16 June 2008

On 21 May, the Polisario Front (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro) destroyed 2,000 antipersonnel mines at Tifariti in Western Sahara. According to data provided by Polisario, this included mines of Italian, Chinese, Portuguese, Belgian, Romanian, former Yugoslav and Soviet manufacture.

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.

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 that they would sign the Mine Ban Treaty, and in the same year Polisario and Morocco signed a bilateral military agreement agreeing 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.

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.

During the destruction, Polisario Defence Minister Mohamed Lamine Bouhali stated, "We call on the other side, [Morocco] to follow our example and rid the Saharan people of the ordeals of a hidden destructive war." Polisario is cooperating with international efforts to determine the extent of landmine and other explosive contamination in Western Sahara, and increase local capacity for clearance.

Between October 2007 and the end of March 2008, UK NGO Landmine Action, in cooperation with the Frente Polisario, cleared 753,500 square meters primarily contaminated by cluster munitions.

In 2007 the Royal Moroccan Army deployed 10,000 troops for mine clearance operations in Western Sahara, on the western side of the Berm separating Moroccan and Polisario controlled areas.

Between October 2007 and the end of March 2008, the Royal Moroccan Army reportedly cleared 128,000,000 square metres and destroyed 621 anti-personnel mines, 138 anti-tank mines.

** Read about the landmine situation in Western Sahara in the Landmine Monitor Report 2007