The HALO Trust clears minefield in Tusheti protected areas, Georgia

In the summer of 2011 The HALO Trust cleared a large minefield in Georgia’s Tusheti Protected Areas close to Georgia’s Caucasus Mountain border with the Russian Federation. The work was funded by the United States Department of State.

The completion of clearance was marked by a handover ceremony in Tbilisi on 6th November 2011, attended by representatives of the Georgian ministries of Environment and Defence and US Ambassador John Bass. The formal handover was preceded in September 2011 by HALO staff spending several days showing the full extent of completed clearance to staff from the Tusheti Protected Areas.

The minefield was laid in 1999, during fighting in the neighbouring Chechen Republic, when scatterable anti-personnel (AP) mines were dropped by fighter jets onto the village of Zemo Omalo and the surrounding grazing and forested land. Tusheti Protected Areas can be accessed during the summer months only and HALO had to plan to complete the clearance of all mined areas in a single summer. HALO cleared over 50 hectares of mined land over a four month period between June and September 2011.  During the course of manual mine clearance with metal detectors HALO teams found and safely destroyed eight PFM-1 AP mines.  Many of the scattered mines landed on steep ground close to inhabited or grazing areas and consequently HALO used mountaineering equipment and belaying techniques to ensure the safety of operational staff when working on, or close to, steep terrain.

During clearance ancient bronze and iron arrow heads, brooches and other archaeological artefacts were also discovered through the use of the metal detectors used to find mines. All such items were carefully recorded and handed over to the Georgian Agency for Protected Areas.

Tusheti Protected Areas is a place of great cultural and historic importance to Georgia, as well as an area of outstanding beauty.  In 2011, over 9,000 visitors came to the area, many of whom walked to the Keselo towers and Zemo Omalo village on land cleared by HALO. The mine clearance has brought a significant lasting benefit to both the residents of Tusheti and the many tourists who come here each summer, all of whom can now use this land in safety.

At the handover Ambassador Bass said of HALO’s mine clearance in Georgia: “We believe all of this work is really important to provide the citizens of this country with the opportunity to live in peace and with a degree of security about their own land.  In this particular instance we are really pleased that HALO, through its hard, patient work in some very demanding circumstances, has been able to help the ministry to assure that all of the Protected Area is safe and accessible for tourists and others to enjoy.”

HALO would like to thank the US Department of State for funding HALO’s mine clearance in Tusheti and the Georgian Agency for Protected Areas for assisting HALO’s mine clearance at Omalo.