Sudan: Keeping Sudanese Civilians and Ex-soldiers Safe from Landmines

After more than 20 years of conflict, people in Sudan are in constant danger from unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines buried throughout the African nation. The Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR JAPAN) has been conducting mine risk education in order to help local people avoid the risks of landmines and UXO.

We have been conducting this program largely centred around villages in the province of South Kordofan. At first we dedicated our efforts to children and villagers, then, as of July 2010, we expanded the program to include ex-soldiers as well.

Assisting the Social Reintegration of Ex-soldiers

The social reintegration of ex-soldiers is of crucial importance in the effort to stabilize Sudanese society after decades of conflict (See below). To aid in the social reintegration of former soldiers, the United Nations is operating demobilization and reintegration support camps, which prepare ex-soldiers for re-entry into society, and offer them training for vocations they can take up in a peacetime economy.  

AAR JAPAN began mine risk education for ex-soldiers in July 2010, starting in the UN demobilization and reintegration camp in the village of Kauda, South Kordofan.

Many ex-soldiers attend the mine risk education sessions.

The Difficulty of Teaching Ex-soldiers About Mine Risk

Many children attend the mine risk education sessions.
Special considerations must be taken into account when presenting a mine risk education session to ex-soldiers. We usually explain the risk of landmines and UXO to children and villagers by discussing the severity of the mental, physical, and financial damage landmines inflict upon their victims. Some ex-soldiers, however, have already been injured or disabled by mines or other weapons, and telling them of the countless difficulties they could face throughout their lives might overwhelm them and cause them to give up on the future entirely. We must always be highly attentive to the methodology and expressions used in mine risk education in order to avoid causing ex-soldiers further psychological damage.

Since most ex-soldiers have experience handling small arms and explosives, they are very likely to attempt to remove a mine, or to attempt to detonate UXO once discovered. This is truly dangerous. The safe removal of mines and UXO requires highly expert knowledge and equipment, and many ex-soldiers overestimate their understanding. It is crucial for them to respect and acknowledge the danger of mines and UXO, as well as to take responsible action based upon accurate information.

After a long conflict, former soldiers are not easily accepted back into the community, and they are sometimes forced to live separately as effective “newcomers”. In order for them to be accepted as members of the community, it is of paramount importance for them to be seen as responsible and trustworthy, and this includes their actions toward UXO and landmines.

“I want to teach what I learned to children when I get back to my home town”

Adam, a 55-year-old former soldier, showed great appreciation for AAR JAPAN’s mine risk education program. “I fully understand the danger of mines and UXO,” he told us. “I want to teach what I’ve learned from this program to children when I get back to my home town.”

Reintegrating these ex-soldiers into society may be a long and difficult process, but a solid education about landmines and UXO, and the goodwill to protect their communities from their dangers, can only help them to be accepted. We will continue to make our best efforts to support these former soldiers as they work to find their place in a peaceful society.

Adam, an ex-soldier, listens carefully to the presentation.
Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR)
The prevalence of small arms is a serious problem stemming from the long conflict in Sudan. Weapons such as automatic rifles were dispersed across the country, and even now that the conflict has ended, many former soldiers and civilians still cling to their weapons.

Ex-soldiers are reluctant to give up their weapons because they are afraid of the recommencement of war, or feel that they have no choice, as they do not know how to make a living except as a warrior. As long as they possess these weapons, even a trifling matter can lead to violent action that may quickly spread into a larger conflagration.

In order to improve the situation and help ex-soldiers to lead lives as ordinary citizens, it is crucial to not only to wean them off their weapons, but also to provide them with vocational training to be self-sufficient in a peacetime economy.

Some organizations such as the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have initiated disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs throughout Sudan, helping these former soldiers contribute to their country not as soldiers, but as civilians.

Ryo YAMAURA AAR JAPAN Kadugli Office, Sudan
After acquiring his teacher’s licence, joined the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers as a primary school teacher in Uganda. Joined AAR JAPAN upon return, and has been working in AAR JAPAN’s Kadugli office in Sudan since January 2009. Enjoys playing baseball. (Born in Miyagi Prefecture)