South Sudan Army’s Land-Mine Use Escalates War, Monitors Say

South Sudan’s army is laying land mines in its battle against rebels, disregarding an international ban and signaling an “alarming escalation” of the 15-month-old war, a conflict monitoring group said.

A South Sudanese government representative on March 12 said that anti-personnel mines had been deployed around Nasir town in oil-rich Upper Nile state, the monitors from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a bloc of seven East African nations, said in a report. IGAD urged government forces to remove the alleged new mines and take action against the officers responsible.

IGAD envoys should take “urgent and robust action” over the mine claims, the March 27 report’s authors said. The country’s army denied it’s using land mines.

South Sudan’s civil war, which erupted in December 2013 following a power struggle in the ruling party, is intensifying about three weeks after leaders of the warring parties failed to reach an agreement at peace talks. The army said it clashed with rebels in northeastern Jonglei state at the weekend, leaving at last 82 militants dead.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the IGAD report raises concern over South Sudan’s adherence to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The country signed the international agreement, which prohibits the use, production and transfer of the weapons, in November 2011, less than six months after becoming independent.

“We’ll be following up with South Sudan on this disturbing report,” Mary Wareham, the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s arms division, said in an e-mail.

‘Making Fences’

Army information director Malaak Ayuen said troops in Upper Nile aren’t using the munitions mentioned in the report.

“We welcome IGAD to go to Nasir and verify for themselves,” he said by phone from South Sudan’s capital, Juba. “We are using barbed wire to make fences, not land mines.”

The conflict between Sudan’s army under President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy Riek Machar has killed tens of thousands of people and forced about 2 million others from their homes, according to the United Nations.

The UN mission in South Sudan condemns the use of anti-personnel land mines in conflict, spokeswoman Ariane Quentier said by e-mail.

“The UN only has a small and uneasy presence in Nasir, and is not in charge of monitoring the cessation of hostilities and its potential violations,” she said.

Obligations Breached

Machar on March 16 wrote to UN headquarters in New York, requesting a field survey because government forces had “indiscriminately laid” mines, booby traps and cluster bombs in Upper Nile, according to an e-mailed copy of the communications. He said mines had caused “60 incidents with animals and 20 incidents with human beings.”

The UN Security Council on March 24 condemned Kiir and Machar for their pursuit of military solutions to end a 15-month-old war as it renewed a threat to sanction those seen thwarting a peace agreement.

The two leaders are in “breach of their obligations” by repeatedly violating a truce first agreed on in January 2013, and caused “profound disappointment” when they missed a March 5 regional deadline to establish a transitional government, the council said in a statement. The council established a sanctions regime on March 3 to decide on punitive measures that could include asset freezes, travel bans or an arms embargo.

Land mines were used during about 50 years of civil war with South Sudan’s northern neighbor, Sudan, resulting in widespread hazards that posed a threat to the country’s people, according to the UN.

Before the current war began, the UN says it cleared 8,164 hazardous areas of unexploded ordnance or land mines, opening up almost 23,000 kilometers (13,300 miles) of roads.

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