Sierra Leone

Mine/UXO and Mine Action Technical Assessment in Sierra Leone

7 February 2000


1. Mission Terms of Reference

The objective of the Technical Assessment Mission was:

  • To assess the scope and gravity of the landmine/UXO situation in Sierra Leone;
  • To make sure that the requirements for the peacekeeping operation with regard to mine action are covered, particularly in the area of mine awareness; and
  • To estimate whether there is a requirement for humanitarian emergency mine action and/or longer-term developmental mine action, including mine survey, mapping, marking, and clearance, and mine and UXO awareness education, and mine victim assistance.

2. In-country Assessment

The Assessment Team visited Sierra Leone from 30 January to 6 February 2000 with the support of UNAMSIL. The Assessment Team was composed of the UNMAS Programme Officer for Sierra Leone and an UNMAS consultant responsible for mine awareness education and mine victim assistance. Representatives of UNAMSIL's nascent Mine Action Office accompanied the Assessment Team throughout its mission in Sierra Leone.

During the Assessment Mission discussions were held with representatives of the GOSL, the warring factions, UNAMSIL, UN agencies, the ICRC, and international and local NGOs. Specifically, the Assessment Team briefed upon arrival and de-briefed prior to departure the SRSG and UNAMSIL Force Commander. The Assessment Team met with the GOSL Ministry of Defence, GOSL Chief of Defence Staff, GOSL Minister of the Interior, GOSL Minister of Health, GOSL Minister and Deputy Minister of Agriculture. In addition, the Assessment Team met with ECOMOG, the RUF, the leader of the AFRC, and the CDF. The Assessment Team also met with representatives of OCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, the ICRC, HI, MSF, and a number of local NGOs.

In addition, the Assessment Team travelled to Kabala in the north of Sierra Leone, and to Kenema and Daru in the east of the country to investigate reports of uncleared landmines, booby-traps and UXO.


1. General Situation

The overall situation in Sierra Leone is relatively stable despite continuing cease-fire violations, and sporadic kidnappings, looting and harassment of the civilian population. UNAMSIL troop deployments are continuing to expand across the country with only minor obstructions due to localised violence. The north and east of Sierra Leone are still under the control of the RUF.

Disarmament is taking place slowly but steadily, though not yet on a significant scale in the eastern areas of the country controlled by the RUF. Concern remains that violence could flare up following general elections if one or more of the warring factions is not satisfied with its respective showing and consequent representation in the ensuing government.

2. The Use of Mines and Ordnance during the Conflict

Based on presently available information, the Assessment Team has concluded that the warring factions had relatively little recourse to the use of landmines, both anti-personnel and anti-tank, during the eight years of armed conflict in the country. Nuisance mining took place rather than the laying of protective or barrier minefields per se. Under the terms of the Lome Peace Agreement, all warring factions are required to hand over maps of mined areas or areas containing other explosive devices.

The GOSL Chief of Defence Staff seemingly concedes that a small number of landmines were used but claims to have recorded and subsequently cleared all these mines between February and April 1998. The armed forces of the GOSL suffered a number of casualties to landmines. The GOSL signed the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines in July 1998. It has not yet ratified the Convention. The Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier-General Kobe, declared that he abhorred the use of landmines and was committed to the destruction of remaining stockpiles. He promised to forward details of cleared landmines and unexploded ordnance to the UNAMSIL Mine Action Office.

ECOMOG claimed that other parties to the conflict had used a small number of mines beginning in 1991, and that there had been further use of anti-personnel mines in the 1997 invasion and retreat, particularly in the Waterloo area. The Assessment Team was shown a MAI 75 anti-personnel mine (Romanian origin) cleared by ECOMOG forces. ECOMOG claimed to have destroyed a number of similar anti-personnel mines, but were unable to confirm the precise quantity. According to the Chief Engineer of ECOMOG, and contrary to recent press reports, only one ECOMOG soldier had been injured by a landmine in Sierra Leone. This was in 1997 in the Hastings area, close to the capital.

The CDF denies having used or even possessed landmines, though their representatives in Freetown claimed that CDF members had found 28 landmines in Tonkolili and Moyamba districts in central Sierra Leone, and that seven of these mines had been handed over to ECOMOG in the capital. This information was not confirmed by ECOMOG.

The RUF denies having used landmines but a number of soldiers have had their legs amputated as a result of mine incidents. They claimed that there are no mines planted in areas under RUF control. They promised to forward relevant information to the UNAMSIL Mine Action Office.

The leader of the AFRC conceded that a small number of anti-tank mines were used on the road to Lungi in 1997/8 but claimed that these were subsequently cleared and that no anti-personnel mines had been laid by his forces. He promised to forward any relevant information to the UNAMSIL Mine Action Office.

It appears probable that items of UXO remain to be cleared following conflict in a number of areas. Based on available evidence, including reports of injuries and records of weapons handed in at disarmament sites, these are likely to include unexploded mortar shells, hand grenades, and possibly RPGs. To date, no landmines have been handed in at the disarmament sites.


1. Extent of the Problem

Although access has not yet been secured to all areas of the country, the Assessment Team has determined that the extent of the problem posed by landmines and UXO is limited in extent. Incidents involving mines and or unexploded ordnance have been reported in the local press but they have been relatively few in number. Press reports of a "major" problem of uncleared landmines do not seem borne out by the available evidence.

There are areas suspected to contain small numbers of nuisance mines or other unexploded ordnance in Kono district, Kailahun district, the northern part of Moyamba district from Moyamba town, and the southern part of Tonkolili district from Maburaka town, and in Bafodia village. This information has not yet been confirmed. In addition, a small area of land adjacent to a disused secondary school in Kabala has been identified as highly likely to be affected by either landmines or booby traps. This school is believed to have been previously occupied by Guinean troops serving in ECOMOG, who may have attached trip-wires to a number of hand grenades as a protection against rebel incursions. The Chief Engineer of ECOMOG was unable to confirm this information. (The use of such devices is prohibited by the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines.) In the same town, an item of UXO, probably a mortar shell, exploded in January 2000, possibly due to change in temperature, though no casualties resulted.

2. Humanitarian, Social and Economic Impact

a. The Impact on Peacekeeping Operations

So far, the impact of landmines and unexploded ordnance upon peacekeeping operations has been negligible. A small number of situation reports from around the country have mentioned the presence of mines or items of UXO, but these have so far not impeded the deployment or safe movement of UNAMSIL troops.

b. The Impact on Aid Distribution

No agency or organisation has reported being affected by landmines or items of UXO in their efforts to distribute aid to the civilian population. Where their operations have been obstructed to date, this has been due to other factors.

c. The Impact on the Civilian Population

There have been a small number of well-attested reports of landmine or UXO injuries to members of the civilian population. A few weeks ago, an adolescent girl was injured by an explosive device in the Mile 91 area. Her foot was amputated in the explosion and she has been treated in Connaught Hospital in Freetown. She claimed that she had stepped on a mine, though her injuries suggest that that the device may actually have been an unexploded hand grenade.

Recently, the Civil Defence Forces forwarded a report of the death in an explosion of a farmer in the village of Jombohun in the east of the country to the local UNAMSIL peacekeeping contingent stationed in Daru. Although it was not possible to visit the village to verify the information, informed local sources confirmed the death, and asserted that this was due to a hand grenade. Other unexploded hand grenades had since been "picked up".

UNHCR has so far received no confirmed reports of returning refugees being injured by landmines or UXO, though will continue to monitor the situation as the level of spontaneous return may increase over the coming weeks.

According to MSF, several amputee combatants in the east of the country claim to have been the victim of mine warfare. As combatants, they are capable of distinguishing between a mine, a hand grenade, and other types of ordnance. The CDF likewise claimed that a number of their members had been disabled by landmines.

d. The Socio-Economic Impact

Despite concern due to the impending planting season in Sierra Leone and a number of seemingly sensationalist reports in the local press, the socio-economic impact of landmines and UXO in the country is extremely limited. However, UNICEF reported anecdotal evidence of civilians avoiding certain roads suspecting that they might have been mined. Although there is no room for complacency, it appears thus far that agriculture, national reconstruction and rehabilitation, aid distribution, and refugee and IDP return, should not be affected by landmines and UXO.


1. Government and Warring Faction Capacity

Insofar as mines have been laid during the conflict, it is hoped that records have been kept of the location of mines to enable safe clearance and destruction. A limited capacity exists within the armed forces and warring factions to deal safely with uncleared landmines and items of UXO.

Despite widespread destruction of health infrastructure during the armed conflict, including a reported 70 per cent of the primary health care centres across the country, with the continuing support of international and non-governmental organisations, surgical care and physical rehabilitation can be provided to landmine and UXO survivors.

2. UN Capacity

Notwithstanding the apparent limited nature of the mine/UXO threat, a small mine/UXO capacity is required within UNAMSIL. A Mine Action Office is in the process of being established under the Engineer Advisor to the Force Commander. To date, this Office comprises a Mine Information Officer (Chief of Office) and Mine Awareness Officer. There is an additional requirement for a civilian Planning/Liaison Officer, a mine awareness assistant, an EOD officer and an EOD specialist, and a data entry clerk. Office supplies and equipment are urgently needed for this Office to become fully operational. Once this has occurred, the Mine Action Office could effectively co-ordinate mine action activities within Sierra Leone.

3. IO and NGO Capacity

The ICRC is deploying a surgical team to Kenema in the east of the country. A large number of civilians had one or more limbs amputated by the warring factions, particularly the RUF. This surgical team could also treat mine or UXO injured if the case arises, for instance in neighbouring Kailahun or Kono districts into which the majority of the estimated more than 400,000 refugees are likely to return.

MSF-Belgium, MSF-France, and MSF-the Netherlands are present at a number of locations around the country with the requisite expertise to give emergency assistance to mine or UXO injured. Apart fron Kenema Hospital, however, Connaught Hospital in Freetown is the only one equipped to treat surgically war-wounded, including mine victims. MSF and ICRC both undertake operations to prepare amputees for the fitting of a prosthesis.

Prostheses for amputees are manufactured and fitted in Sierra Leone by HI France. HI's prosthetics clinic in Freetown is working at some 70 per cent capacity and comprises a physiotherapist, orthoticist/prostheticist, psychologist, and occupational therapist. In addition, HI supports the Ministry of Health's workshop in Bo district in the south of the country, and there are plans to open a workshop in Makeni in central Sierra Leone. The RUF claimed that the fitting of artificial limbs to their amputees would cost a great deal of money. The Mine Action Office will follow up with HI to confirm the availability of free mine and UXO victim assistance to amputees coming from RUF areas.

HI has encouraged the President of Sierra Leone to ratify the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines. HI is also supporting local NGOs in their advocacy to eliminate landmines in Sierra Leone, which may include peaceful demonstrations in Freetown in the near future. It is considering undertaking a survey of affected areas using expertise from its headquarters in France.


1. Scale of the Landmine and Unexploded Ordnance Threat

The landmine and UXO threat, as far as it is known so far, is a limited one that could be effectively dealt with by UNAMSIL's Mine Action Office, once it is fully established, and working in full co-operation with GOSL and the warring factions, UN agencies, and IOs and NGOs.

2. Mine and Unexploded Ordnance Detection and Clearance

In accordance with the Lome Peace Agreement and prevailing international humanitarian law, mine detection and clearance is the primary legal and moral responsibility of the armed force or group that laid these devices. Thus, where the identity of the force or group can be established, that group should be requested to take the necessary action to neutralise the mine or UXO threat. Once full access to all areas of the country has been secured, the UNAMSIL Mine Action Office should ensure that the necessary rapid initial survey of the mines and UXO threat is undertaken. If small numbers of mines and UXO are identified, UNAMSIL has adequate EOD/engineer capacity to locate and clear, or at least mark and fence, contaminated areas.

3. Mine and UXO Awareness Education

Based on the initial assessment of the nature and scope of the landmine and UXO problem in Sierra Leone, it does not appear that a nationwide programme of mine and UXO awareness education is warranted. Depending on the situation in areas into which access has not yet been secured, particularly in the east of the country, locally targeted programmes for returning refugees and IDPs, and for the civilian population in Kono and Kailahun districts, may yet prove necessary.

The relevant messages and materials for such programmes should be generated locally, rather than using imported and adapted media. Communication strategies should reflect local cultural modes of information dissemination and exchange, take into account linguistic factors, and work through, for example, local primary health care workers and/or respected members of the local community.

4. Data Collection and Analysis

Notwithstanding the relatively limited scope of the problem, effective data entry and analysis will ensure co-ordination of effort and resources. The Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) database could usefully be established in the UNAMSIL Mine Action Office at an early juncture. The GOSL and warring factions, and all peacekeeping troops and all agencies and organisations working in the country should contribute any relevant information to the Mine Action Office for entry on the IMSMA database.

5. Victim Assistance

The needs of the mine and UXO victims appear to be well covered by existing capacities within the Ministry of Health, supported by HI, the ICRC, and MSF. It does not appear necessary to establish any supplementary or parallel structure. It should be ensured that all warring factions, including the RUF, have full access to rehabilitation.

6. Other Preventive Measures

Swift ratification of the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines would help to strengthen confidence in the peace process. Full disclosure and destruction of uncleared or stockpiled landmines and disposal of UXO would further this objective and prevent possible present or future harm to the population of Sierra Leone.


The rapid and effective operational establishment of UNAMSIL's Mine Action Office, including the setting up of the IMSMA database, should be considered a priority for UNAMSIL. The Mine Action Office should effectively co-ordinate, on an ongoing basis, mine action within Sierra Leone, in particular with regard to mine and UXO survey, detection and clearance, and with respect to necessary mine awareness education for the UNAMSIL peacekeepers.

As soon as the security situation allows, a rapid initial survey should be undertaken of suspected mined areas or areas containing items of UXO. The Office should undertake data entry and analysis of mine and UXO incidents across the country, and, if it proves necessary, should support the implementation of localised and targeted mine and UXO awareness education.

The GOSL should be encouraged to ratify swiftly the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines. The GOSL and all warring factions should be encouraged to identify and clear any and all mined areas for which they are responsible, and to destroy any and all stockpiled landmines under their control.


AFRC Armed Forces Revolutionary Council
CDF Civil Defence Forces
ECOMOG Economic Community of West African States Cease Fire Military Observation Group
FFE Free From Explosive
GOSL Government of Sierra Leone
HI Handicap International
ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross
IDP Internally displaced person
IO International Organisation
MSF Medecins sans Frontieres
NGO Non-Governmental Organisation
OCHA UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs
RPG Rocket-propelled grenade
RUF Revolutionary United Front
SRSG Special Representative of the Secretary General for Sierra Leone
UNAMSIL United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone
UNHCR Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
UNICEF United Nations Children's Fund
UNMAS United Nations Mine Action Service
UXO Unexploded Ordnance
WFP World Food Programme