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South Sudan families imprisoned by landmines

Families living in the South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity state, are being imprisoned by landmines freshly planted by rebel gangs, warn aid agencies.

All roads into and out of the state capital city, Bentiu are believed to be mined.

The re-mining is creating a climate of deadly fear for the people who live in the city and those who need to travel in and out of it, said United Nations Mine Operations Officer Chris.

“It’s had a major impact on the people of Unity state,” he said. “It’s stopped the trading. It’s stopped normal business. It’s impeded humanitarian aid efforts. It has caused general suspicion and chaos in many parts of Unity," he told Voice of America.

"We’re experiencing re-mining of the re-mining.  We’re clearing routes and having to re-clear them, time and time again - chasing our tails [wasting our time] on some of the routes.”

Decades of war, which ended with South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in July has left thousands of unexploded mines littering the north eastern African country.

It will take about six years to clear the country of mines, say experts. But with new mines still being found in places like Unity and other northern states it could take years longer.

The United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre is spending £6,500 an hour on mine removal trucks that clear about seven kilometres of road a day. As soon as the mine clearing teams leave, people start using the roads again. But because rebels are re-laying mines faster than they can be cleared, it is giving people a false sense of security, says Fielding.

Twenty people died when a bus hit an anti-tank mine last month. It had already driven along the same road several times that day.

Since South Sudan became independent, the number of people hurt by landmines has gone up.

People dare not travel either walking or by car, said Elizabeth Tindil, who works in the operating theatre at Bentiu Hospital. She said having had loved ones hurt or killed in mine blasts has left people sad and afraid.

“We are not happy. We are sad all the time when we saw our people are broken. The young men, and the small children, and the women.  We become sorry for them because they are our family,” she said.

Six-year-old Gatwech Riak Kornyut had his left leg was blown off when he survived a mine explosion in September which killed three women, including his grandmother. His family is now too scared to use the road where it happened.

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