South Sudan-Uganda: Farmers fear land mines (IRIN)

Download this story

Farming communities along the South Sudan-Uganda border are afraid to till their land. After years of civil conflict, the risk of landmines and other unexploded ordnance is great.

Roselina Achan lives in Ngomoromo in northern Uganda’s Lamwo district. She says, “Landmines are a big problem here; my sister was blown up in 2007 after she visited this village [Lelabur in Ngomoromo] in the hope of returning.” Mrs. Achan was speaking during the handover of a stretch of demined farmland in Ngomoromo on July 29, 2011.

But while this stretch of farmland is clear, other land nearby remains dangerous. Cosmas Odwogo is a local leader. He says at least 19 people have been killed by landmines in Lelabur since 2000. Several cattle have also been killed. Mr. Odwogo says locals set fire to affected fields during the dry season in an attempt to explode the mines. But this proved futile. He adds, “We urgently need government intervention to clear our land so that we can return home and start cultivation.”

The threat of landmines and unexploded ordnance has forced former residents of the Agoro, Ngomoromo, and Ogili areas in northern Uganda to settle in camps, away from their villages.

Farmers on the South Sudan side of the border are also curbing their activities because of the landmine threat.  Ajweng Yubu lives in Laboni village. He says, “The situation is bad in Laboni and other places in South Sudan where landmines were planted along roadsides, water points, and farming areas.”

Rodger Lutalo is a program officer with the UN Development Programme in Kampala. He estimates that around 400 villages in northern Ugandan have been cleared of landmines since 2005. Some 5,000 landmines were detonated. But he notes that 329 “hazardous” villages remain.

The Ugandan government hopes the areas will be cleared by next year. But mine clearance is challenging.  Matti Nikkila is a senior technical adviser with the Danish Demining Group. He says, “Here, we are doing it [mine clearance] manually yet the vegetation is thick, making it hard to do the work.”

According to officials, there is a need to scale-up mine risk education to help protect vulnerable communities. Even in areas which have been demined, officials recommend caution. Addressing the affected communities, Mr. Lutalo says, “It’s up to you to remain vigilant and report any suspicious objects lying on the ground.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Yubu is still waiting to return to his fields. He says, “I don’t know when we will confidently walk and cultivate our land without fear.”