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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Yemen's hidden threat: mines

Unexploded weapons continue to affect civilians in Yemen

An Emirati forces-trained Yemeni deminer with a metal detector searches for landmines allegedly planted by Houthi rebels at a town after seizing it from the rebels in the western province of Hodeidah. Stringer / EPA
An Emirati forces-trained Yemeni deminer with a metal detector searches for landmines allegedly planted by Houthi rebels at a town after seizing it from the rebels in the western province of Hodeidah. Stringer / EPA

Fadhel Al Shouaiby and his friends were driving to Aden airport after the Arab coalition forces liberated the area, when his life was shattered.

On what should have been a normal stop at services, Fadhel stood on a mine, which exploded. .

"The impact blew me four metres away," he said of the blast, which occurred near a mosque. "I was still conscious after the explosion but struggling to breathe. I only started screaming after the smoke disappeared."

When his friends approached him, the 27-year-old demanded they stop, fearing they might detonate another mine.

"I looked down at my leg and it was horribly smashed," he said. "The bone was torn into pieces."

Even in areas long liberated from Houthi rebels in Southern Yemen, landmines continue to affect hundreds of civilians.

This year, more than 8,600 people have been injured and more than 2,000 killed worldwide by landmines and other explosives left behind by as a legacy of conflict.

"An unprecedented volume of landmines and unexploded weapons contaminates rural and urban war zones, maiming and killing innocents civilians,long after conflicts have ended,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Mine Awareness Day on Wednesday.

In Yemen, the buried explosives were planted by Houthis in a random manner as part of a slash-and-burn retreat typical of rebel groups, pro-government forces say.

"The Houthis' goal is to kill whoever is against them," the former director of the Yemeni mines action centre, Maj Gen Ali Al Kadri, told The National.

"They don't have any concern about the lives of innocent people. Everybody is an enemy in their eyes."

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Between 2015 and 2016, more than 6,500 landmines were deactivated by the mines action centre.

Human Rights Watch has said Houthi forces used landmines in at least six provinces since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015.

UAE Armed Forces have cleared more than 20,000 landmines across Yemen since they became involved in the conflict.

Despite the thousands of hours and resources spent in demining operations, hundreds have fallen victim.

"I was as strong as a horse," said Fadhel. "Now I can barely manage to stand up since I lost parts of my body."

After crawling to his friends who were standing in the walkway into the mosque, they rushed him to Al Jamhuria hospital in Aden, where doctors told him his leg would have to be amputated.

He rejected the diagnosis. His brother took him to Jordan in an attempt to save his leg. Doctors told him the same thing again only for Fadhel to again refuse the procedure.

The family even managed to gather enough funds to fly him to India, where he thought the doctors would be able to save his left leg. But it eventually had to be amputated.

"I was about to get married, now I gave up because I lost my self-confidence. How would I run a house and be responsible for a family when I don't even have a job and the government doesn't pay any attention to us?" he said.

Ali Saleh Al Barakani and his son Mohammed are also victims of landmines.

Ali is a mine removal team leader, having neutralised thousands of explosives in Yemen’s interim capital, Aden.

"We de-mined most of the landmines at the airport until we got the last pockets near to the wall of the airport, " he said. "I passed over a mine, which detonated. The force propelled me metres away.

He went into a coma afterwards, waking up to find his right leg amputated.

“It was such a horrible nightmare when I started trying to move my legs to find that my right leg [had been] cut off the knee," Ali said. “Both my son and I were victims of the evil I fought most of my life.”

His son was in a car transferring the de-mining team from Khourmaksar district in Aden to other areas where mines were suspected to have been planted.

They were carrying explosives they had removed from the ground when their car hit a landmine on the road, detonating the mines they had in the car.

His colleague died and Mohammed was sent to the same hospital as his father to have his left leg amputated.

Both Ali and his older son appealed to the UN to rally support for the Yemeni de-mining programme. They are asking for modern equipment so that more lives can be saved in the task ahead.