by Joseph Keane [ Mine Action Information Center ]
Algeria's history over the past two centuries is marked with more periods of violence than peace. Beginning with the French takeover in the 1830s and continuing through the sectarian fighting of the 1990s, Algeria's landscape has been tainted by battle. According to The Economist, al-Qaeda and the shell of the insurgency from the 1990s joined together to form the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb.1
That terrorist organization has been carrying out attacks in the capital of Algiers including suicide bombings and roadside bombs. The most recent strike was on 11 December 2007, when two car bombs exploded near the United Nations Development Programme and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees buildings. According to the New York Times, 37 people were killed, including 17 UNDP employees.2 Steven Olejas, a well-known and highly respected member of the mine-action community, was among the casualties (see his obituary in this issue). Algeria's security forces are fighting back and reporting successes. Despite a grim past and difficulties today, Algeria is taking strides to move into a new era of peace by removing its landmine and unexploded ordnance contamination.
Scope of Landmine/UXO Problem
The combination of World War II, the Algerian War of Independence and sectarian fighting in the 1990s has led to the landmine problems of today. During WWII the German and Italian armies laid mines in the northern coastal areas.3 There are still explosive remnants of war from the fighting in the North African Campaign.
The French Colonial Army mined a 1,243-mile (2,000-kilometer) area known as Challe et Morice during the Algerian War of Independence. The Challe et Morice borders Morocco and Tunisia.3 The combined area of contamination is estimated to be 22 square miles (57 square kilometers). A total of 3,064,180 anti-personnel mines line the two borders as of 2004.4
In October of 2007, French Armed Forces Chief General Jean-Louis Georgelin finally handed over maps that detailed the extent of contamination and exact locations of the mines. The French government was in possession of the maps since the ceasefire in 1962.5
As a member of the Ottawa Convention6 since signing in 1997, Algeria agreed to the obligations of the Convention. In a series of 12 landmine-destruction events, Algeria's landmine stockpile was destroyed in time to meet its goal of completing the destruction before the opening of the Sixth Meeting of States Parties in 2005 and ahead of the Convention's April 2006 deadline.3 The ceremony to mark the event was well-attended. The President, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Employment and Solidarity, Minister of War Veterans, Minister of Local Communities, Minister of Defense, Chief of Armed Forces, President of the Parliament's Defense Committee and the President of the Interministerial Committee on the Implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty all attended to show their support.6 The President of Algeria "proclaimed his deep respect and attachment to the Mine Ban Treaty."7
Algeria's deadline to make all mine-laden areas safe is 30 March 2012. The Algerian Army began concentrated mine-clearance efforts in November 2004 with the help of the UNDP. The Army estimates that about three million mines remain, though the number was recently found to be significantly higher when France shared its information with Algeria: France admitted that it placed 11 million mines along the borders of Tunisia and Morocco.
According to the 2007 Landmine Monitor Report, there were 58 casualties in 2006: 12 deaths and 46 injuries. The majority of the casualties were caused by improvised explosive devices. Only four casualties were caused by AP mines, which is a decrease from the nine casualties in 2005.8
Since the remaining insurgent forces of the revolution in the 1990s linked with al-Qaeda in September 2007, there has been a significant increase in the number and scale of their attacks.9 This amplification is evident in the number of casualties reported in 2007: There were 148 casualties from IEDs as of 12 July 2007.8
All citizens of Algeria are guaranteed free access to government hospitals and medical centers, but free physical rehabilitation for amputees is only available for those registered in the national security system; many victims of landmines are not registered.8 Mohamed Adimi, the former Executive Secretary of the Interministerial Committee of Mine Action, explains that the Ministry of National Solidarity, the Ministry of Former Fighters of the Algerian War of Independence (Mujahideen) and the Ministry of Health share responsibility for the victims of French-laid landmines. The Ministry of National Solidarity offers access to medical care, rehabilitation and reintegration services.10 The Ministry of Mujahideen has a few specialized centers to care for the victims of mines. This Ministry also gives money to the handicapped victims. The Ministry of Health provides sanitary services for the victims.
UNDP–Algeria and the United Nations Development Programme's Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery are working together to help communities affected by landmines. The coordinated groups are responsible for meeting the requirements of the Ottawa Convention and leading the future of mine action. Goals have been established to complete a mine-action study, create and implement a national mine-action strategy, create a national mine-action database and establish a mine-risk education program.11
Joseph Keane has been an Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Mine Action since November 2006. He is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in technical and scientific communication as well as one in journalism.
- "Threat Assessment."16 August 2007. http://economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9659768. Accessed 14 January 2008.
- Hoge, Warren. "Algeria: UN Death Toll Raised to 17." 15 December 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/15/world/africa/15briefs-UNDEATHTOLLR_BRF.html Accessed 9 January 2008.
- "Algeria." International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2001: Toward a Mine-Free World, (New York: Human Rights Watch, August 2001, 1,175 pages). October 2006. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/algeria.html. Accessed 16 January 2008.
- "Revised Draft Review of the Operation and Status of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction from 1999–2004." 26 November 2004. p 5. http://disarmament.un.org/Library.nsf/95c7e7dc864dfc0a85256bc8005085b7/415ac143b5a49c358525730c006ac009/$FILE/APLC- CONF-2004-L3-REV1-AMEND1.pdf Accessed 26 September 2007.
- "France Tells Algeria Location of Landmines." Reuters. 21 October 2007. http://www.reuters.com/article/africaCrisis/idUSCHI040631?sp=true Accessed 3 December 2007.
- Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. 18 September 1997. http://www.icbl.org/treaty/text/english. Accessed 16 January 2008. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, and thus is commonly known as the Ottawa Convention.
- Gabelnick, Tamar. "Algeria Completes Stockpile Destruction." 24 November 2005..http://www.icbl.org/layout/set/print/news/algeriasdevent. Accessed 17 Oct. 2007.
- "Algeria." International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2007: Toward a Mine-Free World, (New York: Human Rights Watch, August 2007, 1,175 pages). http://www.icbl.org/lm/2007/algeria.html. Accessed 10 January 2008.
- Lewis, Aidan. "Shifting Violence Afflicts Algeria." BBC News. 11 December 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7138835.stm. Accessed 11 January 2008.
- E-mail with Mohamed Adimi. 5 November 2007.
- "Clearing Landmines in Algeria." United Nations Development Programme. 2 December 2006. http://google.undp.org/search?q=cache:NI4R-U03B0MJ:content.undp.org/go/newsroom/december-2006/algeria-landmines- 20061202.en+algeria&access=p&output=xml_no_dtd&site=default_collection&ie=UTF-8&client=undp_frontend&oe=UTF- 8&proxystylesheet=undp_frontend Accessed 28 January 2008.
Mine Action Information Center
Mohamed Messaoud Adimi
Teacher, University of Algiers
Former Executive Secretary, Interministerial Committee of Mine Action
Cite du 11 Decembre 1960 N 123B Delly-Ibrahim