Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Growing up with landmines on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border

ADDIS TESFA, Ethiopia, Nov 30 (AFP) — Leaning against a blackboard in front of her class, Abrehet Amha, a 14-year-old Ethiopian girl, explained how she lost half a leg when she stepped on a landmine two years ago.

“It was just outside my village. They said the area had been cleared. I was running and suddenly it blew up,” said the girl in a timid voice during a lesson on the risks of landmines.

Addis Tesfa, a village in whose primary school the lesson is being held, lies just two kilometres from the border with Eritrea.

Landmines were extensively used during the 1998-2000 war between the Horn of Africa neighbours and still litter northern Ethiopia’s arid Tigray region.

The missing portion of the girl’s left leg, from the knee down, has been replaced by a plastic prosthesis.

“Mines are never far away here. The first no-go area is just 200m from the school,” said teacher Epherem Habtu.

Stuck on the blackboard, near illustrations of the colours of the rainbow and of various vegetables, are posters showing several models of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.

A cartoon strip tells a story that is all too common in this area: a child walking through a field picks something that looks like a toy or a stone from the ground which turns out to be a mine and explodes.

“Adults tell us to stay away from some areas or mark them with red flags,” said one of the schoolchildren when asked what is done to avoid the dangers of mines.

Deminers working with the government and the United Nations have been in the area since 2001.

On Monday, Ethiopia became the 144th country to ratify the Ottawa Convention, a 1997 treaty that bans the production, use, trade and stockpiling of landmines and outlines timetables for their removal from the ground.

Such classes are weekly in Addis Tesfa and are financed across Tigray by the UN’s children’s agency, Unicef.

Still, four years after the war ended, mine accidents still happen.

“I saw something shiny on the ground. I thought it was a pen so I picked it up,” recalled five-year-old Hailoym Tecklay, who lost two fingers of his right hand in the resulting blast.

In the first six months of 2004, 350 mines were recovered from 10m-wide strips each side of the road that passes in front of the school, according to Vic Thackwray of the UN demining operation in Tigray.

The road links the border town of Zala Anbesa with Adigrat, about 30km to the south.

“In two years, we have destroyed 2 000 mines found over 14 square kilometres. The border with Eritrea is more than 1 000km long, which suggests that thousands of other mines lie in the soil, even if we cannot give any accurate figures,” said Thackwray.

At midday the school’s 1 200 pupils were let out and set off to find their parents in the fields.

Abrehet struggled to keep up with the other children. About 200m from the school, five deminers examined the soil.