ITF’s Experience with Regional Cooperation

By Luka Buhin [International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance]

A key element to the success of the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance, particularly in Southeast Europe, has been its facilitation of a regional approach to mine action and subsequent contributions to regional structures and systems. Encouraging regional cooperation is an important confidence-building measure, not only in countries emerging from conflict but also in countries undergoing transition. A regional approach has become one of the guiding principles of ITF’s work.1

Are there common denominators or preconditions that enable countries to cooperate on interstate and subregional levels? Each region is unique in terms of its size, political systems, national cultures, ethnicities, historical experiences and language roots, so it can be generally argued that what facilitates and enables work in one region will not necessarily be applicable in another.2 However, based on over 10 years of experience in applying a regional approach, ITF strongly believes that common prerequisites should be met to successfully foster cooperation on a regional basis.

The following preconditions provide useful insight into what might enable countries to assist one another to solve common landmine problems.3

Regional Cooperation Rationale

There are direct and indirect benefits of regional cooperation between affected countries on mine-action issues. These benefits can be clustered into the following aspects3:

  1. Resources: Cooperation prevents the duplication of resources and efforts—financial, physical, material and human.
  2. Coordination and information: Interaction facilitates the exchange of effective and efficient solutions to unique or similar landmine problems.
  3. Social: Social networking and confidence building between counterparts in the region encourages current—as well as future—cooperation efforts.
  4. Capacity-building: Cooperation augments institutional capacities, and if established institutions can help those with less experience and stability.
  5. Cross-cutting: Mine-action activities can aid other regional issues, such as border security, development and commerce.
Manual-demining operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Regional Cross-border Demining Programme, 2006.
Manual-demining operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Regional Cross-border Demining Programme, 2006.
Photo courtesy of Arne Hodali

Even though mine action tends to develop on a national basis, there have been sufficient incentives and benefits to its application on a regional basis.2 ITF has promoted and applied the regional approach in Southeast Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

The ITF’s Regional Efforts

A regional approach is a vital dimension of ITF’s activities; important issues can be addressed more efficiently and cost-effectively if the countries in the region help each other become mine-free.4

ITF helps to mobilize funding, raise awareness, build capacity and catalyze activities across a region. It perceives these roles as mutually supportive, allowing it to serve as an effective agent in providing assistance and promoting mine-action activities.

SEEMACC. The need to exchange views, expertise and experience in mine action in the region of Southeast Europe was recognized at the first meeting of directors of Southeast Europe mine-action centers and ITF in April 2000, leading to the formation of the South-Eastern Europe Mine Action Coordination Council.5

The directors of the centers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia signed the agreement to establish SEEMACC, together with ITF, in November 2000. In addition to the original founders, other organizations achieved membership/observer status.

The mission of SEEMACC is to develop a sustainable regional mine-action program to enable development and economic recovery of affected areas and provide assistance to mine victims. The guiding principles of SEEMACC’s work are based on a holistic approach, including neutrality, humanity, partnership and activities executed in accordance with national concepts.

SEEMACC’s work has resulted in acceptance of a common regional strategy, regional standard-operating procedures, and an accreditation system for demining organizations, as well as support in the development of regional institutional capacities since the Council’s inception, the U.S. Department of State through ITF has financially supported the ongoing work of SEEMACC.

ITF Workshop
The ITF workshop “Confidence Building and Regional Cooperation through Mine Action” was held 25–27 March 2007, in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photo courtesy of ITF

Central Asian cooperation.6 In 2008, the OSCE Office in Tajikistan and ITF joined forces for the project “Facilitation of Central Asian Regional Co-operation in Mine Action.” The wider project purpose, which will be achieved through several phases, is to establish effective and sustainable regional cooperation in the field of mine action and other cross-cutting issues among six states in Central Asia: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

In the initial phase, implemented in 2009, the project partners are working to create the framework for a regional mine-action cooperation body. Initial working visits by project staff have already shown a willingness to create a joint initiative. The initial phase will conclude with an ITF-organized multilateral conference on regional cooperation in Central Asia and Afghanistan in late 2009.

Cross-border Demining in Southeast Europe. From April 2003 to December 2006, ITF managed a 2.85-million-euro (US$4,151,0007) grant from the European Union to facilitate cross-border demining projects in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia. In total, 1.74 square kilometers (0.67 square mile) of land were cleared, with more than 2,700 mines and 536 pieces of UXO found and destroyed during the implementation of demining projects.

UNDP Training Course
United Nations Development Programme/Cranfield Middle Management Training Course, Tbilisi, Georgia, winter 2004–05. Photo courtesy of ITF

Conclusion

Regional cooperation in mine action facilitates the utilization of resources, coordination of mine-action efforts, networking, capacity and confidence-building efforts, among other things. Within Southeast Europe, where the common goal of a mine-free region has been set, regional cooperation in mine action has reached a mature level at which joint efforts span from well-established coordination forums to cooperation on strategic, operational and technical levels.2

It is ITF’s opinion that regional cooperation in mine action has the potential to develop and succeed outside of Southeast Europe, as well. Furthermore, there are realistic possibilities for regional cooperation in mine action to include other cross-cutting issues such as development, small arms and light weapons and border management. J

Biography

Luka BuhinLuka Buhin is Project Manager at the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance. He has been actively involved in mine action since 2005, having managed national mine-action projects, as well as regional projects in Southeast Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia. Buhin holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from University of Ljubljana and will graduate in 2010 with a Master of Science in international economics from the same university.


Contact Information

Luka Buhin
Project Manager for South Caucasus and Central Asia
International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance
Zabrv 12, 1292 Ig / Slovenia - EU
Tel: +386 1 479 6591
Mobile: +386 51 306 516
Fax: +386 1 479 6590
E-mail: buhin@itf-fund.si
Web site: http://www.itf-fund.si

Endnotes

  1. International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance: Strategy 2006–2009. International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance. http://www.itf-fund.si/docdir/ITF%20Strategy%202006-2009.pdf. Accessed 8 October 2009.
  2. Regional Cooperation in Mine Action: The Case of South-Eastern Europe. Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. November 2005. http://www.gichd.org/fileadmin/pdf/publications/Regional_Cooperation_in_MA_2005.pdf. Accessed 23 September 2009.
  3. Beber Boštjančič, Sabina (ITF). “Regional Approach to Mine Action—Experiences and Prospects on the Meeting of the Mine Action Support Group.” PowerPoint presentation. 27 March 2009.
  4. ITF Annual Reports in period 1999–2009. http://www.itf-fund.si/dokumenti/dokument.asp?id=80. Accessed 8 October 2009.
  5. South-Eastern Europe Mine Action Coordination Council. http://www.see-demining.org/main.htm. Accessed 9 September 2009.
  6. Hočevar, Iztok (ITF). “ITF Regional Approach to Mine Action in Central Asia.” PowerPoint presentation. 7–8 July 2009.
  7. Conversion as of 9 September 2009.