More Than Mines’ includes IEDs, cluster bombs, unexploded ordnance,” Marcaillou told a panel on IEDs on Monday.

Representatives from Afghanistan, Chad, Japan, Colombia, France and the Netherlands told how the dangers of explosive ordnance are shifting; mine threats becoming more manageable, with enforcement of international agreements and reduction of stockpiles, while the occurrence of IEDs is on the rise.

“In Afghanistan, victims of landmines are declining, but they are being replaced with victims of IEDs,” Marcaillou said.

Gombo Tchouli, Political Coordinator of the Permanent Mission of Chad to the United Nations, said UNMAS had recorded 409 casualties from IEDs in Mali since January 2013, with 135 deaths and 274 injuries. Of those 409 casualties, 142 were peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), 89 percent of the mission’s 158 total peacekeeper casualties.

“IEDs undermine operational effectiveness and freedom of movement, stop peacekeepers moving outward from camp, and prevent implementation of critical mission mandated tasks,” he said.

Eric Schilling, a counter-IED advisor with UNMAS, said U.N. peacekeepers were now more frequently targeted by IEDs and other explosives than in the past.

“The devices can be relatively low-cost, victim-operated pressure plates, up to more sophisticated technology using cell phones. They are limited only by the imagination of the bomb-maker and their ability to gather the materials needed,” he said.

In a session earlier in the day, titled ‘Visions From The Field,’ UNMAS explored how mine-clearing action was being taken in Colombia. Marcaillou called Colombia “one of the most mine-affected countries in the world,” second in impacts only to Afghanistan. Mines are said to have killed 11,000 Colombians since 1990.

Initiatives to engage locals, especially women, in helping to clear mines were hailed as a “best practice” example. Bringing locals in to work, and by extension, assuring them that areas are safe and that they can return to work and school, is seen as the most effective way to restore communities.

“De-mining can’t be imposed from the outside. It is important to connect with people locally, to be working with local communities, and generating benefits for the local population,” said Ambassador Karel van Oosterom, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands.

Activities for International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action continue all week.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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