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Issue 7.2, August 2003

MASG in the Balkans

In order for members of the Mine Action Support Group (MASG) to fully understand mine action programs and to study the implementation of mine action at the national level, several MASG representatives visited and met with government and UN representatives in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This article describes the discoveries and conclusions they made on their trip.

by Lt Col Klaus-Peter Koschny, German Permanent Mission to the United Nations

The participants, from left to right: Mohammad Younus (UNDP), Tadej Furlan (Slovenia), Cory Anderson (Canada), Sebastian Kasack (UNMAS), Dr. Janine Voigt (Switzerland), Lt Col Klaus-Peter Koschny (Germany), Ambassador Dr. Harald Braun (Germany), Mr. Jernej Cimperseck (ITF), Jaakko Lehtovirta (Finland), Lt Col Detlef Schroeder (Germany) and Yukito Okada (Japan).


To allow representatives of MASG to see mine action programs in the respective countries and to study the implementation of mine action at the national level, the representatives visited Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina from May 18 to May 22, 2003. Meetings were held with relevant government representatives of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Albania as well as with UN representatives accredited in these states.

The field mission started in Slovenia, with a reception hosted by State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Samuel Žbogar. The delegation, consisting of a representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and a representative of United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) as well as delegates from seven member states (Austria, Canada, Germany, Finland, Japan, Slovenia and Switzerland), was led by Ambassador Harald Braun, chairman of MASG.

The participants were interested in learning about problems of implementation, so that they can offer solutions supported by the international community. The International Trust Fund (ITF) in Ig, near the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, was the first host. On May 19, the group was briefed on the mine situation in Albania and later on the work of the ITF.

The Albanian Mine Action Program

A survey, carried out in 1999, illustrates the mine threat in Albania. In northeastern Albania, a 120-km border has 102 areas contaminated with anti-personnel mines and anti-tank mines from the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, as well as unexploded North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ordnance, covering an area totaling some 15.25 sq km, with no available records. The defining efforts of the international community and those of the Albanian Mine Action Centre (AMAC) have not only reduced the contaminated areas by half, but have also led to substantial progress in the area of mine risk education (MRE) and victim assistance. The strategic objective, to free Albania from the effect of mines and UXO by 2005, seems realistic, although not easy to achieve. Nevertheless, a shortfall of $0.58 million (U.S.) for the demining program in Albania for this year was noted. For the next two years, $3.9 million per year will be needed to reach the goal of a mine-free country.


The ITF is headquartered in Slovenia, the only mine-free country in the Balkans. ITF activities are focused on the other Balkan states and are about to be extended to mine-affected states such as Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Its activities comprise demining, mine victim assistance, support for demining structures and training. Further, a Geographical Information System for Demining in Southeast Europe will be developed under the ITF’s auspices. During the five years of its existence, the ITF has raised a total of $111.2 million. Eighty percent of these funds were used for demining, with roughly half of this amount going to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Another key element of the ITF’s work is connecting the Balkan region with the South Eastern Mine Action Coordination Centre (SEEMACC). All states in the region—Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Azerbaijan—are members. Results to date are the acknowledgement of testing procedures and final accreditation of mechanical mine-clearing equipment, regional sharing of resources by pooling of equipment, intense exchange of information, and the establishment of the Regional Centre for Underwater Demining in Bijela, Montenegro, and the Mine Detection Dog Centre in Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Demining in Karlovac.

From Ljubljana, the group headed to Croatia to meet in Zagreb with Prof. Dijana Pleština, Special Advisor for Mine Action to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. She presented an overview of the situation in Croatia and described her engagement and her role in the field of mine action. Victim assistance and MRE in particular were intensively discussed.

On the morning of May 20, the delegation was briefed by Mr. Cornelius Klein and Mr. Harald Wie, UNDP Zagreb. The transition to full national ownership is well under way, with some work left to be done. The main points were that the national standards for mine action, based on International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), will be ready this year. The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) evaluated the Country Mine Action Plan and made some recommendations.

Later, the group heard a briefing by Ms. Romana Flahutin, responsible for planning in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She gave a broad overview not only of mine action policy but also of Croatian foreign policy and the main points for the future. In the afternoon, the group went to Sisak to visit Croatian Mine Action Centre (CROMAC) headquarters and to be briefed by its director, Oto Jungwirth, and his staff on the center’s activities and achievements. It was stated that 80 percent of the mine action budget comes from the state budget. This shows the full responsibility the Croatian government has assumed for its mine problem. On the other hand, with the exception of Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), which is working near the Dalmatian coast and is funded by Norway, only Croatian companies are allowed to work in the country. One result of this is that demining in Croatia is more or less commercialized. Under these circumstances, some donors are not allowed to spend money for demining projects under their legal obligations.

The next important step will be to start with technical surveys. This method will make it possible to dramatically reduce the size of mine-suspected areas. On the following day, the group visited two demining projects, one near Sisak, the other near Karlovac. The site near Sisak was managed by DOK-ING, where the remote-controlled MV-4 mini flail was in use. While in Karlovac, the RM-KA 01—operated from an armored vehicle—was demonstrated.

Mine Action in the Republic of Croatia

The mine problem in Croatia.

On the basis of the latest estimates, made in 2003, 1,630 sq km are potentially contaminated with some 700,000 landmines and UXO in the Republic of Croatia. Of Croatia’s 21 counties, 14 are mine-suspected. Mined territory spreads from the far south up to the eastern part of the country, mostly along the former confrontation line. The landmine/UXO problem in Croatia is assessed to have a moderate to high impact and, therefore, remains a problem (among others) of moderate to high priority. As a result, the Croatian Parliament passed the National Mine Action Program in 2000, in which CROMAC was the key player. The strategic objective was to have the Croatian territory demined by 2010. Since 1995, the Republic of Croatia has funded 80 percent of the total amount spent on mine action and has placed an emphasis on tackling the problem.

The scope of CROMAC’s tasks includes:

CROMAC develops annual demining proposals and submits them to the government for approval. After governmental approval, CROMAC, with its regional offices in Osijek, Karlovac and Zadar, is responsible for the realization of the annual demining plan. Subsequently, 27 demining companies translate this plan into action. Thus far, 173.62 sq km have been demined and handed over to the community. The mine/UXO victim rate has decreased from a peak of 314 victims per year to fewer than 30 victims per year. Most modern methods and technologies are used for demining and the CROMAC Centre for Testing Development and Training works to improve technology and to develop new procedures in the demining environment. The center offers its services (e.g., equipment testing, machine accreditation, etc.) on a commercial basis. The strategic goals of Mine Action in the Republic of Croatia are implementation of the national mine action program and fulfillment of the obligations of the Ottawa Treaty, removal of the landmine threat on Croatian territory by 2010, and establishment of expertise, experience, and capacity in mine action on the international level. These goals are ambitious but within reach.

Demining in the Bihać–Pocket.

The last country visited was Bosnia and Herzegovina, on May 22. The first stop was Bihać. The group was welcomed by the Prime Minister of Una-Sana Canton, the Head of the Bosnia Herzegovina Mine Action Centre (BHMAC) Regional Office Bihać and the Commander of 5th Corps of the Army of Federation. After a briefing on mine action in Bosnia, which focused on the Bihać area, the group visited a demining project. There, various clearing methods (mechanical, manual, dogs) were demonstrated in the field.

Supported by the Stabilization Force (SFOR), the group got the chance to travel in the brand new British army transport helicopter Medical Emergency Relief International (MERLIN) and continued on to Sarajevo. From the air, three things became clear: the beauty of the country, the scars of war and the changeability of weather conditions in the area. After touchdown at Sarajevo Airport and transport to the hotel, the group was led to the infamous “sniper alley,” where many memories of the news of that war were refreshed. A brief visit to the old parts of Sarajevo afforded a wonderful view of the beauty of the city, as well as of its diversity of cultures and religions. A reception at the UNDP Office, headed by Mr. Henrik Kolstrup, introduced the group to the “local actors,” among them members of the Federation’s cabinet of ministers, ambassadors of countries active in mine action, Commander SFOR and the local representatives from UNDP, UNMAS, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and various other organizations.

The last day of the field mission started with a UNDP briefing on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The group was then welcomed by the Minister of Civil Affairs, Prof. Serfet Halilovic, who oversees all demining activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and who, with his deputy Mr. Zoran Tesanovic, briefed the participants on the specific mine situation in his country. In speaking with the Minister for Civil Affairs and the press, Ambassador Braun acknowledged the demining achievements of the Bosnian and Herzgovinian government but at the same time made it quite clear that further improvement can only be achieved through more vigorous governmental efforts, including much stronger financial engagement by the national and regional governments and authorities.

The trip ended on Friday at noon with a detailed briefing at BHMAC headquarters on all aspects of the mine situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mine Action in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina has the largest mine/UXO contamination problem in South Eastern Europe. More than 670,000 mines and 650,000 pieces of UXO are spread over an estimated area of 2,090 sq km (4.1 percent of Bosnia and Herzegovina territory) in an estimated 10,000 locations. Records are available for 60 percent of the minefields. Demining activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina began in 1995, at that time under the auspices of the United Nations Mine Action Centre.

In 1998, Entity Coordination Centres and BHMAC, as the coordinating body, took up and continued the demining tasks. As a legal framework for demining in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in February 2002 a new demining law was adopted. A unique state-level BHMAC structure and a national annual demining plan, to be closely monitored by the Council of Ministers through the Demining Commission, were created. Eight regional offices in Tuzla, Sarajevo, Mostar, Bihać, Travnik, Brčko, Banja Luka and Pale carry out the BHMAC work in the cantons. Forty-two governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and commercial companies are accredited; 82 mine detection dogs, 32 ground preparation machines and 2,000 trained deminers are available. Even the Bosnia and Herzegovina Armed Forces perform demining tasks. Together, they are capable of demining an area of some 30 sq km each year. This is quite an effort, but, taking into account the overall mine-contaminated area of 2,090 sq km, it will take another 70 years to demine all of it. Therefore, Technical Surveys (i.e., use of one method) are planned to begin. If nothing is found, the area will be released to the local community.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina mine/UXO problem.

Nevertheless, it will not be possible for Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet the timeline stipulated by the Ottawa Treaty within 10 years. This is not the only problem the country faces in this area. Funding depends, more or less exclusively, on donor activity and initiatives; only 10 percent of the overall costs of €32 million for 2003 are borne by the so-called Council of Ministers. For the ensuing years, a total increase of the demining budget to €48 million per year is calculated. Funds from the donor community of up to €38 million per year would be needed to meet this goal.

*All pictures courtesy of the author.

Contact Information

Lt Col Klaus-Peter Koschny
German Permanent Mission to the United Nations