When the conflict in the Territory of Western Sahara started many years ago, landmines were buried. As a result, lives were lost and others were altered forever because of one unlucky step. Even this past year, there have been new victims in the Territory including one of our own, a MINURSO colleague. MINURSO continues to work to ensure that the threat posed by mines and explosive remnants of war to our peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and to ordinary people living in the Territory is forever removed.
Today marks this year’s observance of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. We would normally have had a small ceremony, but the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us into a situation that would have been unimaginable mere weeks ago. For this reason, this year’s observance of Mine Action Day has been scaled back.
In commemorating this year’s observance, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “even in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, we cannot let this day go unnoticed, nor can we allow the rights of persons with disabilities go unacknowledged. The football tournaments, due to take place on land cleared of explosive ordnance, have been cancelled; the events aimed at bringing together the mine action community will take place virtually, if at all.”
With the closing of borders and the travel restrictions that came into place over the past few weeks, our Mission Support colleagues have worked hand-in-hand with our UNMAS colleagues to ensure that our mine action personnel in the field are well-stocked with the necessary supplies and materials to see them through the coming weeks.
As we remember the numerous individuals and their families who were impacted by explosive remnants of war over more than 5 decades in this Territory, my thoughts also go out to all our mine action personnel who, even in these difficult times, remain on duty to keep patrol routes open and enable our peacekeepers to monitor the ceasefire in safety.
My best wishes to all, for peace and safety,
Colin Stewart, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara and Head of MINURSO