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Rwanda : hemmed in by mines

01-05-1996 News Release 96/17

In Rwanda in recent months, ICRC teams have had to suspend their travel plans on several occasions because of the increasing frequency of mine explosions. Since the beginning of the year landmines - mostly anti-tank - have claimed about 130 victims, mainly in the west of the country.

The ICRC sub-delegation in Cyangugu, south of Lake Kivu and a few minutes from the Zaire border, was recently obliged to restrict the movements of its staff for ten days following the deaths of at least 14 people in mine incidents. This means that the ICRC could no longer work in behalf of detainees, install water-supply systems in the countryside, or take children who had become separated from their parents back to their homes. In short, delegates were cut off from the victims they were trying to help.

Landmines kill and maim. But they can also isolate people, depriving them of the assistance and protection that are essential for their survival. Even more perversely, they can also be used to manipulate the activities of humanitarian organizations by placing certain areas off-limits.

The example of Cyangugu is not unique in Rwanda. The population of four prefectures bordering on Zaire is particularly severely affected by the presence of newly-laid mines. Mine explosions have cost about 60 lives this year and after each successive incident the ICRC has to decide which roads it will or will not use. The danger is all the greater because these roads are often dirt tracks where a mine can be buried in a matter of minutes. Some of the mines have been there since 1994, but most of them have been laid very recently, making travel in the field a hazardous business.

Protection of humanitarian work is on the agenda of the Review Conference of the 1980 United Nations Convention on certain conventional weapons, taking place in Geneva from 22  April to 3 May. Whatever the decisions taken at the Conference, the unpredictable nature of mines greatly increases the risks they represent and makes the results of clearance campaigns unreliable. The situation in Rwanda is a case in point.