History of Minelaying and Cluster Munition Bombing
Yugoslav forces (the army, special police forces and paramilitaries) laid many large border minefields on the Albanian and Macedonian borders between 1997 and 1999, as well as further minefields in the interior either around their military posts or to deny access to Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) patrols. Barrier minefields straddling the main supply routes were also laid quickly in June 1999 to inhibit the expected entry to Kosovo of NATO ground forces.
CLUSTER BOMB SUB-MUNITIONS
NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslav military units and armor lasted 78 days in 1999. On some 333 target areas NATO dropped 1,392 bombs, containing 295,700 cluster sub-munitions. It is still unclear how many of the American and UK manufactured sub-munitions failed to explode, but some estimates put the failure rate at up to 20%. Those that failed to function either came to rest on the surface or penetrated the ground and were buried up to 50cm deep – all in a highly sensitive state.
The UN managed a large clearance program in Kosovo between 1999 and 2001 which resulted in the 2001 declaration by the UN that Kosovo was free of mines. Since then over 4,500 mines and more than 4,500 cluster munitions have been cleared by the limited capacity provided by all the agencies remaining in Kosovo. The Kosovo Mine Action Centre (KMAC) acknowledges that over 100 minefields and cluster munition strikes remain in need of clearance and HALO’s country-wide survey conducted in 2006 and 2007 suggests that the figure is closer to 150 sites but the precise extent of the remaining problem is not currently known.
Minefields remain in rural areas in which impoverished communities rely on agriculture and woodcutting as their primary sources of income. Although human casualties due to mines are rare, many mine impacted communities have lost cattle and horses, and there is the constant danger that expanding economic footprints around such communities will result in individual land users attempting to access some of the many hectares of land currently denied to them by landmines. The picturesque and unspoilt mountainous landscapes in Kosovo’s south and west have the potential for a lucrative tourist industry but these are the areas most affected by mines.
Cluster munitions remain in many areas both on the surface and buried. Similarly to the threat posed by mines in Kosovo, cluster munitions impact most on the financially marginalised elements of society who rely on scrap collecting, woodcutting and cultivation for their livelihood. A number of bombed buildings across Kosovo remain in need of mechanical clearance including one in the heart of Germia Park in the capital, Pristina. These sites have not been cleared because of the technical difficulty of doing so and the need for specialist armored machinery.
The World Bank’s most recent poverty assessment of Kosovo, from May 2011, found that 35% of Kosovo’s population is classified as living below the poverty line, calculated at $2 per day per adult. In Ferizaj and Gjakova regions, two of those most affected by mines and in which HALO has focused operations in recent years, the proportion of the population living in poverty rises to 54%.
In 2013 HALO will be working with the Kosovo Mine Action Centre (KMAC), with funding from the Swiss Government, to resurvey all areas in Kosovo suspected of containing mines and cluster munitions. This resurvey will, wherever possible, attempt to define the extent of each sites and it will provide a definitive, agreed position for the remaining problem in the country. This will allow the KMAC and donors to plan and prioritise clearance with the aim of a truly Mine Free Kosovo.
HALO currently has three teams and a total of 52 demining staff accredited and deployed clearing minefields and cluster munition strikes in support of Kosovo’s national capacity, the Kosovo Security Force (KSF).
HALO has cleared, since 1999, over 70 hectares of mined land destroying 4,488 mines in the process. 1,303 hectares of land contaminated by cluster munitions and UXO have been cleared and 5,529 explosive items have been destroyed.
Requirement for Continued Clearance
HALO recognizes the importance of clearance by the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) and operates to support and complement its work.
However, with the total number of minefields and cluster munition strikes in need of clearance remaining well over 100, without an expansion of clearance many impoverished rural communities will be waiting ten years before their land is free of mines and cluster munitions. Put another way, a country at the heart of Europe that was subject to a short and limited war will find its poorest citizens still living with the mines and cluster munitions from that conflict more than twenty years after it ended.