September 17, 2008

Morocco Conducts Mine-Clearing Operation in Sahara

Text of report by Radhouane Hafiani entitled "Military bomb disposal experts in the Sahara. Military units combing areas south of Dakhla and El Msid to realise tourism projects and to establish zones for camels to graze", published by Moroccan privately-owned newspaper Assabah website on 16 September

The day before yesterday Sunday [14 Sep] military mine-clearing units resumed their activities in Sahara sites after a break of about two months. According to information received by Assabah, on instructions from the southern region military command, military bomb disposal expert units have now reached zones where engineers and technicians have not been before.

In this respect, three mine-clearing units, consisting of 36 persons, have set up camps in sites in Mijik, Limhiriz, Bir Gandouz, Ouserd, Oued Sidi Ahmed Rgibi, Boukraa and Lemsid, while two other military units continued their activities in Jdiria and in Haouza which are located near the security belt, level with the town of Smara.

Moreover, according to an authorised source, the two-month break in the work of the mine-clearing units was due to the intense heat of July, August and early this month, which makes the work of the specialised military units difficult.

The same source reveals that army engineers and technicians will continue clearing mines in sites where tourism projects will be realised, in El Msid, Tarfaya and the gulf of Dakhla. Likewise, the royal armed forces are also clearing mines in camel grazing zones. The source says that last year technicians spent more than eight months in mine fields in the outskirts of Smara and Zag, and cleared a large number of mines.

Col-Maj Abdallah Maafi, inspector of military engineering, supervises the mine-clearing operations in the Sahara, in coordination with army unit commanders. This military official has already visited sites in Jdiria and Haouza where he took cognizance of the conditions in which military technicians and engineers worked.

Military mine-clearing experts are suffering from shortage of drinking water and of basic food products, and the resumption of their activities in the month of Ramadan, in the present conditions, will worsen their ordeal.

Early last June, a unit of mine-clearing technicians went to sites in the gulf of Dakhla, near the two fishing zones of Portorico and Ain El Bidha, to comb a 2,500 square meter zone where a tourism project is going to be realised.

Assabah sources say that the army in the Sahara is using mine- clearing units composed mostly of trained experts who had graduated from the military college of mine and explosive engineers and technicians. They spend a training period in El Mahbes barracks complex. El Mahbes is located 80 km away from Zag, and is just three kilometre away from the security belt. It is considered as the most important military base to defend the Sahara and to train graduates from civil engineering schools. Since the outbreak of the war against the Polisario in 1976, Mahbes barracks are known for the ferocity of soldiers stationed there.

Since the mid-nineties of last century, Mahbes has been a centre for the training of graduates from vocational centres of the armour, the artillery and the military signals and engineering services. Furthermore, a large number of non-commissioned officers are sent to Mahbes barracks, who graduate from the royal infantry school, the royal centre for the training on handling ammunition and the transport units training centre.

In the last two decades, dozens of military men trained in Mahbes barracks have been victims of mines planted in the Sahara during the war against the Polisario. However, the southern region military command refuses to give any statistics concerning the number of mine victims.

Furthermore, sources in the Sahara have described as slow the mine-clearing operations conducted by the army, at a time when at least two mine victims are counted each month because of the lack of a genuine will to clear mines, especially in camel grazing zones and near beaches, more precisely to the south of Dakhla.

It should be noted that during the last three months, an engineer, a military man and three shepherds were killed by mines, and two military vehicles were hit in Haouza and in Tchila.

Originally published by Assabah website, Casablanca, in Arabic 16 Sep 08.

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