Truce or not, landmines continue to kill civilians across Yemen
Since early April, a tenuous truce has brought a pause to the fighting between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces in Yemen. However, truce or not, hundreds of civilians have been killed during this period by landmines placed by the rebels. One NGO, Project Masam, has been working frantically to remove landmines and prevent more tragedies.
Since 2014, Yemen has been torn apart by a conflict between the Houthis, rebels supported by Iran, and pro-government forces, who have the backing of a military coalition led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis have been planting landmines widely across the country since 2017 – in fields, villages and along roads – especially in the coastal regions of Hodeida and Taiz. For the rebels, landmines are an efficient way to stop the advance of pro-government troops. This was certainly the case in 2018 when fighting intensified in Taiz and Hodeida.
Between 2019 and August 2022, an estimated 426 civilians were killed by landmines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded munitions, including 101 children and 22 women, according to the Yemeni Landmine Observatory. The Observatory has also documented 568 people who were wounded by these devices, including 216 children and 48 women.
This NGO documents the names of landmine victims. They often share images of demining operations on their Twitter account.
السيول تجرف كميات كبيرة من الألغام إلى مناطق مأهولة بالسكان ومساحات زراعية في مأرب ومحافظات أخرى.— المرصد اليمني للألغام (@MinesInYemen) July 31, 2022
نناشد المواطنين والمزارعين بأخذ الحيطة وشديد الحذر.
نجدد دعوتنا للحوثيين لتسليم خرائط الألغام.. ونطالب المجتمع الدولي بدعم جهود تطهير المناطق الملوثة.#المرصد_اليمني_للألغام pic.twitter.com/ok8TSJEDiL
مواطن من أبناء مديرية بيحان شبوة ينزع عدد من #الألغام الي زرعها الحوثيون في أحدى الطرق الفرعية بمنطقة المطيرية.— المرصد اليمني للألغام (@MinesInYemen) January 13, 2022
يعمل هذا الشاب طواعية إلى جانب متطوعين أخرين من ابناء المنطقة على تطهير مناطقهم من الألغام دون أن يتمكنوا من الحصول على معدات ولا أدوات للسلامة.#المرصد_اليمني_للألغام pic.twitter.com/ovmaaVNZzY
'Locally made mines are among the most dangerous, because they will explode under the slightest pressure'
Walid Al Jaouri is the spokesperson for Project Masam, an NGO that has been carrying out demining operations since 2018 in a number of different Yemeni governorates.
We have 32 teams of deminers who were trained by international experts. We work daily from 6am to noon.
We’ve been able to neutralise 356,758 landmines since we started working in 2018. We also removed 212,299 unexploded munitions, 7,462 improvised explosive devices, 131,459 anti-tank mines and 5,538 anti-personnel mines.
هل تتذكرون الشاب سليمان الميرابي، الطالب في جامعة #تعز الذي تطوع مع زملاء له لتفكيك ألغام الحوثيين في المدينة وفقد جميع أطرافه اثناء تأديته لعمله الطوعي.— المرصد اليمني للألغام (@MinesInYemen) May 13, 2022
سليمان الذي كان مقعدا تماما تمكن مؤخرا من المشي برجلين صناعيتين، بعد أن تلقى العلاج في المركز العربي في عٌمان. pic.twitter.com/yJjP8sACfB
Our teams have been able to remove mines from an area measuring 38,034,720 square metres across eight different governorates – Al Jawf, Chabwa, Ma'rib, al-Hodeida, Taiz, Aden, Ad Dali' and Lahij.
There are essentially two kinds of mines – classic, anti-personnel mines and locally-made mines produced by the Houthis in their own factories. These locally-made mines are of varying sizes and shapes and are often made with different objectives. They represent 85% of the mines that we’ve neutralised.
Locally made mines are among the most dangerous, because they will explode under the slightest pressure.
There are several types of mines that are being manufactured locally. The Houthis have been placing anti-personnel mines attached to electrical circuits and placing them near the entrances to villages and heavily populated zones. Then there are petal mines, which are actually anti-vehicles mines, but the Houthis have turned them into extremely dangerous anti-personnel mines because they can be set off by very light pressure on the petal.
'We’ve found explosive devices hidden in cans of beans'
Our team has also been working to neutralise improvised explosive devices that the Houthis have been placing in ordinary objects like bricks, rocks and tires.
Recently, we’ve found lots of explosives placed in old tires in the Bihan region in the Chabwa governorate.
We also found explosive devices hidden in cans of beans, packed with pieces of iron and gunpowder. We also found explosive devices hidden in rocks that were then placed along certain roads. We’ve even found explosive devices hidden in palm trees in agricultural regions in Hodeida.
الفرق الهندسية تفكك عبوات مموهة نشرها الحوثيون في مناطق عدة بمديرية حرض في محافظة حجة.#المرصد_اليمني_للألغام pic.twitter.com/tUwgBlvKkt— المرصد اليمني للألغام (@MinesInYemen) February 15, 2022
Since the start of the truce, people have been taking to social media to call on the Houthis to provide maps of the mines that they have placed in order to facilitate demining operations and to save lives.
Yemen is a signatory of the 1997 Ottawa Convention, which bans anti-personnel mines.