Towards a mine-free Casamance
The threat of anti-personnel mines still hangs over the people of Casamance despite an end to the conflict in this region of Senegal. Handicap International has been running demining programmes since December 2015. After completing an initial operation in the village of Diagnon, the organisation is now clearing 20,000 square metres in Boutoute, on the outskirts of Ziguinchor, to free villagers from the danger of mines.
Jonathan Matambo, dog handler and deminer and Katja, mine detection dog in Diagnon. | © J-J. Bernard / Handicap International
Two mine detection dogs
Launched in October, the mine clearance operation will last two months and secure roads and land on the outskirts of Ziguinchor, benefiting 22,000 people. Handicap International’s team of 15 people includes six mine clearance experts, and two explosion detection dogs. Dogs are better and faster than metal detectors and play a key role in the demining team.
“We’ve starting using a Digger now, a huge vehicle that turns the soil and detonates mines in its path. It saves a lot of time,” explains Faly Keita, the coordinator of Handicap International’s operations in Ziguinchor. The dogs then double check the ground.
These demining operations will boost local development by making land available for farming, construction and road-building.
By the time Handicap International’s previous operation ended in August, it had demined 55,000 sq.m., the equivalent of five football pitches in Diagnon, Bafata and Senger. These operations identified and destroyed eight mines, potentially saving eight lives.
According to the authorities, some 100,000 people still live under the threat of mines in Casamance.
 The conflict between the Senegalese army and rebels from the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) started in 1982 and has largely died down, although no official peace agreement has been signed.