ABKHAZIA WAS DECLARED MINE FREE ON 3RD NOVEMBER 2011
Both Georgian and Abkhaz forces used landmines extensively during the war of 1992-93. Mines were also used in varying degrees between the May 1994 cease-fire and the late 1990s by individuals and small groups, primarily in relation to criminal activities.
The landmines laid during the war were concentrated along well defined lines of conflict and key terrain. The Gumista and Inguri rivers, the Gali Canal, the Kodori Valley and Abkhazia’s main road were all heavily mined areas of tactical importance. Post conflict these mined areas prevented the safe resumption of agricultural activities and light industry. They also denied safe transit to the population of Abkhazia.
HALO conducted an extensive landmine survey of Abkhazia between 1997 and 2000 in close cooperation with both sides from the conflict.
Although all known minefields have been cleared, Abkhazia is mountainous and sparsely populated and it is possible that small, currently unknown minefields will be discovered. A capacity is needed to deal with such finds and in 2012 four previously-unknown mined paths were discovered and cleared by HALO.
Furthermore, significant quantities of unexploded and abandoned ordnance continue to be found and present a danger to the public. These items need to be dealt with promptly when found in order to minimise this threat.
Following the 1990-1992 Georgian-Ossetian war, there was persistent low-level minelaying, primarily in areas between Georgian and South Ossetian controlled villages. The HALO Trust has been unable to gain sufficient access to South Ossetia to assess the landmine threat fully; however there have been reports of at least 17 landmine casualties in recent years.
SOVIET LEGACY MINEFIELDS
There is a small number of areas outside Georgia’s conflict zones where mines and unexploded ordnance continue to cause casualties. These include former military bases, border minefields and training areas which have returned to civilian use. Whilst the minefield problem is relatively small and well defined, it nonetheless has a significant impact.
In 2009 a national survey of minefields remaining in Georgia found a total of 15 contaminated sites. Of these 15, nine are minefields identified as having a direct humanitarian impact (the remaining six sites are fenced, active military establishments and have no civilian access). Between 2009 and the end of 2012 HALO cleared five of the minefields with a humanitarian impact and has identified one additional small minefield.
SHIDA KARTLI REGION (AUGUST 2008 CONFLICT)
The Russian military, in support of South Ossetian forces, fought with the Georgian Army over a four day period around the South Ossetian city of Tskhinvali in August 2008. Although minefields were not laid during this conflict, the heavy use of aircraft bombing, artillery and mortars resulted in widespread Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) and cluster munition contamination of this area. This contamination spread with the retreat of Georgian forces from Tskhinvali to the town of Gori in Georgia.
Concurrently, targets were bombed elsewhere in Georgia, including the Upper Kodori region of Abkhazia. This contamination was largely limited to individual aircraft bomb and rocket strikes, which were quickly addressed and cleared. The majority of remaining contamination was limited to a 20km wide corridor between Gori and Tskhinvali where the high-intensity conflict took place. The main threat was a result of the extensive use of cluster munitions, but rocket strikes and much abandoned ammunition also needed to be cleared.
ABKHAZIA WAS DECLARED MINE FREE ON 3RD NOVEMBER 2011
Between 1998 and 2011 HALO completed the clearance of 336 minefields and battle areas, covering an area of over 1,500 hectares. In the process 9,788 mines and 48,998 items of explosive ordnance were found and safely destroyed.
HALO ran a large-scale, fully-integrated mineclearance program employing up to 530 manual deminers, recruited from both Abkhaz and ethnic Georgian communities, supported by armored mechanical assets. This program brought the clearance of all minefields available for clearance close to completion.
With the opening of access in late 2008 to the mountainous Upper Kodori region and the identification of a further 36 minefields in need of clearance, HALO’s program was extended. These high altitude minefields were accessible from June to October only each year. HALO’s clearance of bombed ammunition stores in Kodori resulted in the location and safe destruction of more than 25,000 items of explosive ordnance.
As the end of clearance approached, in order to confirm all necessary clearance was conducted HALO carried out a “mine free” survey with Abkhazia’s 118 Village Administrations and Regional Authorities. The survey comprised an extensive formal consultation with every community with each officially recording their satisfaction that no further clearance was required in their areas of responsibility.
With the completion of clearance of the last known minefield in Abkhazia in October 2011, the last Village Administration was declared “mine free” later that month and the whole of Abkhazia was formally declared Mine Free on 3rd September 2011.
Guy Willoughby, Director of the HALO Trust, speaking in Abkhazia said “It is great news that after 14 years we can announce the complete clearance of all 336 known mined areas in Abkhazia, in line with Article 5 of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty. It is a testament to the hard work of our local deminers, and to the financial support of our international donors, that total mineclearance can be achieved after a full scale war where mines had been widely laid. The HALO Trust will support the Abkhazia Mine Action Office to assist with any emergency call-out facilities for the disposal of single items of unexploded ordnance (UXO) that may be found by farmers. The office will also maintain the database and detailed maps of all the districts, to help advise agricultural and tourism developers who may seek information in the years ahead.”
SOVIET LEGACY MINEFIELDS
Between 2009 and 2012 HALO completed the clearance of five of Georgia’s Soviet legacy minefields, including all of those associated with derelict, abandoned military bases. Those around former-Soviet military installations are technically challenging, time consuming and costly to clear due to the presence of derelict buildings, rubble and scrap metal. HALO uses its extensive worldwide experience in mechanical mineclearance to efficiently clear such sites using adapted civil engineering plant including armoured excavators, front-loading shovels, rock crushers, vegetation cutters and processing buckets. One such site was the minefield around the former-Soviet landmine storage base at Sagaredjo in the eastern Georgian region of Kakheti.
The base at Sagaredjo was the principal Soviet Army landmine store for the southern Caucasus. As the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s and Georgia descended into instability the perimeter of the base was heavily mined. The Russian Army abandoned Sagaredjo in 2004, conducting some mineclearance prior to its departure, and the base was left derelict and open to the public who began to use it to collect scrap metal, to graze their cattle and to forage for firewood and berries. Despite the military clearance numerous human and animal accidents occurred.
HALO began clearance at Sagaredjo in January 2010, clearing 3,201 anti-personnel mines from an area of 19 hectares between then and the completion of clearance in June 2012.
HALO has in place a core of trained, experienced Georgian personnel who have been involved in the clearance of landmines and UXO in Georgia since 2008 and who will continue to supervise HALO’s clearance of the remaining minefields. Wherever possible, additional demining staff will be recruited from the villages close to the minefields to bring the secondary benefit of employment to the communities affected by the minefields.
The clearance of the five Soviet legacy minefields completed by HALO has been funded jointly by the United States, Department of State and the Government of Japan, Grassroots Grant Programme.
SHIDA KARTLI REGION
Between August 2008 and December 2009 HALO recruited, trained and deployed 280 local staff to conduct battle area clearance of cluster munition contaminated areas, using both surface and sub-surface clearance techniques. Mobile explosive ordnance disposal teams dealt with abandoned ammunition or individual items of unexploded ordnance. HALO also provided risk education teams, which conducted a school-based program for children and a public information campaign in affected areas.
Clearance of this region, funded by The United States Department of State, The European Commission (through ECHO), The UK Government (through DFID) and The Federal Government of Germany, was completed on 5th December 2009. The program cleared and returned to productive use a total of 3,402 hectares of land across 22 communities. 1,706 cluster munitions and 2,031 other items of ordnance were located and safely destroyed.
The American NGO CNFA partnered with HALO to target the delivery of agricultural assistance to the farmers of Shida Kartli; this resulted in the region’s best ever apple and wheat harvests. HALO also worked with UNHCR, Danish Refugee Council and GTZ to assess and clear land prior to the building of housing for internally displaced people, and with the Red Cross on assessing land prior to water supply projects.
Requirement for Continued Clearance
Though Abkhazia is mine free, as defined by Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty, unexploded ordnance continues to be identified in significant quantities by local people who report its location to HALO. To this end, HALO is committed to running a small sustainable local capacity for a number of years to respond quickly and safely whenever ordnance is found. This serves the dual purposes of preventing accidents and taking explosives out of circulation. In addition, HALO receives significant quantities of surplus military ammunition for disposal.
The HALO-run Abkhazia Mine Action Office (AMAO) will also maintain maps and other records of all HALO clearance and these will be available as a public resource for everyone living in Abkhazia.
In addition to mines laid since the early 1990s, it is likely that there is UXO and cluster munition contamination in South Ossetia resulting from the August 2008 conflict. It is HALO’s desire to undertake a detailed assessment mission in South Ossetia as soon as is possible. The findings of an initial assessment indicate that a full clearance programme will be required.
SOVIET LEGACY MINEFIELDS
HALO will continue to clear the five known remaining ‘humanitarian’ minefields associated with Georgia’s border regions and disputed internal boundaries. The remaining minefields predominantly require manual demining.
In December 2012 HALO commenced the clearance of an irrigation canal in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia contaminated with abandoned ammunition. The canal is being rehabilitated as part of a USAID funded infrastructure project but work was suspended following the discovery of ERW within the canal by construction workers.
There are known to be areas in Georgia contaminated with UXO associated with Soviet military firing ranges, though some of these remain in active use. In Georgia HALO currently prioritizes the clearance of anti-personnel and anti-tank minefields ahead of the known UXO contamination at firing ranges whilst monitoring any new reports of found items of UXO. The disposal of items of UXO found by members of the public is conducted by Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Teams under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Defence.
Abkhazia Roads Project
Throughout HALO’s 14 years of mineclearance in Abkhazia it was necessary for HALO to make repairs to rural roads and bridges in order to gain access to mined areas. The roads had not been maintained since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Abkhazia’s heavy spring melt waters and rains had taken their toll.
With the completion of mineclearance in Abkhazia it became apparent to HALO that many of the benefits of HALO’s clearance - land made available for agriculture and roads opened for safe access - had the potential to be undermined by roads to fields and villages becoming unusable for part or all of the year.
There is a need for HALO to retain plant machinery on standby in Abkhazia for EOD work and, having identified the need for minor road repairs, HALO has decided to put this machinery to productive use throughout the year conducting repairs to minor roads. Many of the planned repairs are to collapsed culverts and to bridge abutments that have washed away. The works and constructions, such as culverts, retaining walls, bridge abutments and gabions, will be conducted to western standards. However, the road surfaces will not be metalled and the repairs are designed to provide inexpensive medium-term repairs that can be maintained in the longer term by local communities. A key element of the project will be advice and support to communities on the maintenance of the new structures.