History of Minelaying and Cluster Munition Bombing
Conflict in Kosovo has left a legacy of landmines and cluster bomb sub-munitions.
In the late 1990s large border minefields were laid on the Albanian and Macedonian borders by Yugoslav forces to deny access to Kosovo by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Interior minefields were also laid around military posts and on tracks to inhibit the movement of the KLAwithin Kosovo. In June 1999 further barrier minefields were laid to slow the entry of NATO ground forces.
Cluster Bomb Sub-Munitions
NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslav military units and armour lasted for 78 days in 1999, dropping 1,392 bombs containing 295,700 cluster sub-munitions on 333 target areas. It is not known how many of the American and UK manufactured sub-munitions failed to explode, some estimates put the failure rate at 20%, and those failed sub-munitions came to rest on the surface or penetrated the ground in a highly sensitive state.
The UN managed a large clearance programme in Kosovo between 1999 and 2001 which resulted in the 2001 declaration by the UN that Kosovo was free of mines. Since then thousands of mines and cluster munitions have been cleared by the limited capacity provided by all the agencies remaining in Kosovo.
A 2013 comprehensive joint survey by HALO and the Kosovo Mine Action Centre (KMAC) identified 130 minefields and cluster munition strikes remaining in Kosovo.
Minefields remain in rural areas in which impoverished communities rely on agriculture and woodcutting for income. While human casualties due to mines are currently rare this is due primarily to good local knowledge of the dangerous areas and consequent avoidance of them, but the use of the land is denied to the rural poor.
Cluster munitions remain in many areas, both on the surface and buried, and like landmines cluster munitions impact most on the financially marginalised elements of society who rely on scrap collecting, woodcutting and cultivation for their livelihood.
The World Bank’s most recent poverty assessment of Kosovo, from May 2011, found that 35 per cent of Kosovo’s population is classified as living below the poverty line, calculated at €1.55 per day per adult. In Ferizaj and Gjakova regions, two of the areas most affected by mines, the proportion of the population living in poverty rises to 54%.
We currently have 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). This is insufficient to deal with Kosovo’s mines and cluster munitions problem in a timely manner: whether it is for HALO or the KSF, greater funds are required to increase clearance capacity.
Requirement for Continued Clearance
We recognise the importance of clearance by the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) and our activities support and complement its work.
However, with 130 minefields and cluster munition strikes remaining in Kosovo, at current rates of clearance many impoverished rural communities will be waiting up to 12 years before their land is free of mines and cluster munitions.
Put another way, without further support 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. This is unacceptable.