Expert Comment: Landmines in Angola

On a day when Prince Harry has visited the Angola landmine fields his mother Princess Diana visited more than 20 years ago, the University’s Professor Keith Somerville, a conservationist and journalist who made a documentary on the landmine problem there in 1996, said:

‘Much publicity will be given today to Prince Harry’s visit to Angola and his venture into the areas where the British-based Halo Trust is helping to clear the minefields left over from over fifty years of war in the southern Africa country – a liberation war that lasted from 1960-1974 and a civil war from 1975 to 2002.  He is revisiting the areas that his mother Princess Diana went to with Halo in 1997 and succeeded in drawing  attention to the plight of Angolans in areas of the country where hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of mines were sown by government forces, the rebel UNITA movement, the apartheid South African army and Cuban forces supporting the Angolan government.

‘I made a programme for the BBC World Service in 1996 (Assignment – Angola’s Deadly Landmines) on the problem of landmines in Angola and was escorted through the minefields to see the hazardous work of the de-miners by Paul Heslop of Halo, who later guided Diana. I saw at first hand the injuries caused by landmines, the graves of those killed by them and the dislocation to local economies caused. While HALO and others have worked tirelessly to clear mines it is a huge task and many hundreds of minefields remain.

‘Although 23 years have gone by since my visit, landmines are as deadly as ever for many rural Angolans. They can remain active in the soil for many years and may become more unstable as the years go on.  People trying to cultivate the fields, or who have to walk great distances to get water, are regular victims.  Mines are deadly to people and to the efforts by local communities to rebuild the local economies after the destruction and dislocation of war.

‘In the far south-west of Angola, in the province of Cuando Cubango, which housed the headquarters of the UNITA rebel movement, there are nearly 250 minefields, sown during during the 27 years of civil war. These are a daily threat to local communities and their livelihoods. On 17 June this year, it was announced at a conference at Chatham House in London that a new initiative was being launched between the Halo Trust and the government of Angola, which is investing $60 million to clear landmines in Cuando Cubango. The objective is to open up the area for conservation projects, eco-tourism and the through that economic recovery.  The launch was supported by Prince Harry, who has the dual commitment of furthering his mother’s campaign and through his conservation role as President of African Parks.

‘While people must come first in the landmine clearance, if the aim to clear mines from Cuando Cubango enabled the de-mining of key wildlife habitats of the Mavinga and Luengue Luiana National Parks there, it would pave the way for furthering region-wide conservation plans and creating income-generating tourism schemes which would benefit the local economy.’

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