Even those working at removing and disabling mines as well as other potentially lethal remnants of war are not safe from attacks, including ambushes by rebels.
This was forcibly brought home recently in South Sudan where Rwandan soldiers on peacekeeping duty with UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan) rescued
UNMAS (UN Mine Action Service) workers after they were ambushed in Longiro, 60km north of Torit in Equatoria.
The deminers are part of G4S Global team contracted by the world body’s specialist demining group.
The UNMAS team were returning from Torit with food and cash supplies for a sister team in Longiro when they were surrounded by about 30 gunmen at a roadblock.
“They pointed guns at us and forced our drivers to stop. They then ordered us out of our vehicles and on the ground. Moments later, they fired shots into the air and we were told to lie face down on the ground,” team member John Mowej said.
The assailants attacked and hurt some UNMAS workers and stole cash and food provisions before releasing them with their vehicles later the same day.
“Once they took our cash and supplies, they told us to re-enter our vehicles and threatened to shoot if we disobeyed. We heard a gunshot when we were inside the vehicles. We all thought one of us had been killed; it was only later we realised we were all, thankfully, alive,” said John Maguy, another team member.
The UNMAS team managed to join colleagues at a camp some distance away, where they waited for UNMISS support. “They survived on food and assistance provided by local communities because they were left with very little,” a UN military observer Lieutenant Colonel Reuben Klutse, said.
All mine clearance operations in the area were halted because it was no longer safe with the focus on ensuring team members were secure according to Eric Compion, the contracted team leader on site.
“We found them shaken and terrified; some had injuries from the attack. They told us they had not slept for five days and were relieved to see us,” Major Aime Uwimana, commanding officer of the Rwandan troops, said.
Locating and rescuing UNMAS personnel was not without difficulty. Recent rains damaged road and the rescue team was almost ambushed itself. “Returning to Torit, we spotted an attempted armed ambush on our convoy,” Uwimana said.
“Timely action by my team defused the situation and we were able to make sure the UNMAS team was safe.”