There are nearly three million landmines still buried on Algeria’s border regions out of a total of 11 million laid by the French colonial army, according to an Algerian official.
Colonel Hocine Hamel, in charge of mine-clearing operations in eastern Algeria, on Tuesday said that since 1963 Algeria has removed over eight million mines during the de-mining of the border between Algeria and Morocco.
“French colonialism had put several types of mines throughout 1 710 km in the wilayas (regions) of Tebessa, Souk Ahras, El Tarf and Guelma in the east and the wilayas of Bechar, and Naama Tlemcen in the west,” Hamel said.
“Mine clearance operations conducted by the army led to the destruction of 8 million mines between 1963 and 1988,” he said. They were laid by the French army during Algeria’s war for independence between 1954 and 1962.
In the first clearance phase between 1963 and 1988, the Algerian army cleared 1 482 km of mined areas along a total length of 2 531 km, destroying in the process more than 7.8 million mines. In November 2010, Algeria reported that since November 2004 and through the end of October 2010, it had destroyed 508 554 mines at an average rate of some 7 200 per month. Algeria subsequently reported that as of June 2011, 43 mined areas remained to be cleared in Algeria: 31 in the east, totalling 6.2 km2 and 12 in the west totalling some 7.36 km2.
The north of the country has been contaminated by an unknown number of homemade mines and explosive items laid by insurgent groups and a reported 15 709 antipersonnel mines laid by the Algerian army around installations, particularly high-tension powerlines, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. In March and August 2011 Algeria reported that all of the mines laid by the army had been cleared. Clearance of the last of the 15 minefields and 15 709 antipersonnel mines laid was completed on 28 April 2011.
In 2004 the army began a new de-mining operation, which has so far seen the destruction of 772 157 mines along border regions, Hamel said. He added that Algeria has to complete the de-mining effort by 2017. This is in compliance with the Ottawa Convention’s Mine Ban Treaty, to which Algeria became a signatory in 1997. The Ottawa Convention lays out guidelines on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines.
In December last year Algeria requested an extension of five years, until April 1, 2017, to complete the remaining de-mining tasks it had identified.
De-mining in Algeria is entirely conducted by the Algerian corps of Combat Engineers and is complete funded by the state. Since the start of the second phase of de-mining, landmine accidents have grown infrequent, from 126 casualties in 2005 to just one in 2010, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor reports.
In August 2011 Algeria noted that, in addition to human suffering, mines have slowed the development of the contaminated regions, rendering broad swathes of agricultural and grazing land unusable; overburdened the health system; increased poverty as a result of disabilities caused by mine injuries; and destroyed flora and fauna as a result of poaching using mines recovered from the minefields.
In 2007 France gave Algeria details on where its forces had laid millions of mines on its borders during Algeria’s struggle for independence in order to stop the Algerian resistance movement from infiltrating the country from neighbouring Morocco and Tunisia. Millions of these mines were laid on the Challe and Morice Lines on the eastern and western borders of Algeria. The heavily fortified Morice Line (named for the French defence minister, André Morice), consisted of an electrified fence, barbed wire, and mines over a 320 kilometer stretch of the Tunisian border.