Human Rights

Landmines new scourge in war-torn Yemen



Houthi fighters stand near landmines that have been removed in the city of al-Hodeidah on September 13th, 2018. The Washington Institute has said that the Houthis are using landmines today "at an astonishingly high rate" as they withdraw from areas in Aden, Taez, Marib and, more recently, along Yemen's western coast. [Stringer/AFP]

Landmines and explosives laid by the Houthis (Ansarallah) that have been forensically linked to Iran are tearing apart the lives of Yemeni civilians who encounter them.

For Imad and his sister Alia, life will never be the same after their father was killed by a landmine and they had to leave their endangered home in Yemen's western al-Hodeidah province.

With their house surrounded by the deadly munitions, the two children and their mother left al-Dunain village and headed for shelter at the al-Waara camp in the Khokha district, some 30 kilometres from the town of Hays.

Withdrawing Houthis had dotted the area with mines, their mother Fethiyeh Fartout said.

And it was while her husband made his way to the market that he was killed on a road "riddled with landmines".

An increasing number of bombs camouflaged as rocks are being recovered in various locations in Yemen, according to a weapons-tracking group that has linked these devices to Iran.

In a March report, Conflict Armament Research, which identifies and tracks conventional weapons and ammunition in contemporary armed conflicts, said these devices closely resemble bombs recovered in Iraq and Lebanon.

The devices recovered in Iraq and Lebanon have been previously linked, forensically, to Iran, the report said, noting that those recovered in Yemen are of similar design and construction.

Classified as radio-controlled improvised explosive devices (RCIEDs), these bombs are armed by radio control and initiated using passive infrared switches.

They are typically concealed in synthetic rocks.

'Long-term threat'

Yemen is a signatory to the international Mine Ban Treaty -- known as the Ottawa Treaty -- which came into force in 1999, and aims to eliminate landmines and clear up vast tracts of polluted land.

Indiscriminate use of landmines is deemed a war crime by international bodies.

While the Houthis have made no media comments about landmines, in a letter to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2017, the Houthi-controlled foreign ministry in Sanaa denied using landmines or having stockpiles, adding they were "vigilant in abiding by commitments" under the treaty.

But for Fartout and her children there is no way to return home, even if they tried, said her father Jamal Fartout.

"The Houthis planted landmines everywhere, and their explosives destroyed the roads," he told AFP.

"All the roads leading back to our home are lined with explosives."

HRW said in June that landmines in Yemen were hindering aid access and entrapping people.

"Houthi forces have repeatedly laid antipersonnel, anti-vehicle and improvised mines as they withdrew from areas in Aden, Taez, Marib and, more recently, along Yemen's western coast," the HRW said.

Landmines "will pose a threat to civilians long after the conflict ends," it warned.

In July, the Washington Institute said that, while landmines have plagued Yemen for decades amid different conflicts, the Houthis are using them today "at an astonishingly high rate".

While exact numbers are "notoriously difficult to verify", the institute said one "Yemeni de-mining official claims the Houthis have laid 500,000 mines since 2015", while de-mining teams "have reportedly removed 300,000 landmines".

The non-governmental Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor recorded more than 2,100 casualties in Yemen from landmines in 2016.

'Where can we go'

"I asked the Houthis, 'where can we go when the breadwinner of the family was killed by a landmine?'," Fartout said.

Hundreds of people now live in make-shift tents in al-Waara -- partly funded by the UAE.

While dozens of children, some barefoot, run around the camp, one boy sits in a wheelchair -- his leg in a cast. He, too, was a victim of a landmine.

In June, Saudi Arabia launched a new project for landmine clearance in Yemen, but "landmines will remain a formidable challenge in the postwar era", the Washington Institute said.

The Arab coalition, which intervened in the war in 2015 to bolster Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, accuses Iran of arming the Houthis with explosives and missiles.

Yemen has long been the Arab world's most impoverished country. With millions facing starvation, the Fartout family are now among the 22 million people -- three quarters of the population -- in need of food aid.

The Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) delivers food and aid to the al-Waara camp approximately every three weeks, said Saeed al-Kaabi, director of UAE's humanitarian operations in Yemen.

Each tent receives a package of food, including rice, pasta, beans, tuna, salt and sugar, he said.

But the UN has warned aid agencies are losing the fight against famine and some 3.5 million people may soon be added to the eight million Yemenis already facing starvation.

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