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Darfur Children Remain at Risk of Unexploded Mines

Khartoum, April 3, 2013: Harum Ali used to dream of becoming an engineer, but changed his mind after he was hospitalised with severe injuries following a horrific mine explosion.Suleiman Fatul Saim (10 years old), from Dar Al Salam IDPs camp, North Darfur, poses for the UNAMID photographer Albert González Farran in El Fasher on 2 April 2013 . He suffered burns to more than 90 per cent of his body when his brother detonated a device that he found nearby their house in November 2006.

Now the 17-year-old from Merllit in North Darfur wants to be a doctor so that he can help others suffering from debilitating injuries or illness. Ali is still recovering from the serious leg and arm injuries he sustained after a piece of artillery he was playing with exploded. Tragically Ali also lost his two younger brothers in the incident. Ali’s life changed forever on 26 January after finding the remains of a projectile, no bigger than a pack of gum, near his house. Ali, along with his two brothers (aged two and seven) and two other friends, were unaware of the dangers and were playing with the device - technically known as unexploded ordnance (UXO) – when it detonated. Ali, who spent two days unconscious, was immediately evacuated to the North Darfur capital of El Fasher for treatment, where he remains in recovery. 

Ali’s story and images detailing his recovery were released by the joint United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) to commemorate the international day for mine awareness and assistance in mine action on Thursday. His mother, Haram Mohamed, who has remained with him throughout his recovery, has mixed feelings after losing two of her children. “I am sad and I accept what God decided for my family, but I am also angry because it happened due to the fighting in Darfur,” she said. 

Haram has called for an end to the 10-year conflict, saying innocent victims like her three children “don’t deserve these consequences”. The incident has also had serious economic implications for the family, with Ali’s medical bills so far totalling 15,000 Sudanese pounds (SDG) or about  $US2700 – 50 times more than the family can make it one month selling their produce at the market. His mother says the family has been forced to sell their furniture and other belongings, as well as borrow money from relatives and friends to cover her  son’s medical expenses.

UNAMID says Ali’s family, like many others in Darfur, count on the support of local NGOs, such as Friends of Peace and Development, and the Centre of Disabled People which, in collaboration with the agency’s mine action section, frequently organise awareness campaigns to educate the local population on the dangers of UXOs in Darfur.

UXOs are classified as explosive weapons and include bombs, bullets, shells, grenades and land mines that did not explode when they were deployed and therefore still pose a risk of detonation, potentially many decades after they were used or discarded.

Two brothers from Dar Al Salam in North Darfur also suffered horrific injuries as a result of UXOs. Seventeen-year-old Musa Fatul and his brother Suleiman, aged 10, suffered burns to more than 90 per cent of their bodies when they detonated a device in their hometown in November 2006, killing one of their friends. They had been planning to fire the explosive to celebrate the victory of their football team, when the incident occurred. The brothers, who still bear the visible scars of their injuries on their faces, arms and legs, say they blame themselves for the accident and urge other children to avoid touching any suspicious objects that they may find on the ground.

International day of mine awareness, held annually on 4 April, has a special significance for Darfur, where unexploded mines continue to present a serious risk to local civilians, especially children. Many areas of the remote western region remain littered with mines and other explosives due to the protracted conflict between rebels, government forces and allied militiamen.

While UNAMID has taken recent steps to de-mine large tracts of land, it says 
ongoing insecurity in the region continues to interfere with efforts to fully 
address the issue.