A reminder of past conflicts: Demining proceeding slowly

02/12/2013

A lack of funds has affected the pace of clearing landmines in the Balkans.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 02/12/13

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Bosnia and Herzegovina demines about 120 square kilometres annually. [AFP]

Countries in the Balkans continue to demine areas in which explosive devices were left behind following the most recent conflicts, but the number of remaining landmines is still large and continues to pose a safety hazard, experts said.

Experts said regional governments and appropriate NGOs should increase efforts to clear the remaining areas containing mines on a country-by-country basis, beginning with those facing greatest danger and need.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) fares worst in the region, followed by Kosovo, Serbia and Albania.

There are about 120,000 landmines and explosive devices throughout BiH, and the country's demining teams can cover 120 square kilometres annually.

"Most importantly, it is known where the landmines are located and those areas are marked. Citizens living close to the areas are fully aware of those locations," Dusan Gavran, general director of the Centre for Action Against Mines (VNMAS), told SETimes.

Nevertheless, 600 people died and 1,700 have been injured from landmines since 1995. Nearly 100 deminers have been killed in landmine extraction accidents.

Gavran said there are landmines in 1,600 areas affecting close to 1 million people. The vast majority of the affected are farmers, but also refugees returning to the rural areas.

Gavran also said the only problem in clearing the fields of mines is that the government does not allocate any money for demining. The centre obtains all the funds through donations. This year it secured 17 million euros, he added.

BiH authorities adopted a strategy to clear all landmines by 2019, but because of the lack of finances the deadline was prolonged to 2024.

"If mines in BiH are cleared at this rate, it is supposed they will need 70 to 90 years to destroy them all," Dzabir Derala of the NGO Civil in Skopje, told SETimes.

Derala argued that given the scope of the problem, other affected countries like Albania should consider investing in professional storage facilities and processes.

"It is best to gather all munitions in one place and destroy them by using standards and rules to preclude human and ecological catastrophes," Derala told SETimes.

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Nearly a third of the remaining landmines in Croatia are found in agricultural areas. [AFP]

There are 850 square kilometres in Croatia littered with landmines, affecting more than 100 cities and municipalities, a third of which are in agricultural areas, according to the Centre For Action Against Landmines in Zagreb.

More than 500 people lost their lives and 1,500 were injured from landmines since 1995.

To alleviate the problem, regional countries must increase co-operation, said Rade Rajkovlcevski, professor for weapons and equipment at the Security Faculty in Skopje.

"While money is a key factor, regional co-operation on this issue is more than necessary because it is much more difficult for countries to lobby for funds individually," Rajkolvcevski told SETimes.

By co-operating, the counties will obtain the necessary equipment and demining teams as needed, because they do not have the capacity to solve problem by themselves, he added.

Macedonia destroyed its last quantities of cluster munitions earlier this month, fulfilling its obligation under the Oslo Convention that prohibits their use.

Bulgaria destroyed its arsenal of 885,000 landmines in 2000, while Serbia eliminated its arsenal of 1.4 million landmines in 2007. Bulgaria also announced it will destroy its entire arsenal of cluster munitions by 2019.

"Macedonia disposed of 2,500 cluster bombs and mortar projectiles as well as 45,000 anti-personnel mines that belonged to the former Yugoslav National Army," the defence ministry of Macedonia told SETimes in a statement.

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Derala said the areas where there was military activity in Macedonia in 2001 need to be inspected again.

"In talks with the local population in Lipkovo, we concluded there still is fear [to move around]," Derala said.

But Macedonia's defence ministry said it cannot identify any landmines because the military did not use them in the conflict with Albanian insurgents in 2001.

What can the Balkan countries do to enhance the disposal of landmines and other explosive devices that affect citizen safety? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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