Landmines Continue to Kill, Maim Every Year

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 29 August 2003

Richard Manirakiza, 10, was playing near an electric pole in Kabezi, Bujumbura Rural Province, when he stepped on a hard object. Then, it exploded flinging him violently to the ground.

I did not know, then, what happened, he said.

From their mountain home overlooking the city about 20 km away, it took Manirakiza's parents and neighbours four hours to get him to Prince Regent Charles Hospital in Bujumbura, the nation's capital. The lengthy travel time cost both his legs; doctors amputated them just below the knees. If Richard seems resigned to his fate, and only misses playing with his friends, his eyes express an unusual depth of sadness for a child his age.

Emmanueline Ndayishimiye, 23, was going to fetch water in her village of Gihanga, Bubanza Province, when she set off a landmine. Her left leg is now amputated above the knee. With a one-year-old child, now under her mother's care, Ndayishimiye sees little hope in the future.

I was running the whole day to feed my family, what will I do now with one leg? she said.

Richard and Emmanueline are among scores of landmine victims in Burundi. A UNICEF report titled Mine Victims in Burundi says that 230 people suffered from landmine blasts in 2001 and 2002. It said 44 of the victims died; others were crippled for life. Anti-personnel mines accounted for the greatest number of victims, 116 in 2001 and 87 the following year. Children, most of them under 10 years old, accounted for 36 victims. Anti-tank mines accounted for eight victims in 2002 while other unexploded objects such as grenades and rockets crippled 19 the same year.

Of the provinces named in the report as the worst affected by mines—Bujumbura Rural, Bubanza, Makamba, Ruyigi and Rutana—Bujumbura Rural heads the list of victims with 71 for 2001 and 2003.

One of three victims comes from Bujumbura Rural, Andre Mbayabaya, the director of civilian protection in the Ministry of Interior and Public Security, said.

The ministry, with UNICEF support, is still collecting data for 2003. Bujumbura Rural Governor Ignace Ntawembarira said that the worst-affected communes in the province were Isale, Mutimbuzi, and to a lesser extent Kabezi and Kanyosha.

With sixteen victims, Isale is the most dangerous zone, Ntawembarira said.

Isale and Mutimbuzi residents have been warned to be very careful and, if possible, to avoid the localities of Mbale and Gasarara in Isale, and Tenga in Mutimbuzi. Ntawembarira places full responsibility for the presence of mines on the belligerents in the country's 10-year civil war.

Government forces may plant them to protect their positions and sometimes may forget them, rebels also use them to sabotage the infrastructures, he said.

This is why the public has been forbidden to go close to some facilities such as power stations, electric poles and bridges.

However, army spokesman Col Augustin Nzabampema has denied that the army has been using mines. He also said the rebels' use of these devices was limited. Our forces are regularly injured by grenades left behind by the enemy but landmines are very rare, and when we see one we detonate it, he told IRIN.

Whatever the scope of the problem, systematic destruction of unexploded ordnance is impossible without a ceasefire agreement. While waiting for that to happen the Ministry of Interior and Public Security, with UNICEF support, is informing the public on the risk of mines. Components of the public information strategy include aid to mine victims.

UNICEF says public information on the mine problem should be coupled with advocacy to bring the belligerents to ratify or respect the Ottawa Convention. Burundi signed the convention in 1997 but has still not ratified the document.

Mbayabaya told IRIN the ministry was still identifying victims to assess their needs before they submit these to UNICEF for funding. Meanwhile, NGOs such as Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services are still active in Makamba, southern Burundi. This NGO provides counselling to mine victims and other persons traumatised by the war. Handicap International also provides some artificial limbs to victims.

For victims like Emmanueline and Richard, aid is a key component of any mine clearance strategy: they say they need help to overcome their psychological trauma and start new productive lives.