A couple of miles of Juba, capital city of South Sudan, are the Mafao-Minefields. The place is extremely dangerous. Residents of villages in the area and members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) have indicated where the mines are located. A battalion of Bangladesh’s UN troops (32 men) has been working to demolish the area of 220,000 m2 for four months. They search every inch. Major Salahin Mohammed from the Bangladesh Militairy Demining Compagny explains how demining works. A distinction is made between military and humanitarian demining. Military demining involves speed. Two deminers work next to each other. Safety is the most important issue in demining. The men have completed four months’ training in Bangladesch and have gained experience in various countries, including Ethipie and Eritrea.
The result of the operation in the Mafao-Minefield is up to now 1 anti-tank mine (which only explodes when there is a pressure of more than 100 kg) and 20 anti-personal mines (which go off at a pressure of 3 kg) . The deminers first take up the area visually: is the grass somewhere shorter? Is there a different color? When they find a suspicious spot, the grass is then cut to 1 cm above the ground before using a metal detector. But because a lot of ammunition was used during the war and many metal splinters of bombed bridges, the metal detector often goes off. That is of course very frustrating and the work is slowing down tremendously. If mine is found, it is excavated and detonated elsewhere. Sometimes the mine is on focus or booby traps are applied. In that case, the mine is made harmless on the spot.
The work of the deminers is very dangerous. Because of the mines, the snakes and the heat. Today at 10AM it was 48 degrees celcius (118F). The men wear a helmet and a protective vest. The heat is almost not to handle, even when you’re doing nothing. There is a 10-minute tea break every hour. An ambulance is waiting along the road.Next to each deminer is a team leader. He actually only sees if the deminer does his job well and does not lose concentration. Just as we are at one of the deminer, the metal detector goes off. For safety I only take a step back, although that will not help much if the mine goes off. With a small metal stick, the deminer pierces the ground inch by inch. First horizontally, then vertically. A square meter costs 2 hours that way. In this way, it takes another 2.5 years before the field is cleared. Eventually nothing is found.
The men therefore work only six hours a day, five days a week. There are faster ways to dismantle minefiels, for example with machines (but often too expensive) or dogs (too hot, max 37 degrees). “It’s a hard-pressed job”, Major Salahin says, “but someone has to do it”.