Issue 7.2, August 2003
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U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Programs in the Balkans and Caucasus

Since the establishment of the Republic of Slovenia’s International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance (ITF) in 1998, the United States has provided more than $52 million (U.S.) in humanitarian demining assistance to the countries in southeast Europe. This includes the recent expansion of funding assistance to countries in the Caucasus region. Together, the United States, the ITF, the mine-affected countries in the region and an impressive number of donors have demonstrated the success of regional cooperation.

by Whitney Tolliver, U.S. State Department Fellow

Introduction

The demise of the former Soviet Empire brought about a great number of changes for the people of the Caucasus and Balkan regions. As Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia asserted their independence from the Soviet Union, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia separated into five separate countries: Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovenia. Ethnic and political conflicts plagued some of these transitions, irrupting into violence and leaving behind millions of landmines and pieces of UXO.

The U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program has provided humanitarian mine action assistance to Albania, BiH, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro, beginning with BiH in 1995. The United States has also expanded its funding to Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus region and hopes to begin assistance to Georgia in the near future.

In 1998, the U.S. Congress appropriated $28 million to assist Balkan countries through the ITF. Since then, the United States has contributed more than $52 million in matching and unilateral deposits to support mine action in the Balkans and the Caucasus. The United States continues to work hard to help restore the safety and livelihood of the people of these regions.

Progress in the Balkan Region

Albania

Albania is largely an agricultural nation. Therefore, the threat of mines and UXO hinders the population’s livelihood. The United States has assisted Albania’s effort to rid the country of landmines through donations to the ITF. In 2002, the United States joined with the European Union and with the governments of Switzerland and Denmark to channel funds through the ITF to support two projects in Albania. The Swiss Federation for Mine Clearance implemented the first project, which began in April 2002. By the end of November, their efforts succeeded in clearing 104,576 square meters of land and extracting 480 pieces of UXO and 491 mines.

In September 2002, Danish Church Aid (DCA) began three months of operation with the use of four teams to remove 1,588 mines and clear 24,136 square meters of land. An additional six million square meters were surveyed and released back to the local population.

In addition to clearance efforts, U.S. funds enabled the ITF to arrange for the rehabilitation of 21 Albanian mine victims at the Institute for Rehabilitation of Slovenia. An additional 30 victims will receive care at the Institute before the end of 2003.

Abandoned apartment building in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

There are 2,130 square kilometers of suspected mine-contaminated land in BiH, the equivalent of 526,334 acres. This equals approximately 4.2 percent of the country’s total area. Almost 40 million square meters have been cleared so far. In 2002, with funds from a number of donors, the ITF awarded 118 demining contracts to cover a total of 3.4 million square meters, and 2.8 million square meters were cleared in 2002, with eight demining companies yet to conclude operations in 2003. New regulations in BiH slowed the ITF’s progress for a time and clearance rates were below the target of 3.5 million square meters. Activities have since picked up and the deminers have uncovered 1,047 mines and 547 pieces of UXO.

Donor support through the ITF also focused on Mine Victims Assistance (MVA) to BiH. In 2002, the Landmine Survivors Network (LSN) used U.S. donations to finance the MVA program and an EdaS study on the status and needs of MVA in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In addition, 83 mine victims received treatment at the Slovenian Rehabilitation Institute.

Croatia

U.S. humanitarian demining assistance to Croatia began in 1998 and to date totals over $11,433,000, all but $600,000 of which has been provided through the ITF. The U.S.-funded demining projects have returned nearly 3.84 million square meters of land to safe use and have removed over 2,200 mines and 880 pieces of UXO. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2002, the United States contributed $5.8 million of the money given to the ITF to Croatia. As a result, 83 different demining projects were completed and more than 6.35 million square meters of land were cleared—which was more than planned.

In addition to training, surveying and physical mine clearance, the United States has also financed the development of a locally manufactured remote-controlled mini-mine flail vehicle, and in a funding partnership with U.S. winemakers and the non-governmental organization (NGO) Roots of Peace, has made donations to the ITF for the clearance of mines in wine-producing regions of Croatia. Both of these projects have significant economic as well as humanitarian benefits. The mini-flail has proven to be highly successful in Croatia and has potential for export to other mine-affected countries, while the clearance in the wine-producing sectors of Croatia contributes to the rehabilitation of the Croatian wine industry.

ITF deminers surveying a road in Macedonia.

Macedonia

Landmines and UXO contaminate 21 square kilometers of Macedonian land along the Kosovo border. U.S. support through the ITF began in 2001. By July 4, 2002, more than 3.5 million square meters of land had been cleared, including more than 3,000 houses and buildings.

Macedonia’s most important project in 2002 was the successful training of five eight-man Macedonian Civil Protection Battle Area Clearance (BAC) and demining teams, which concluded on July 17, 2002. The teams were trained in demining, BAC, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and demolition. The teams officially started working on September 30, 2002.

Serbia and Montenegro

Recently, the United States, joining with other donors, the ITF, and the government of Serbia and Montenegro, helped to establish the Mine Action Center (MAC) Belgrade, which commenced activities on February 14, 2002. Two months later, in April 2002, a group of American and Slovenian EOD experts assisted Serbian survey teams in identifying and locating landmines and pieces of UXO. They defined four regions with priority status: the Belgrade city center, Batajnica, Zvezdara and Avala. Landmine disposal in these areas began in the beginning of 2003.

MAC Belgrade initiated another general technical survey from August 8 to September 15, 2002, in the northern section of the border between Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia. Both Serbian and Croatian experts worked on this six-week project and estimated that landmines affect approximately 10 square kilometers of land. At the end of 2002, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) funded an ITF contract for BAC for the Niš airport with the NGO Stop Mines. The operations began in Spring 2003.

In Montenegro, the Regional Center for Underwater Demining (RCUD) was officially established on September 24, 2002, in Bijela. The center began the first part of the underwater EOD Training at the Training Center for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief in Ig, Slovenia, in September. The second phase of training was completed at RCUD in Bejela. Ten diving experts from BiH, Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro attended the course.

Although the province of Kosovo was deemed “impact free” at the end of 2001, there remains a residual problem with UXO, and UXO clearance efforts funded by the United States and other donors continue with Handicap International (HI) France monitoring the effort in coordination with the United Nations. U.S. funds channeled through the ITF have also been allocated to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) to begin a mine risk education (MRE) program in the region.

A Muslim town in Kosovo.

Progress in the Caucasus Region

Since FY 1993, the United States has provided more than $21,545,000 in humanitarian demining assistance to the Caucasus region. This money has supported the training and equipping of deminers in all three countries, including more than 100 deminers in Azerbaijan, 97 in Armenia and 45 in Georgia. The United States has also provided training on MRE, emergency medical treatment, communications and special courses of instruction for survey personnel.

Azerbaijan

During the 1988–1994 conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Armenia occupied nearly 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory. As a result, the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) estimates that more than 60 million square meters of land are contaminated by mines and UXO, including 64 villages in 11 districts—mostly concentrated in the Nagorno and Karabakh regions.

The United States has supported ANAMA since 2000, contributing over $6.7 million to the demining program. Mine clearance began in the country in early 2001 with the deployment of a 27-man team from the local NGO Relief Azerbaijan. ANAMA at this time, however, lacked adequate resources necessary to demonstrate the success and durability of its program, and as a result, donor confidence decreased. In response, in 2002 the United States significantly increased funding to ANAMA to help bring stability and confidence to its mine action operations. With renewed support, Azerbaijan has expanded its mine detecting dog (MDD) capacity from six to 20 and has removed 13 AT mines, 34 AP mines and 939 pieces of UXO, which has cleared more than 775,000 square meters of land in the Fizuli and Geranboy regions.

Azerbaijan’s landmine problem is still large, and a significant amount of U.S. support throughout the next two years will be required. It is expected, however, that by FY 2005, Azerbaijan’s mine action program will generate enough international donor support to allow the United States to reduce involvement in the country.

Armenia

Approximately 90,000 landmines contaminate 1,800–2,500 square kilometers of land in Armenia. The country requested U.S. humanitarian demining assistance at the end of 1999 and in March 2002, the Armenian Humanitarian Demining Center opened and became one of the fastest inception-to-operations indigenous-capacity demining programs. During the five months subsequent to its opening, the DOS and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) provided over $5 million to train and equip the Center’s staff, Mine Awareness and Information Management sections, a survey team, an MDD section and a demining company. The Center began its first mine clearance operation in September 2002 in the Tavush region. The Armenian deminers surveyed and marked over 700,000 square meters of land, and cleared approximately 5,500 square meters of land in a village that was heavily shelled during the country’s internal conflict.

In FY 2003, the United States will provide nearly $1.5 million to continue the provision of training and resources to Armenia. U.S. support has been on a bi-lateral basis thus far, except for U.S. funds channeled through the ITF for management training conducted by Cranfield University. In February 2003, the United States, assisted by the Armenian Demining Cadre, began training a second demining company, another MDD section and four additional medics in Basic and Advance Trauma Life Support. The Center also received an Armored Personnel Carrier (BTR-60) mounted flail for mechanical demining and will soon begin training operators and mechanics. Armenia also recently completed five months of MRE training in the areas of product development, survey and market analysis. The Armenian Humanitarian Demining Center has progressed quickly and as a result, the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program aims to eventually reduce funding levels and place the country in the self-sustainment phase by the end of 2004.

Georgia

During the 1992–93 conflict between the Georgians and Abkhaz forces, an unknown number of AT mines and AP mines, all of Soviet origin, were laid across four regions of Abkhazia. Unfortunately, neither side kept accurate records or maps during the conflict. HALO Trust estimates that there are 15,000–20,000 mines in Georgia based on the density, patterns and depth of the minefields cleared in the country so far. A peacekeeping force removed some of the landmines immediately after the conflict and there have been reports that the local population conducted a certain amount of post-conflict clearance. Exact numbers removed by these groups are difficult to estimate, however, as they did not record their clearance numbers and many locals worked independently of any organization registering casualties.

Currently, approximately 18 million square meters of land are deemed dangerous. Of this area, HALO has classified five million square meters that require Priority 1 or 2 clearance. To date, nearly 1.9 million square meters have been cleared and 4,117 AP mines, 401 AT mines and 3,310 items of UXO have been located and destroyed. This clearance totals about 40 percent of Priority 1 or 2 land. The remainder of the Priority 1 and 2 tasks are expected to take an additional two to three years to complete. The Priority 3 and 4 mined areas, which amount to about 13 million square meters of land, will require a considerably longer amount of time and may only be cleared if funding is available.

Future U.S. Plans in the Region

In June 2003, the director of the U.S. DOS Humanitarian Mine Action Program visited countries in southeastern Europe receiving U.S. assistance and met with the Director of the ITF to discuss future plans in the region. Approximately $2.28 million remain from the original $10 million in matching funds Congress donated to the ITF in FY 2003. These funds will be allocated for management and specialized demining training courses, operational costs, equipment and training for a hospital, a James Madison University (JMU)-sponsored global mine action conference, demining, MRE and MVA programs.

During the visit, the distribution of anticipated U.S. FY 2004 matching contributions of $10 million was also discussed. Together, the directors defined funding priorities in each country and region supported by the ITF. In Albania, focus will remain on mine and UXO clearance operations; in BiH, the ITF will continue to support the MDD Center for the southeast European region and demining in the country; Croatia’s funding will continue to focus on mine and UXO clearance; Serbia and Montenegro will continue to support the three trained teams within the Ministry of Interior; and the highest priority in the Caucasus will be to fill funding gaps in current U.S. assistance efforts in Armenia.

Conclusion

Since the ITF’s establishment in 1998, the ITF, the United States, other donors, and the region’s mine-affected countries have worked hard together to reduce and eliminate the horrible impacts of landmines and UXO. The U.S. partnership with the ITF and the donor community will continue to demonstrate support for regional cooperation and will encourage similar partnerships in the future.

*All photos courtesy of the author.

Contact Information

Whitney Tolliver
Frasure-Kreuzel-Drew Humanitarian Demining Fellow
U.S. State Department
Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs
Room 3328
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Tel: (202) 736-7138
E-mail: tolliver@HDP.org