On 3 November 2017, Geneva Call monitored the destruction of 2,446 stockpiled anti-personnel (AP) mines by the Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Office (SMACO) in accordance with Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment banning AP mines signed by the Polisario Front in 2005. The event took place near Tifariti in the presence of the Polisario authorities, representatives of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), international demining organizations and UN military observers.
This destruction, the sixth since the Polisario Front signed the Deed of Commitment, brought the total number of stockpiled AP mines destroyed to 15,454. It came after a discussion with Geneva Call and a declaration by the Polisario Front in June 2017 announcing the destruction of all its remaining AP mines stocks by October 2018.
“Western Sahara is heavily contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war, which endanger the lives of the local population and their livestock and block safe access to arable land and water sources,” said Pascal Bongard from Geneva Call, who was present at the destruction.
Millions of mines are still buried alongside the 2,700 km-long wall which separates the territory, built by the Moroccan army. “However, since the signature of the Deed of Commitment, hundreds of square kilometres have been cleared in areas controlled by the Polisario Front, and more than 50,000 refugee and nomadic people have received mine risk education” he added.
During a speech before the destruction, former Minister of Defence, Mohamed Lamine Bouhali, stated that the Polisario Front is fulfilling its pledge under the Deed of Commitment to destroy all the mine stocks in its possession, and he called for the full clearance of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Western Sahara.
“The signature of the Deed of Commitment by the Polisario brought the mine issue in Western Sahara to light and allowed international humanitarian organizations, such as the Red Cross, to come and bring support to the victims of AP mines, whereas demining organizations were able to start clearing the land,” said Aziz Haidar, President of the Sahrawi Association of Mine Victims.
According to the Landmine Monitor, more than 2,500 people have been the victims of AP mines and ERW in Western Sahara since 1975, and in 2016, 34 new casualties were reported on both sides of the wall. Morocco remains one of the 34 countries which has not signed the AP Mine Ban Treaty.