Friday, December 03, 2004

Sudan calls for international help to eliminate landmines - Sudan's Land Act could Thwart Darfurians' return

Here below is a copy of a report by China news highlighting an interesting plea by the Sudanese government on Thursday.

What's unusual too is that it's the longest report I've seen at China News online. I am copying it here in full. It is dated December 2, 2004 and contains a variety of useful snippets and information.

Also, note to self: it's the second time this week I've seen mention of new reasons that could delay the return of the IDPs to their homes. A few days ago, Voice of America published a piece titled "Sudan's Land Act could Thwart Darfurians' return" - see copy of report here below.

Here's the report by China News titled "Sudan calls for international help to eliminate landmines." [Update: German news agency covered the story UN Agency appeals for funds to de-mine Sudan roads on Dec 4, 2004]

Khartoum appealed to the international community to provide the mine-affected country with financial assistance to eradicate landmines and help the victims.

Addressing the ongoing international meeting on landmines in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Sudan's Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid described landmines as "our greatest problem."

"We appeal to the international community to assist Sudan to remove this terrible threat to the lives of peoples and much needed recovery and development in this country," Hamid said.

"We think landmines will be the biggest challenge facing us after the signing of the peace protocol. The continued support of the UN and the international community to mine action in Sudan is sincerely appreciated," he added.

The minister told delegates attending the Nairobi Summit on Mine-Free World clearing landmines in the Africa's largest countrywould sharply cut the cost of humanitarian aid by making road transport possible and allowing the return of refugees.

He said with anticipated peace, the return of more than 500,000 refugees will be impossible until mines are cleared, noting efforts aimed at eradicating the deadly weapons need to be strengthened.

"With imminent comprehensive peace agreement and a large numbers of refugees and IDPs (internally displaced persons) expected to return to their communities of origin and the influx has already started by nearly 500,000 returnees, therefore the momentum of the mine action program needs to increase significantly," Hamid told the delegates.

He said a six-year mine action strategy sealed in Nairobi in August between Khartoum and southern rebels has now allowed the United Nations to begin work in southern Sudan, clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance.

"This will allow displaced people to return home, open up routes for business and aid deliveries, and allow the expansion of farm land," he said.

He said there are around 10,000 landmine victims in Sudan at present, many with missing limbs. "Help for these people is very important to us,'' said the minister.

Sudan ratified the Mine Ban Treaty last year and the main southern rebel group, Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has signed a deed of commitment, which essentially make it a non-state actor.

The Khartoum government and the SPLM/A have fought for the past 21 years, littering the massive region with mines and unexploded weapons. Overall, the United Nations Mine Action Service believes 800,000 sq. km in 21 of Sudan's 26 states are affected.

The SPLM/A and the Sudanese government two weeks ago pledged to finalize a peace accord that has dragged for several years by the end of this year, after pressure from an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council in Nairobi.

"We are expecting peace before the end of this year and this will strengthen efforts towards eliminating landmines," he noted.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) also appealed for urgent funding for de-mining of key transport routes in southern Sudan to help people return after decades of war, and connect the region to northern Sudan and neighboring countries.

In a news release issued Thursday, WFP said it faced an immediate shortfall of 4.8 million US dollars for the first phase and would need 64 million for a special operation in 2005.

The Nairobi Summit is reviewing progress made toward a mine-free world over the past five years and preparing an action plan for the future.

The Antipersonnel Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, entered into force in March 1999 and prohibits the manufacture, trade and use of antipersonnel landmines. It also obliges countries to destroy stockpiles and clear their own mined territory.

The summit is expected to come up with two documents. One of them will be a program of action on how the goals of the convention are to be achieved, while the second one will be a political declaration by parties reaffirming their commitment to the convention.
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Sudan's Land Act could Thwart Darfurians' return

Months ago, I wrote a post for my main blog about Oil in Darfur. I still can't shake the feeling that land in Sudan is being cleared by the government to make way for oil exploration, drilling and the laying of an oil pipeline through Darfur. There have been rumours of an oil pipeline being planned for Darfur.

This could be one of the many reasons why the black Africans in Darfur are being decimated: to crush the rebellion and not lose power. Here's an interesting twist reported yesterday by Raymond Thibodeaux in VOA news:

Unlike in much of Sudan, people in the western Darfur region have for centuries owned and distributed land according to their own tribal customs. But a little-known land act, if imposed on Darfur, could have serious consequences for Darfurians displaced by the fighting in western Sudan.

Sudan's 1984 Civil Transaction land act could keep nearly two million people who fled their villages and farms in the wake of atrocities in western Sudan from reclaiming their ancestral homelands. Under the Sudanese law, people who abandon their property for one year forfeit their right to own it. The land can then be occupied by tenants who could claim ownership after living on it for 10 consecutive years.

As hundreds of thousands of Darfurians near their first year away from their villages, United Nations observers and human rights groups are pressuring Sudan's government to suspend the law. Land expropriation, they say, could become one of the most explosive issues in Darfur's 22-month conflict.

Daniel Lewis is head of the post-conflict section for the U.N.'s human settlement program. He has been researching Sudan's land tenure laws, and speaks by telephone from the U.N. regional headquarters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

"Anytime there is displacement, whether it's Darfur or anywhere else, there is rarely a vacuum," said Mr. Lewis. "In other words, when they are displaced, someone else moves in and asserts a certain amount of control over the property that's been, in their minds, abandoned. The more prolonged the displacement, the deeper entrenched are the new occupants. Therefore, the more difficult and potentially volatile the process of reacquisition or reoccupation of land and property."

In Darfur's case, it is mainly Arab herders who are poised to take over land traditionally owned by black African tribes, including that of the Fur, the region's largest tribe and the tribe for which this dar, or homeland, is named. Some analysts say Arab tribes, driven southward in recent decades by the creep of the Saharan Desert and increasingly prolonged droughts, have the backing of Sudan's government and its allied Arab militias who, to help put down a rebel uprising, have carried out a campaign of violence that has claimed the lives of up to 70,000 people.

So far, Sudan's top officials differ on whether to implement the controversial land law in Darfur or temporarily suspend it so people displaced by the conflict can return home, especially now with the prospect of a peace deal in coming weeks between the Khartoum government and Darfur's two rebel groups.

Hussain Ibrahim Karshoum, a lawyer who heads the government's Humanitarian Affairs Commission in Nyala, where he oversees some of the region's largest refugee camps, says the longer families from Darfur stay in the camps, the more difficult it will be for them to return to their homelands.

"It's true. But the Sudanese laws are very flexible, they adopt the customs and traditions of the people," he said. "I just suggest that they have to make a very special enactment for the region - concerning the land. They need it so."

Several U.N. agencies and aid groups have called for a meeting on this issue later this month, partly to discuss ways to educate Darfurians in the refugee camps on this land act, which most of them have never heard of.

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