South African mine-clearance experts are playing a critical role in restoring airport and road infrastructure in the strategic town of Goma in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo following the recent hostilities in the region.
Ashley Williams, the GM of Denel Mechem, said that the company's teams of mine detection and clearance experts have been singled out for special praise by Paul Heslop, the head of the United Nations Mine Actions Services (UNMAS) for the role that they are playing to normalise the situation in Goma and their quick reaction to intervene at short notice.
The Mechem team has been deployed in Goma since August as a "quick-reaction group" to assist the United Nations Stabilisation Mission (Monusco) with the disposal of explosive ordnance. Following the clashes between troops from the DRC and the M23 rebel group, Mechem was requested to send additional experts to assist with the clearance of the town and airport.
Two teams, consisting of five members each, will continue with the clearance work and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) in Goma until mid-February 2013. Other Mechem teams are deployed in different regions within the DRC and consist of four multitask clearance teams, two manual mine-clearance teams, two mine-detection dog teams and one mechanical clearance team.
Mechem's specially trained sniffer dogs play a valuable role in the operations and teams travel in the South African-designed Casspir and Rhino mine-protected vehicles.
To ensure freedom of movement
Johan Strydom, Denel Mechem's country manager in the DRC said that the EOD team's primary responsibilities are to ensure freedom of movement to Monusco and its partners in the Kivu province, and to assist the military contingents with the destruction of unserviceable ammunition.
During the takeover of Goma by the M23 forces, substantial damage was caused to UN property and vehicles, and the airport was bombarded and subsequently closed for air traffic.
The rebel forces later withdrew from Goma and the Congolese Armed Forces, supported by Monusco, regained control over strategic positions. The Mechem teams were then called in to help with the normalisation of the situation and the clearance of unexploded ordnance in the streets of the town and at the airport.
Williams said that the Mechem office in Kisangani is contracted by the United Nations to support the UNMACC activities in the DRC. Its main functions are to conduct survey and clearance operations of base locations, airfields and roads that have been mined and to dispose of unexploded ordnance.
Mechem also provides education and training to villagers, especially children, to create awareness of the dangers of landmines and to identify the deadly devices, and alerting the lifting teams.
Mechem is one of a select group of UN-accredited landmine-clearance companies in Africa and currently has a presence in 11 countries on the continent. According to UN estimates there are at least 110 million active mines scattered across the world of which about 44 million have been planted on the African continent.
Strydom said that the team members are deployed for three months followed by a two-week leave period. They are working under very dangerous and difficult conditions in remote areas, but are proud of the contribution that they are making in stabilising post-conflict areas.
"We will rather build a bridge to get to the other side of a flooded river than to turn around and say we cannot do the tasks ahead," said Strydom.
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