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Updates from Michael Laban of Mine-Tech
May 1998: Demining in Dombe
It has now been a very long time. I have just
returned from a holiday, driving 9000 km to the Northern hemisphere
via Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya (where I crossed the equator). The
roads were very bad and I am afraid I took my truck places I should
not have, but it went very well and I had no problems.
The kids in Dombe are probably not aware of the
scope of the interest in them and their mine problem. We have finished
there for the moment, but should be there again for sectors C and
D next month. There was a lack of funding (one funder went back
on their promises, leaving priority targets uncleared) but we have
I will try to get some comments from the children
there when we get back, and will pass them on.
Demining in Dombe so far: Sectors A, B, E and
G have been cleared, for a total of 60 864.5 sq m. (see map) We
have destroyed 1 AT mine, 25 AP mines, 1 AG mine, 40 UXO and 4030
Small Arms Ammunition pieces. Not a bad set of findings, showing
that it was a fairly heavily mined area. In the past, we have found
many more mines in less space in Bosnia; on the other hand, we have
also found many less mines in the same area in other parts of Manica
Province. There were no casualties while we were there, neither
to us nor the local population.
Mine-Tech / IHDD Team
21 January 1998
In this 'Report from the Field', Michael Laban
takes the opportunity to present a fascinating background to the
demining process in Mozambique.
I have just come back from the opening ceremony in Dombe (see map)
and the kids in Mozambique do not get back to school until February—
and they have been on break since November!
The opening ceremony was on 9 January, and it
is hot down there, 47C during the day, and it drops by ten degrees
over night. Also had a couple of severe storms overnight, and on
the way back had to chop a tree out of the way so we could proceed
down the main road in the mountains to the west.
I was in Dombe, along with Col Dyck - Mine-Tech
Operations Director, Sr. Saul - Provincial Demining Commissioner
(CPD), and Eduardo Domingos - GTZ Representative, for the opening
ceremony before Demining (IHD Phase 2 Operations) began.
The Opening Ceremony usually involves two aspects.
The whole thing (both ceremonies) is organised by Sr Saul, a Mozambican.
The first is the traditional one, when the village
holds a ceremony where they contact their ancestors and asks for
their blessing for the demining operations that will begin. Mine-Tech
is not invited to these, and I have never seen one. It usually happens
the night before.
The second part is the more formal, administrative
part. This involves getting the local population (primarily men)
together and then addressing them. It is conducted by the Chef de
Posto (local authority) often assisted by the head of police and/or
other officials (head of clinic, etc.) and the villagers are told
what is going to happen, and their questions are answered where
possible. The Mine-Tech team is introduced and the results of the
traditional ceremony the night before relayed to us.
A demining team will include the Team Leader,
his second in command, a medic, a driver and four or more deminers.
The medic is on hand in case of accident, and the team must have
opened communication with Mine-Tech HQ before work starts. In addition,
the vehicle must be seen to be working, as it will be the team ambulance.
The Mine-Tech deminers are almost all from Zimbabwe,
but we have some Mozambicans on staff. They come from all over Zimbabwe,
and from several walks of life. Most are ex-soldiers or have some
military experience, but it may be very limited.
8 December 1997
Much has happened since Michael Laban of Mine-Tech
sent in his letter earlier in the project [see below]. Mine-Tech
has finished ‘surveys’ of several areas and will begin
demining in Dombe in Manica Province, Mozambique, in January. Surveys
are crucial to the demining process because they identify the dangers
and priorities and gather information about the area in general.
The surveys identified minefields all around the town of Dombe,
including in the area just north and west of the local school. More
detailed information from the survey and a map are available under
‘Schools and school areas in need of demining’. In the
meantime, Michael writes, “We can answer questions from here
as you like (perhaps we should start slowly), and there are always
deminers here at Headquarters, just that it may not be the same
one this week as next, but we will strive for some continuity. Fire
This is first personal
letter from Michael Laban at Mine-Tech.
24 October 1997
My name is Michael Laban and I work for Mine-Tech,
a commercial demining company. I am based in Harare, Zimbabwe and
have been celaring minefields in Mozambique for several years.
I will tell you about clearing minefields and
removing unexploded shells from a schoolground in a place called
Inhaminga. Inhaminga is, or was, a large town about 250km north
of Beira [You can find it on the map of Mozambique]. At its peak,
the population reached about 64,000 I understand, but now there
are only about 4,000 people. It owed its size to very good agricultural
lands and a good rainy season as well as its position on the railway.
It was a major depot for repairs, etc. It was a very pretty town,
especially on the east side of the tracks. Wide streets, flowering
trees down the middle of them, lots of railway housing (all the
same) a sports club, track, etc.
All told, the town was about eight blocks by eight
blocks, with outlying sattelite villages providing most of the population.
Access to the town is limited. The railway was
the main route but during the war (the civil war between Renamo
and Frelimo [the two factions that fought in Mozambique]), Renamo
ripped up long stretches (two or three kilometer stretches) of it
and turned it upside down. The road was made to allow the railway
to be serviced, and is rather badly made, being lower than the surrounding
country. When it rains, there is a river in place of the road. When
it does not rain, you should allow four hours to do the trip, unless
you care about your vehicle in which case you take six to eight.
The minefield we cleared ran in an arc from north
to west, around the military barracks to the west of the town. We
cleared about 90,000 square meters and found over 100 devices, mainly
Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), which are bombs and other explosives
that are still live and are just lying around. We removed some such
devices from a schoolground there. Inhaminga was, and still is,
a very big job.
Most minefields were laid in perimeter belts around
the villages. So while there were no schools or even buildings inside
the minefield itself, the whole area is surrounded by and affected
both by the minefield and by UXOs left in the area. In these situations,
the children are not always able walk the shortest path to school
or may not be able to conduct sporting activities. They must also
be instructed on mine and UXO identification and what to do when
they find something suspicious.
In the school yard in Inhaminga, we followed up
reports of UXO and destroyed six mortar bombs in the grounds. These
bombs could have killed scores of children if left unattended. As
with all our activities, clearance also involves continuous support
to the local community, primarily CMA (Community Mine Awareness)
and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) follow up.
Information on the mine threat is very hard to
come by. Since the war is not long over, and there are still lots
of political differences in the area, few people are willing to
come forward with information, largely for fear of victimisation.
Much of the information on UXOs is brought in by children, who are
too young to be considered to belong to one side or the other, or
are still naive enough to be unconcerned about possible victimisation.
While we were working there we came to the conclusion
that there are about 23 more mined sites which should be approached
as minefields. The amount of UXOs in the area is tremendous, and
they are spread all over the place. The Independent Quality Control
supervisor, who came out from Germany to inspect our work, believed
that the only place really clear in the Inhaminga area is the space
we actually cleared, and we should declare the rest of the town
a minefield and work from the cleared area as a safe lane.
I visited Inhaminga three times during our work,
and aside from the difficulties of getting there, it is very nice.
It is very close to the real “home” of Renamo, and was
the scene of much activity during the war. It was over-run twice
(the second time I think it was abandoned) or more, and fought over
often. The minefield was laid by Frelimo, while most of the “nuisance”
mines were laid by Renamo.
Schools are run by various organisations, all
primarily aid organisations. The Catholic church is a leader in
this area (more so than others). They are building a new school
building, and this is the yard we removed the mortar bombs from