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Issue 4.1 | February 2000 | Information in this issue may be outdated. Click here to link to the most recent issue.

The Slovenian International Trust Fund for Demining - Help On the Way . . .
It's Already Here
by Stephanie Schlosser


On the web page of The Slovenia International Trust Fund for Deming (ITF) there is an image that, at first glance, could be an advertisement for a toy store. The image is of a child's doll. She appears bright and happy, with red ponytails and yellow ribbons, and a sunny yellow dress. The doll's eyes glance playfully to one side, as if she is about to join a group of similarly happy friends. Suddenly, the doll's face and body change. With web animation, the doll's right leg disappears along with her smile. Then you remember, this is a website for ITF and its focus is demining. The doll herself, you realize, must be a landmine victim, happy one minute, and completely changed for the rest of her life the next. The image sticks in the mind.

ITF keeps the doll as a symbol of the many people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) who have been hurt by landmines. With the main goal of ridding BiH of its landmines thoroughly and quickly, ITF operates by donations, including Slovenia's own $1.3 million for startup activities. The director of the ITF, Mr. Jernej Cimperšek, does not find it easy to use the doll as a symbol.

"You know, I personally have problems with that because I am also a father; I have two daughters," Cimperšek said. "Using that kind of advertisement, it could be good or bad, you know? But I'm very happy with the website, with the doll. I also have a lot of meetings with those kids in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, without legs, without arms and it's completely different if your kids [are] practically the same age, but of course it's what the donors want to see." The donors of whom Cimperšek speaks are those countries, companies and individuals who want to see BiH become landmine-free. It seems that in order to keep people interested in the cause of landmines, the drastic but real effects of landmines have to be the focal point. The United States matched donations from 1998-99 with $14 million, but fervency for giving may not last as long as the landmine problem does.

"There are a lot of changes in the donors' decisions as to where they want to place their money, we are afraid that the donations will go down and not up. So, we are trying to talk with Bosnia to show them that sooner or later they must collect some money for the problems in their country," Cimperšek said. The partnership between BiH and ITF is as important as the demining itself. One of ITF's main goals is to help BiH become its own best source of aid. ITF has already taken many steps to help BiH start their own demining process.

"First of all, in the structure of the Slovenia Trust Fund, in the managing board, their are also Bosnians; so they are in the decision making part of the Trust Fund. They are included," Cimperšek stressed. "Also, in our office in Sarajevo we just employ the local people. We don't send Slovenians or some foreign experts to work there because I think they [the Bosnians] are quite able to do it, they have enough knowledge. Maybe they need [to learn] something more about management or maybe something more about financing, but in general they're very good experts and there is no need to send experts from abroad to Bosnia and Herzegovina. So, that's the start of how we want to work with them. Hand in hand we are partners, not teachers to show them something, they just need some kind of help." ITF has already shown its commitment to making BiH a self-sustained demining community, when asked where ITF gets its deminers Cimperšek stressed, "Local! Local. Bosnia and Herzegovina already had more than 1,500 trained deminers; some of them were already trained by the state department money so there was no need to train new ones. The main problem we have is to have enough money to pay them, those who are already trained to work in the fields."

In 1999, 10.1 percent of donated funds went to victim assistance. Helping prevent the tragedies that create new victims is ITF's first task, but the Trust recognizes the simultaneous and immediate need for healing among the war-torn people. Many mine victims receive treatment in Slovenia at the Slovenian Institute for Rehabilitation, but keeping in mind the need to establish BiH's own systems, the Slovenian Institute established the Center for the Rehabilitation of Mine Victims from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1998. Offering assistance to about 250 patients annually, the institution's program has two parts. The first is the rehabilitation of mine victims, which will include 25 patients from BiH per month. The second involves building up the program by educating doctors, specialists and technicians from BiH. Demining, however, still remains ITF's central focus.

"Demining, really is the main problem in Bosnia because there is not enough money for resources and it's better to demine than just have a program for victims' assistance," Cimperšek said. "In general, our policy is that not more than 15 percent of our funds will go for mine victim's assistance, [leaving] 85 percent to demining, but last year [in] all the program not more than 10 percent of our money went to mine victims' assistance. There are a lot of victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we also work in Croatia. There are a lot of victims who need some kind of help but in general, it's the same as in the demining program; we have a memorandum signed with both entities in the Ministries of Health, so there are those patients who need to go to Slovenia and [those who] could be in Bosnia-Herzegovina. At least 40percent of the program was in BiH, not outside of BiH. I think that's the right approach. To teach them we have some special courses for trainers, for those medical people in Slovenia or in BiH, so sooner or later, maybe five years, they will not need our help anymore."

With a country like Slovenia, which finds itself deeply immersed in the mine problems of a neighbor country, there had to be minimal landmine problems in order for the country to act as Samaritan. Cimperšek explained the landmine history of Slovenia, "The experience [in demining] in Slovenia is quite long because we have an experience from the first and from the second World War, and we have a group of experts who worked in disposal of munitions for, I think, 30 years. After the return of the Yugoslav army in 1991, they left a few [mines] in Slovenia. We had our so-called demining corporation in '92 and finished in '93. It was not a big operation, it was a small one, but of course we have some experience in mine clearance after 1991."

Even with some un-cleared landmines of its own, Slovenia and ITF see their role in BiH as important and even seek to help other countries directly or by being a model.

"I think it's important for Slovenia, because 10 years ago we were together, to show the others, our former-we call it brothers, of course that there is opportunity for them to be normal countries, to join Western Europe and Western countries in the world," Cimperšek said. "I think it's very important from a Slovenian point of view to show, because our role can be in Europe not just in the Balkans, that we can work to show new approaches to the Netherlands or the United Kingdom. We can go to the regions where we have experience. We speak their language, we have the same culture, religion and all of those things so it's important for us to work in the region. I think it was a very good decision of the Slovenian government to establish the Trust Fund and to help those our former republics, which are now former Yugoslavia."

Moving forward is in the plans for ITF, the Trust has planned to tap into the private sector for funds in the coming century.

"Our main thinking, our plan for 2000," Cimperšek said, "is to work with the private sector because last year our main goals were [to get donations] from countries. Now we are starting to work with the private companies, private donors. We have our own PR agency that works for us. I think they are quite successful. We have now some programs with lottery clubs and some of our companies in Slovenia have already sent some money to the Trust. I think the future of demining, especially in this region, is now the private sector. With countries, there are other political parts of the world which are more interesting for them and they will go and send their money somewhere else, but [we would like] to establish the local economy so that it could be more able to [donate] to the Trust fund. The main thing for 2000 is the private sector."

The donors' partnership with ITF is important. The most recent donor conference was in October 1999, and they will continue as ITF's work progresses. "We are planning to have another one [donor conference] maybe in October or November of this year. That's when we show the donors where we are and what we are doing. There is another body [that is] very important, it's the so-called advisory board. We can also call it the board of donors, so all donors who want to, of course, can have their seats. I have another advisory board meeting in the end of February when I will present the program for 2000 and the report for 1999."

Cimperšek has a vision for BiH, for Slovenia, and for the future of ITF. He hopes that the Trust will lead to others like it in landmined countries around the world.

"I think that establishing the ITF was quite good, maybe not in the start, they didn't believe that it was a good idea because of the regional approach. The regional approach is probably, not just in demining but also in other parts of business, better than worldwide. I can say in the end that we are very happy that we have such good donor countries in the Trust fund, [such as] the United States, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Canada. They have helped us get more funds and they support our approach in the Balkans. I think that [the ITF] model could be used somewhere else, not that ITF would work somewhere else, but that approach with the country who can do something, who doesn't have [landmine] problems. Otherwise, you have the problem where you spend all your money in your country and then forget the others. I think that's the approach for the world and for the future."


Contact Information

Jernej Cimperšek, Director
International Trust Fund
Ig 212
1292 Ig
Slovenia

Tel: +386-61-1796-580
Fax: +386-61-1796-590
E-mail: cimpersek@itf-fund.si