Mine Action in support of the Peace Process in Mindanao
Background of the UXO problem
Since 1968, the “Bangsamoro” region of central and south-western Mindanao has been the scene of fighting between Muslim separatists and autonomists and the Philippines government. The conflict, including recent fighting initiated by breakaway insurgent groups, has left, and continues to leave, unexploded ordnance (UXO) scattered around the Bangsamoro. UXO presents a threat both to local communities’ safety and livelihoods and to security in the region. Since 1999, over 500 casualties have been identified from Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War.
FSD Mine Action programme in Mindanao
Following the signature of the Peace Framework Agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in October 2012, FSD France and its national partner, the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL), began working to reduce the threat from landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in conflict-affected areas. The programme will continue into mid-2015 and beyond. It has been expanded to cover Mine and UXO Risk Education (MRE) and the training of local capacities in UXO clearance and the management of ammunition, explosives and weapons stockpiles.
The programme supports both parties’ commitment to dealing with the UXO and landmines issue, as stated in the Framework Peace Agreement’s Annex on Normalisation:
“UXOs and Landmines
Both Parties commit to uphold the “Deed of Commitment under Geneva Call for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action” signed by the MILF on 7 April 2002.
As part of the normalization process, Parties also hereby commit to jointly undertake mines/unexploded ordnance (UXO) detection and clearance (demining) as well as mine risk education with the assistance of concerned organizations (experts), including the project provided in the “Guidelines for the Implementation of the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines – Fondation Suisse de Deminage (FSD) project” of 5 May 2010.
This shall be undertaken as a measure for the rehabilitation, reconstruction and development efforts and for the confidence-building efforts in support of the larger peace process.”
As of April 2015, FSD teams have surveyed 386 villages. To date, UXO has been reported in 120 locations. More can be expected as the programme continues, and villages subjected to artillery barrages during recent conflicts are revisited. FSD teams also investigate and report UXO accidents. 103 mine, UXO and IED victims have been reported on since the programme began.
Capacity building – UXO clearance and Ammunition Safety Managament
Villagers are understandably reluctant to farm contaminated land for fear of death or injury from UXO. UXO clearance will release land for farming and development, and will also permanently remove explosive items that may otherwise be recycled as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Under the current programme, the FSD will train former MILF combatants to carry out UXO clearance. The training will support the Peace Agreement’s provisions on the decommissioning of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) by reorienting former bomb towards bomb disposal.
Ammunition Safety Management
As a part of its Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM) project, FSD will also train BIAF staff in the safe management of ammunition and explosives. This will be expanded later to cover the secure storage, and possible decommissioning, of weapons.
UXO Risk Education
FSD teams carry out Mine & UXO Risk Education (MRE) for conflict affected villages. To ensure effective coverage of all areas, particularly in response to emergency situations, FSD also trains local volunteers.
Aside from the two courses conducted in 2009 as part of an earlier programme, seven MRE volunteers’ courses have been conducted so far. These include: emergency and continuation training courses for local NGOs in Zamboanga City, in response to the conflict in the city in September 2013; Nonviolent Peaceforce’s volunteers in Datu Piang following the AFP-BIFF conflict of February 2014; UNICEF Child Protection Working Group volunteers in Mindanao, and a combined courses for volunteers from the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (BASULTA). Training has also been conducted for regional and city Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices (DRRM) staff in Zamboanga and Cotabato.
Plans are already underway, and initial trials messages and materials have been developed, to train MRE Providers in areas affected by the on-going conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA) in northern and eastern Mindanao.
Response to Mamasapano incident
In January 2015, an encounter between the Philippines Special Action Force, the MILF and the breakaway group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) left many dead on both sides. As of April 2015, continued fighting between the BIFF and the Philippine security forces has resulted in over a hundred thousand people being evacuated from their villages, which have been subjected ground fighting and mortar and artillery bombardment. In coordination with the local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO), FSD team is providing UXO risk education for villagers before they return home.
Mine Action coordination in the Bangsamoro
During the transition phase, FSD will provide guidance and assistance to the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority on the coordination of Mine Action training and operations. Depending on the local authority’s plans and priorities, this may include the establishment of a Bangsamoro Mine Action Centre (BMAC).
The programme is funded by the European Union’s “Instrument for Stability (IFS)”. A total of EUR 1,427,098 has been provided from November 2012 through June 2015.
250 x surveys completed
91 x UXO locations mapped and recorded
100 x Victim Reports completed: 56 x incidents with unexploded ordnance; 5 x incidents involving anti-personnel mines; 28 x incidents involving war victims due to shelling or bombardments; 9 x victims of IEDs and 2 x incidents from unidentified causes.
6 x items of unexploded ordnance removed from village and handed over to Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team.
61 x MRE Providers trained