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Monday, 10 July, 2000, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
De-mining in the Horn
Soldiers say they have dug up over 40,000 mines
A year ago, Ethiopian journalist Laeke Mariam Demessie visited the front line in the war with Eritrea - recently he returned to see the Ethiopian army consolidate its control over territory captured in the last few months.

Click here to read Laeke's original report.

Thousands of detonated land mines were piled on the side of the asphalt road.

We were on the Ethiopian plateau, above the town of Zalambessa, which was occupied by Eritrean forces for two years.

"The task of my team is to clear the land mines planted by Eritrean forces during the past two years," said Lieutenant Muez Gebretsadik, the leader of the military engineers.

"We could only pick up 43,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines in the past three weeks. So far no one was injured except animals."

The landmines are also planted in abandoned peasant houses, kitchens, cattle pens and farms

Lieutenant Muez Gebretsadik
The anti-personnel land mines appear to have been made in Russia and the Middle East.

We walked down a hill where on both sides of the path there are red flags warning the danger of landmines.

We were told to stick to the main road, which is safe. It was used by the Red Cross as a safe corridor to exchange deportees both from Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Down the hill we saw the military engineers de-mining. It is a very slow and dangerous process.

They walk slowly and cautiously with their landmine detecting machine. It buzzes very frequently.

'Cake tins'

They lie down to dig the soil with their knives and scrap carefully and unscrew the detonator. The anti-tank and landmines look like circular cans - big Christmas cake tins.

The anti-personnel mines, every 10 metres or so, are tied to metal rods, and stretch for miles.

Ethiopian soldier with de-mining equipment
Removing the mines is a painstaking process
The soldiers carefully take them out and disassemble them.

The mines are sowed over 350 hectares of land like maize planted in a row, 30cm (12 inches) apart.

"The landmines are also planted in abandoned peasant houses, kitchens, cattle pens and farms," Lieutenant Muez said.

"It is going to take a long time before the displaced peasant farmers can come back."

The unfortunate peasants are going to miss the third successive planting season, living in caves.

Ghost town

Then we drove to the town of Zalambessa - now is a ghost town - with only the occasional soldier walking in either direction on the main road.

Ruins of Zalambessa
Zalambessa has been almost completely destroyed
Zalambessa looks like a very clean suburban town - even from the destroyed town one can not see a dirty house. That is unusual for an African town.

There were no ghettos, and every building appeared to have been cleanly painted before being destroyed.

I was told this had been a town of rich merchants - some of them dealing in contraband - since the town was found in the days of Emperor Haile Selassie.

The town, once inhibited by about 15,000 people, is now a very sad scene.

The edible oil factory, a big flour mill, the hospital and customs office have totally collapsed - apparently blown up. Schools, clinics, government offices are destroyed.

To our disbelief a beautiful Ethiopian Orthodox church was looted - the inner sanctuary descrated, stained-glass windows broken, holy paintings ripped up, crosses - even those in the graveyards - looted.

The Catholic Church and the mosque were in a similar state.

Later we were taken to Forto, the site of an old Italian command post later used by the Eritreans - and now in Ethiopian hands.

It is a U-shaped underground villa, built of metre-thick concrete slabs to withstand air and artillery attack.

Above its is a command post form which one can see the whole 80km of the Zalambessa-Egala-Tsorona front.

With binoculars you can monitor every movement on the Ethiopian side - including Dongolo hill, which I had visited with the Ethiopian army.

Now I understood why, a year ago, they had told us to move cautiously and not to wear anything colourful.

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See also:

23 Jul 99 | Battle in the Horn
Touring the Ethiopian front
26 May 00 | Africa
Eritrea's 'tactical retreat'
03 Jun 00 | Africa
The town 'stripped' by Ethiopians
12 Jun 00 | Africa
Ethiopia-Eritrea peace plan
12 May 00 | Battle in the Horn
Border a geographer's nightmare
13 Jun 00 | Africa
Eyewitness: Horn battle horror
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