INITIAL REPORT ON THE LANDMINE SITUATION IN ABKHAZIA
Centre for Humanitarian Programmes Sukhum, Abkhazia
The Centre for Humanitarian Programmes has been actively involved in ICBL since the Oslo Conference in September 1997. The CHP has been offering all the appropriate data on the situation with the landmines in Abkhazia at every meeting/conference with ICBL. The sources of our data have been the MFA of the Republic of Abkhazia, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Defence, the HALO Trust, UN military observers (UNOMIG), Collective CIS Peace-Keeping Forces HQ, ICRC, MSF, National and other media as well as other contacts. Despite its very limited financial resources the CHP is willing to carry on its contribution to the Global Mine Action effort of many other organisations.
Landmines in Abkhazia can be divided in two groups: first, the landmines that have been left from the war with Georgia (1992-93); second, is the landmines that have been, and still are planted by terrorist groups in the security zone of PK and some other areas of Abkhazia. According to the Abkhazian authorities, the number of landmines on the territory of the republic is 30-35 000 in about 500 areas. Only a couple of fields are marked by the HALO Trust. Often civilians live next to these fields. Most common victims are teenagers that are playing dangerous games. As a minimum 2,000 ga of the cultivated land are mined. About 600 of them are tea plantations. In the Ochamchira region up to 30% of livestock are killed by landmines. Private houses, schools, hospitals, administrative buildings and gardens are also mined.
From the end of the war (1992-93) until the present, terrorist groups that act against the civil population, peacekeeping forces, UNOMIG and militia groups have regularly planted landmines. In its report the UN Security Council, dated 29 July 1998, condemns the acts of violence against UNOMIG personnel, the renewed laying of mines in the Gali region, and also the attacks by armed groups operating in the Gali region from the Georgian side of the Inguri River, against the CIS peacekeeping forces and demands that the parties, in particular the Georgian authorities, take determined measures to put a stop to such acts which subvert the peace process. Since the beginning of the CIS PKF peacekeeping mission in 1994, 62 of the peacekeepers have been killed and 106 have been injured, mainly as a result of landmines that were planted by terrorist groups. In the summer of 1998 there were 11 terrorist acts on the territory of Abkhazia, during which 25 people were killed. 14 of them were Abkhaz militiamen, 5 were members of peacekeeping forces, and 6 were civilians. Moreover, 35 people were wounded; 20 were Abkhaz militiamen, 6 were part of the peacekeeping forces, and 9 were civilians.
There are about 480 amputees in Abkhazia; 375 of them use the ICRC orthopaedic workshop for free prostheses, despite complaints that have been made about the quality of these prostheses. Unfortunately no psychosocial rehabilitation programmes for mine victims are provided, neither by the state nor NGOs. International organisations often place conditions for sponsorship of such programmes that are not acceptable to the local population. At the moment, Abkhazia has no resources to deal with the landmine problem. The HALO Trust and peacekeepers in the security zone do demining. The lack of precise information about landmine fields, special equipment and qualified personnel, as well as Abkhazia's subtropical climate, makes demining difficult. According to the HALO Trust's prognosis, the territory of the republic would be demined in 5-7 years, with the necessary financial and technical support.
The national media regularly informs the local population on the danger of landmines, but these measures are not enough for raising awareness. The ICRC has distributed some brochures to the refugees in the Zugdidi region of Georgia, yet not to the actual population of mine affected regions in Abkhazia. The CHP, together with the "Scouts of Abkhazia," are planning to develop mine awareness programmes, and seek assistance in doing so.
In February of 1998 a World Bank assessment mission visited Abkhazia. The following projects related to the landmines issue:
1. Survey and marking of the minefields that would allow to return 1,500 ga of cultivated land to the population and would decrease the number of accidents, at least by half;
2. Increase of productivity of the HALO Trust;
3. Mine awareness programmes.
4. Unfortunately, all of these projects were contingent upon solving certain political issues, and thus, no progress has been made yet.
Today the republic of Abkhazia is facing an economical and political blockade imposed by the CIS, which is slowing down the development of civil society institutions, as well as any other progress. There is no access to the Internet. The lack of resources does not allow the mass media to cover important developments around the world, including the activities of the ICBL. During the last 5 years, Abkhazia has been living under a constant threat of war. Under these conditions the government of Abkhazia can only support the international efforts to ban landmines in principle. As long as there is a threat of war, the government refuses to give up the use of landmines. The landmine problem can only be solved when peace in the Caucasus is achieved and stabilised. The reintegration of the republic of Abkhazia into the world community would facilitate this process. Some progress has been made in the political dialogue between the governments of Georgia and Abkhazia. The co-operation of Abkhazian and Georgian NGOs within the ICBL hopefully will play a positive role in building trust between the two conflicting parties and help to take real steps toward achieving peace in the region, and contributing to the Landmine Monitor initiative.
Programme director of the Centre for Humanitarian programmes