HALO clears historic site in Georgia

On the 7th December at a ceremony attended by the Japanese Ambassador - His Excellency Mr. Masayoshi Kamohara - the HALO Trust formally handed over to the local community three cleared minefields in the town of Mtskheta, Georgia.

Clearance of these minefields around a former Soviet base 10km North West of Tbilisi was completed in November 2010.

The cleared land is part of an area of great national importance to Georgia, lying directly between the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the ancient capital of Mtskheta and the hilltop 6th century Jvari Monastery – both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Clearance of the three minefields was funded by the Japanese Government’s Grassroots Grant Programme and included the purchase of armoured mechanical equipment essential for the clearance of a site such as this where mines were buried within the rubble of a derelict military base.

There have been several civilian accidents on these minefields since the base was abandoned in 1993. The accident victims have included several members of the community living next to the minefields. One minefield was situated only a couple of metres from Georgia’s main Black Sea – Tbilisi (and Yerevan and Baku) highway which is the principle route running East-West through the south Caucasus.

The majority of clearance was conducted at night to minimise disruption caused to passing motorists by mechanical clearance equipment working in such close proximity to the highway. Mines were found only four metres from the road in areas readily accessible to the public.

Since the completion of HALO’s clearance at Mtskheta, the Patriarchy of Georgia has begun the construction of several religious monuments next to the minefields.  As part of this project there are plans to link the town of Mtskheta with the Jvari Monastery along the route of a centuries old pilgrimage trail that will pass directly through the cleared minefield.

Tbilisi’s reserve water also pipeline runs through one of the minefields and has been in need of repair for some time: this can now be done safely in the coming months.

Having completed clearance at Mtskheta, the mechanical equipment purchased by the Government of Japan is now in use clearing other minefields in Georgia that are a legacy of the Soviet era.