History of Minelaying and Cluster Munition Bombing
Minelaying in Nagorno Karabakh, by both Azeri and pro-Karabakhi forces, took place during the 1992-1994 war.
A combination of anti-personnel (AP), anti-tank (AT) and anti-group (AG) mines was used to protect positions and deny freedom of movement. The mines laid were of Soviet design and manufacture and due to the nature of the conflict certain areas were mined several times by both sides. Tens of thousands of cluster munitions were also dropped from the air by Azerbaijani forces.
Nagorno Karabakh has one of the world’s highest per capita rates of accidents caused by mines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). Despite the clear humanitarian need for the clearance of ERW, the international isolation that impoverishes the people of Karabakh also makes it difficult for HALO to raise funds to work in the region, and the funds that are raised often have territorial restrictions placed upon them. Funding is desperately needed to prevent Karabakh’s communities being blighted by mines and cluster munitions for decades to come.
Mines were used in all regions of Nagorno Karabakh during the war with minefields covering a total area of more than 50km² of land. A particular feature of the war was the extensive use of anti-tank (AT) mines to prevent the movements of vehicles and armour. The AT mines were used on roads, tracks and on verges and they have caused many accidents and deaths since the war. Even more devastating was the use of AT minefields in the open, fertile valleys of Karabakh. Though generally sparsely laid, these mines have denied access to thousands of hectares of land that was traditionally used for cultivating wheat, maize and vines. When farmers attempted to cultivate the mined land they inevitably struck mines with the loss of valuable tractors for the lucky ones and their lives for the less fortunate.
Anti-personnel (AP) mines were also widely used during the fighting to protect military positions. These minefields were laid on the hills that Karabakh’s pastoralist communities use to graze their sheep and cattle, and in the woods where unsuspecting hunters and foragers can tread on them.
More than 180km² of land was also contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO), principally cluster munitions.
Nagorno Karabakh’s ERW problem has had profound impacts on the day-to-day lives of rural communities, limiting the incomes of thousands of poor families and killing or injuring hundreds.
Since 2000 HALO has been the sole provider of mines and cluster munitions clearance and the disposal of unexploded ordnance (UXO). We have set up a Mine Action Centre (MAC) to collate all information about mines, explosive remnants of war (ERW) and safe routes, and to share that information with stakeholders and other actors as requested.
HALO has to date cleared hundreds of square kilometres of formerly-contaminated land in Nagorno Karabakh, destroying thousands of mines and tens of thousands of cluster munitions and other items of explosive ordnance. As a consequence the annual accident rate has dropped dramatically and thousands of hectares of land have been returned to safe, productive use.
Both manual and mechanical landmine clearance is carried out. Cluster munition strikes are cleared by our Battle Area Clearance (BAC) teams while other items of UXO are cleared by our Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams. This clearance programme is complemented by Survey and Mines Risk Education (MRE) teams, with MRE fully incorporated into the school curriculum. The programme is managed by one expatriate, while all other senior management positions are filled by locally recruited and trained staff. As with all other HALO programmes our policy is to build a substantial local capacity.
Requirement for Continued Clearance
We are the only mineclearance organisation operating in Nagorno Karabakh and development, reconstruction, resettlement and other humanitarian aid is dependent on our programme continuing. Mineclearance is also essential to reduce the number of accidents caused by mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) from its current unacceptable per capita rate, which is amongst the highest in the world.