05 March 2007

On 27 February, the Polisario Front (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro) destroyed 3,321 antipersonnel mines at Tifariti in Western Sahara.

The sovereignty of Western Sahara remains the subject of dispute between the government of Morocco and the Polisario Front.

Polisario’s Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a member of the African Union, but is not universally recognized. Since 1999, Polisario officials have stated they would sign the Mine Ban Treaty, and in November 2005, Polisario Minister of Defense Mohamed Lamine Buhali signed the Swiss-based NGO Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment renouncing use of antipersonnel mines, which includes provisions for stockpile destruction.

In 1999, Polisario also signed a bilateral military agreement, as did Morocco, whereby both parties agreed to cooperate with MINURSO, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, in the exchange of mine-related information, marking of mined areas, and the clearance and destruction of mines and UXO in the presence of MINURSO observers.

According to the Landmine Monitor, between October 2005 and April 2006, MINURSO discovered and marked 29 mines and UXO, and monitored the destruction of 3,381 antipersonnel mines. This included the destruction by Polisario of 3,100 stockpiled antipersonnel mines on 27 February 2006, as well as another 281 stockpiled antipersonnel mines during a destruction trial the day before.

Between April and October 2005, MINURSO discovered and marked 260 mines and UXO, and monitored the destruction of 3,693 mines and UXO. In previous years, the Landmine Monitor recorded a total of 1,294 hazardous items marked, 831 sites marked and the monitoring of the destruction of 37,629 mines and UXO since 1999. (MINURSO has not disaggregated data between mines and UXO).

Polisario is cooperating with international efforts to determine the extent of landmine and other explosive hazards in Western Sahara, and increase local capacity for clearance. Under contract with the United Nations Mine Action Service, Landmine Action UK is currently training survey and EOD teams within the Polisario controlled region.

The ICBL welcomes the latest destruction by the Polisario Front of some of its remaining arsenal of antipersonnel landmines, and encourages Polisario to make a voluntary public accounting of its remaining mine stocks and a schedule for their destruction.

Landmine Monitor Report 2006 on Western Sahara: http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/western_sahara