Regional Mine Action as a Confidence-building Measure

by Jernej Cimperšek [ Permanent Mission of Slovenia to the OSCE ] and Iztok Hočevar [ International Trust Fund ]

The mine-action cooperation through regional workshops described in this article tested the effectiveness of this cooperation as a confidence-building measure among neighbouring states and former combatants.

Mines represent one of the most significant security, humanitarian, environmental, economic and development problems of the international community. Areas covered with mines directly and indirectly impact a community. Mined areas potentially manifest themselves in a large number of civilian casualties and influence the population's health in terms of losses in livestock, arable land, supplies, production and trade. Civilians have a constant fear and a feeling of animosity, distrust and intolerance as a result of mines.

Developing a Regional Approach

A regional approach to mine action has been slowly growing in southeastern Europe and the southern Caucasus. Slovenia, through the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance, has been actively involved in mine-action activities in southeastern Europe since 1998, using a regional approach. Then, in November 2000, three national mine-action centres (Albania, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the ITF established the South-Eastern Europe Mine Action Coordination Council, a technical body whose goal is a southeastern Europe free of mines.

By 2004, other countries from the regionincluding Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania and Macedoniajoined the initiative and started to cooperate on joint regional projects as well as on the exchange of knowledge, technologies and equipment. Being a technical body, SEEMACC is providing an arena for countries in the region to discuss solutions to the landmine problem, one of the major factors preventing normal socioeconomic development in affected countries.

Image 1
A man grazes his sheep near an ex-Soviet munitions storage site in Baloglu, Azerbaijan, in September 2005. Scattered unexploded ordnance poses great danger to the local population. Photo courtesy of Arne Hodalic

With good regional cooperation and proposed joint projects, affected countries have managed to attract additional donor support, which is necessary to achieve the common goal—a mine-free region by the end of the decade.1 Similar initiatives should be started in other mine-affected regions to enhance confidence-building and strengthen cooperation and trust among neighbouring countries.

To speed the pace of reducing the landmine threat that endangers populations in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and to strengthen confidence and security in the southern Caucasus, in 2004–2005 the U.S. Department of State implemented the "Beecroft Initiative,"2 an innovative multilateral programme. Under this initiative, U.S. military personnel conducted joint humanitarian-demining training of select groups of Armenian, Azeri and Georgian soldiers and civilians. The government of Georgia hosted this training programme at the Gori military base near Tbilisi, Georgia. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia each contributed 20 soldiers and civilians (for a total of 60 students) to be educated about modern humanitarian-demining techniques by U.S. Army demining experts.

Regional Workshops Begin

The second initiative was the successful implementation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Cooperation and Capacity Building Seminar, held 1–2 October 2002, in Yerevan, Armenia, and co-chaired by the Armenian and Canadian governments. Here all countries of the region expressed consensus in suggesting the need for landmines to become a depoliticised issue and the need for a common strategy to approaching local concerns.

The ITF continued promoting regional cooperation, incorporating observations from this first OSCE seminar. The result was the first Regional Management Training for Middle Managers of the Mine Action Programme.3 This training of managers included participants from all countries of the region, improving their knowledge in mine-action management. Even more importantly, it established relations and raised confidence among participants. In concluding lectures, participants realised and suggested several points of possible cooperation on the regional level. These suggestions included joint training, cross-border mine-action projects, sharing of equipment, etc.

The Slovenian experience with SEEMACC managed to depoliticise the mine-action issue, establish a firm dialogue among members and stimulate joint cooperation. Slovenia sincerely believes regional cooperation and confidence building can be achieved to a significant extent through mine action and can also lead to other implementations of aid throughout the country (e.g., reconstruction of infrastructure. When countries start to cooperate after the war, they are much more attractive for donors in all other fields).

Image 2
OSCE Workshop, "Confidence Building through Mine Action," held in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2005. Photo courtesy of Iztok Hočevar

Workshop in Tbilisi

On 5–6 October 2005, the OSCE sponsored a regional workshop in Tbilisi, Georgia, with the intention of establishing the proper environment for dialogue among the nations of the South Caucasus and central Asian regions. The workshop focussed on "Confidence Building and Regional Cooperation through Mine Action."4 Previously, cooperation in the region has been limited to some attempts at joint training.5

This workshop was organised by the OSCE Centre in Tbilisi and the ITF, and was sponsored by Canada, the Netherlands, Slovenia and OSCE. The specific objectives of the workshop were to create an open exchange of information on the issue of landmines and to promote successful models of regional cooperation for countries in the southern Caucasus and central Asian regions. The workshop contributed to confidence building among nations and the possibility of accession to the AP Landmine Ban Convention by non-signatory states from the respective regions.6

The workshop was also an occasion for the OSCE to examine how mine-action activities could improve the overall socioeconomic situations in the regions, complement OSCE core activities and, therefore, strengthen the OSCE's advocacy role in the respective regions.

A secondary goal of the workshop involved starting discussions among responsible authorities in the respective regions that would ultimately lead to the eradication of mines and an improved socioeconomic situation in each region, contributing to better dialogue and cooperation among nations.

This workshop gathered over 80 military and diplomatic representatives from countries of the South Caucasus area, central Asia, Canada, Europe and the United States. Representatives from the European Commission attended, along with the OSCE, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, Geneva Call, Landmine Survivors Network, the Slovenian Institute for Rehabilitation and various local embassies and nongovernmental organisations.

At the workshop, several examples of confidence building and regional cooperation in other mine-affected regions were presented, which formed the basis for discussion on how regional cooperation might be achieved. For example, in the first part of the workshop, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia presented the landmine and UXO problem of the South Caucasus. Many workshops such as this one are full of some successes and many failures. The key is to keep pushing the workshops because success is being achieved, even if change is gradual.

Some consensus was observed on the desirability for all countries in the region to work toward becoming States Parties to the Ottawa Convention once peace agreements to regional conflicts are reached. Azerbaijan and Georgia have already made positive steps by announcing a moratorium on the use, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. The main obstacle for accession to the Convention is dealing with territory not controlled by national authorities. In the South Caucasus there are unresolved conflicts in the OSCE areas, including conflicts in Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabah) and Georgia (South Osetia and Abkhazia).

A suggestion to include mine-action activities on the agenda of peace negotiations within the OSCE Minsk Group7 was widely supported, as well as the option to meet jointly in Georgia's offices with Georgia acting as a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In the second part of the workshop, the representatives from three central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) presented the mine problems in their countries. Common problems are mines that lie on state borders, especially on the border with Uzbekistan. Only Tajikistan has joined the Ottawa Convention, possibly serving as a role model for other countries in the region. Largely because of its status as a State Party to the Ottawa Convention, Tajikistan's mine-action programme receives financial support from several donor countries. All three delegations from central Asia supported the idea of developing a follow-up regional workshop in the near future.

The Tbilisi workshop ended with a roundtable discussion in which participants discussed possible next steps in mine action. The following cooperation was suggested:

Conclusion

Cooperation in mine action among countries is one of the first steps for confidence-building in the region, as experience from southeastern Europe shows.

A simple conclusion can be drawn from the Tbilisi workshop: Demining is considered a complementary activity of the OSCE, not a central one. However, since demining makes way for the core activities of the OSCE—primarily disarmament, human rights and environmental issues—to be truly exercised, participation in mine-action activities is essential for OSCE. Bullet

On the basis of one of the conclusions of the Tbilisi workshop, Canada and Slovenia, supported by Kazakhstan, prepared a follow-up workshop for central Asia in the framework of the OSCE. The workshop was held 26–27 March 2007, in Kazakhstan, but specifics were not available at the time of this writing.

Biographies

HeadshotJernej Cimperšek is the Deputy Head of the Permanent Mission of Slovenia to the OSCE in Vienna. He was Director of the Slovenian International Trust Fund for Demining and Victim Assistance from 1998 until 2004. Cimperšek holds a Master of Science in civil engineering.

HeadshotIztok Hočevar is Advisor to the Director for International Relations of the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victim Assistance in Slovenia. Hočevar holds a bachelor's degree in political science.

Endnotes

  1. Editor's Note: Some countries and mine-action organizations are urging the use of the term "mine free," while others are espousing the term "mine safe" or "impact free." "Mine free" connotes a condition where all landmines have been cleared, whereas the terms "mine safe" and "impact free" refer to the condition in which landmines no longer pose a credible threat to a community or country.
  2. Robert M. Beecroft devised this initiative while he served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
  3. ITF Annual Report 2005, Ljubljana, February 2006, 44. http://www.itf-fund.si/docdir/ITF%20Annual%20Report%202005.pdf. Accessed 18 July 2007.
  4. WS Summary Report (FSC.DEL/497/05). 7 November 2005, ITF Annual Report 2005, page 45.
  5. Beecroft Initiative and the ITF implemented regional training for middle managers working in mine action in 2004–05.
  6. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. 18 September 1997. http://www.icbl.org/treaty/text/english. Accessed 18 July 2007. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, and thus is commonly known as the Ottawa Convention.
  7. The OSCE Minsk Group was created in 1992 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to encourage a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

References

  1. Regional Cooperation in Mine Action: The Case of South-Eastern Europe. GICHD, Geneva, November 2005. http://www.gichd.org/fileadmin/pdf/publications/Regional_Cooperation_in_MA_2005.pdf. Accessed 21 March 2007.
  2. OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation, Workshop Summary Report (FSC.DEL/497/05), 7 November 2005.
  3. Donahue, Joseph M. "The U.S. Army's Countermine Training Support Centre and Humanitarian Demining Training Center" Journal of Mine Action. Spring 2001, Issue 5.1, p. 102. http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/5.1/Focus/Joe_Donahue/donahue.html. Accessed 22 March 2007.

Contact Information

Jernej Cimperšek
Counsellor
Permanent Mission to Slovenia to the OSCE
E-mail: Jernej.Cimpersek@gov.si
Web site: http://www.osce.org/

Iztok Hočevar
Director Advisor for International Relations
International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance
Zabrv 12
1292 Ig / Slovenia
Tel: +386 1 479 6586
Fax: +386 1 479 6590
E-mail: hocevar@itf-fun.si
Web site: http://www.itf-fund.si