Updates from Michael Laban of Mine-Tech
13 May 1998: Demining in Dombe
21 January 1998: Welcoming the demining team
8 December 1997: Surveying the minefield
24 October 1997: Introductory Letter from Michael Laban
Send your questions for Michael Laban to email@example.com. Make sure the subject field says: Letters to Mozambique and dont forget to include your name and/or the name of your school.
13 May 1998
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 found more.
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 away.
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 and destroyed.