Land mines pose lin­ger­ing threat in Ye­men

Re­ports say Houthis planted de­vices to slow coali­tion, and civil­ians pay­ing the price

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION - By Khaled Mo­hammed

KHOKA, Ye­men: Months after heavy clashes be­tween Houthi rebels and pro-gov­ern­ment fighters forced them to flee their coastal vil­lage in Ye­men’s western prov­ince of Taiz, the Ghaleb fam­ily had fi­nally re­turned home.

But their re­lief was cut short just days later when a land mine left in their home ex­ploded, wound­ing their 7-year-old son.

The blast ripped off one of Ab­dul­lah’s thumbs and left him with a com­pound frac­ture to one of his legs.

In their hum­ble home in the vil­lage of Al-Hameli, be­tween the towns of Mokha and Hays, rel­a­tives help the boy into a wheel­chair, cov­er­ing him with a bright pink blan­ket.

“We took refuge east of the town of Bayt al-Faqih and re­turned home after the fighters left,” said Ab­del Fat­tah Ghaleb, Ab­dal­lah’s fa­ther, mo­tion­ing to­wards their hut made of dry branches.

“Two or three days after re­turn­ing, a de­vice ex­ploded in­side our home,” he said, adding Ab­dul­lah had been lucky to be rushed to a clinic sup­ported by in­ter­na­tional med­i­cal char­ity Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders.

Dev­as­tated by hunger and war, civil­ians on Ye­men’s western coast, south of the flash­point port of Hodeida, are com­ing face to face with the lin­ger­ing threat posed by thou­sands of land mines planted mostly by the Houthi rebels.

The Iran-aligned in­sur­gents have been ac­cused by hu­man rights groups of ex­ten­sively us­ing land mines to hin­der the ad­vance of Arab coali­tion pro-gov­ern­ment forces.

The Houthis de­nied the use of land mines in a let­ter to Hu­man Rights Watch, but the New York­based watch­dog in­sists the rebels have rou­tinely planted ex­plo­sives be­fore re­treat­ing.

“Houthi forces have re­peat­edly laid anti-per­son­nel, anti-ve­hi­cle and im­pro­vised mines as they with­drew from ar­eas in Aden, Taiz, Marib and, more re­cently, along Ye­men’s western coast,” HRW said.

Not far from Al-Hameli, chil­dren walk bare­foot through the dusty desert ter­rain along the edge of a mine­field, de­mar­cated by small rocks and a red and white sign marked with a skull and cross­bones.

Here, mine clear­ing teams are search­ing the sand try­ing to re­move the dan­ger­ous de­vices.

“Fol­low­ing lots of suf­fer­ing, ex­haus­tion and threats while liv­ing as dis­placed, we thought we will find rest in our home,” Ab­dul­lah’s un­cle Ab­del Latif said.

“In­stead we found the threat of land mines, among oth­ers.”

Towns and vil­lages along the western coast have changed hands mul­ti­ple times in years of fight­ing, and res­i­dents have of­ten been forced to move en masse to avoid gun bat­tles and bombs.

But fight­ing has slowed since mid-Novem­ber as the U.N. pushed to re­vive a stalled peace process, and gov­ern­ment and rebel rep­re­sen­ta­tives ar­rived in Swe­den this week for the first round of talks since 2016.

A source in the gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion said Pres­i­dent Abed Rab­bou Man­sour Hadi’s camp would seek maps de­tail­ing mine­fields laid by the rebels as part of “con­fi­dence­build­ing” mea­sures be­tween the two sides.

Has­san al-Jah­wari, head of the Saudi-backed Masam land mine clear­ance project, said he had 16 teams work­ing around Mokha to clear mines.

“The first team ar­rived in Au­gust and in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the United Na­tions Devel­op­ment Pro­gram, we were able to clear 9,000 mines planted by the Houthis in ad­di­tion to other ex­plo­sive de­vices,” Jah­wari said.

In Nuhaira, an­other vil­lage on the west coast, 18-year-old Mo­ham­mad Ah­mad Ibrahim is mourn­ing his fa­ther, who died try­ing to save him after he was wounded by a mine.

“I was re­turn­ing from a fish­ing trip along with my brother and a friend … I stepped on a mine that tore my leg off and threw me to the ground,” Ibrahim said.

His brother and friend nar­rowly es­caped and quickly ran to fetch Ibrahim’s fa­ther.

“He came to my res­cue but as he ap­proached he stepped on a mine and died in front of me,” he said.

A Ye­meni man pushes a boy who was wounded in a land mine ex­plo­sion near their shel­ter in Al-Hamili district in Novem­ber.

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