The British NGO, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), was the first organisation that began to map and remove landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war in the liberated part of Western Sahara in 2006.
Between 2007 and 2008, AOAV conducted a survey on the dangerous areas that included mapping and marking of the contaminated areas in Western Sahara. Between 2008 and 2011, it carried out its first clearance operation (Battle Area clearance & Explosive Ordinance Disposal), and between 2011 and 2013, it commenced its demining operations using both manual and mechanical demining. As a result, more than 27,300 million square metres of the contaminated areas have been cleared and over 23,239 dangerous items (including mines and cluster bombs) have been destroyed. In total, 136 cleared areas were handed over to the local community. However, much remains to be done to clear the remaining mines and explosive remnants of war in the whole Territory.
It is pertinent to emphasise that all demining operations carried out so far have taken place only in the eastern part of the wall (in the Sahrawi liberated zones) and outside the five-km wide buffer zone established according to the Military Agreement No. 1 that was signed between MINURSO and the Frente POLISARIO and Morocco following the coming into effect of the cease-fire in 1991. All indications suggest that the buffer zone, where entry of military personnel and equipment and the use of weapons are strictly prohibited at all times, is the area where the largest number of mines and explosive remnants of war are. For its part, Morocco has never allowed any demining international organisation to access the Sahrawi occupied Territory.
As a sign of good faith, in November 2005, the Frente POLISARIO committed itself to banning the use of antipersonnel mines and to cooperation in mine action through its singing of the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment. Since 2005, the Frente POLISARIO has destroyed more than 10,000 landmines in its possession, which were captured from the Moroccan army during the war years. The Sahrawi Government also established, on 13 August 2013, the Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Office (SMACO) as a special body for the coordination of activities related to landmines, demining and landmines victims. The Sahrawi Association of Landmine Victims (ASAVIM) and the Sahrawi Campaign to Ban Landmines also continue their work as Sahrawi national campaigns within the framework of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
By signing the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment in 2005, the Frente POLISARIO wanted to reaffirm its commitment to a total ban on antipersonnel mines as well as its willingness to become party to other international treaties relating to landmines and cluster munitions. In this context, as a sign of its support and commitment to the principles and goals of international treaties on anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, the SADR presented two voluntary reports in accordance with article 7 of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on their Destruction (Ottawa Treaty) of 1997 and the Convention on Cluster Munitions of 2008. The voluntary reports, which were submitted to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva on 18 June 2014, contain information on the efforts made by the SADR since 2005 in relation to the destruction of its landmine stockpile, mine clearance and national measures regarding landmine and cluster munition victims and survivors of other explosive remnants of war (ERW).
The submission by the SADR of its voluntary reports was announced and welcomed by the delegate of Belgium, as the Chair of Article 7 Contact Group of the Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, during the Third Review Conference of the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, which took place in Maputo, Mozambique, from 23 to 27 June 2014. In its statement before Maputo Conference, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), receiver of Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, also noted the submission of the SADR’s reports as a sign of the support of the Sahrawi State for the goals of the Treaty.
In the meantime, Morocco flatly refuses to sign the 1997 Ottawa Treaty on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on their Destruction and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament “on the Situation of Human Rights in the Sahel Region”, released on 8 October 2013, indicated that Morocco is one of the few countries that have not yet signed the Ottawa treaty on banning landmines, and encouraged Morocco to sign it as a confidence building measure and a gesture of its commitment to peace.
Morocco’s continued refusal to accede to these international treaties shows that it is still unwilling to abandon the use of antipersonnel mines or any other military device in its deadly war against the Sahrawi people, which puts into question its interest in achieving a speedy and peaceful solution to the conflict.