Kosovo was contaminated by landmines and cluster munitions during the conflict between Yugoslav forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army in the late 1990s. In 1999 NATO bombed Yugoslav targets in Kosovo over 78 days, releasing 1,392 bombs containing 295,700 sub-munitions. With a failure rate estimated at 20%, tens of thousands of these unexploded sub-munitions littered the ground or became buried in fields and gardens.
In 2001, despite clear evidence that many minefields remained in Kosovo, the United Nations declared the country to be mine free. HALO was the most vocal of many agencies protesting against this decision, which condemned the people of Kosovo to living with the ongoing threat of minefields and cluster munition strikes in and around their villages. The rural poor are those most directly affected, unable to cultivate land with mines threatening human and animal welfare.
Our work in Kosovo complements the clearance conducted by the Kosovo Security Force but clearance has been slow due to lack of funding. Too many people still believe the job was completed in 2001. It was not and the threat is ongoing.
HALO established its original programme in Kosovo in 1999, immediately after the Yugoslav military withdrew from the country. Between 1999 and 2001 we were the largest organization conducting mine and cluster munitions clearance in Kosovo. From 1999 to 2014 88 hectares of minefield and 1,362 hectares of cluster munition strikes were cleared. A total of 4,549 mines, 5,344 cluster munitions and 28,967 items of explosive ordnance were also destroyed.
In 2013 HALO and the Kosovo Mine Action Centre (KMAC) conducted a comprehensive survey of minefields and cluster munition strikes in Kosovo to provide the government with an accurate record of the remaining problem. It was the first formal survey conducted in Kosovo since 1999 and confirmed the existence of 79 minefields and a mined area of 276 hectares. It also confirmed 51 NATO munition strikes and 763 hectares of land contaminated with cluster munitions.
A 2014 independent evaluation of mine action in Kosovo estimated that without an increase in clearance capacity, the country will not be free of mines and cluster munitions until 2026.
HALO is committed to helping Kosovo to clear its landmine and cluster munition problems as quickly as possible. We have made excellent progress with the help of our generous donors and we are particularly grateful for the continued support of the Federal Government of Switzerland.
HALO has recently secured a commitment from an anonymous donor who has pledged to fund the completion of the clearance of all minefields in Kosovo provided we can raise matching funding.
This has created a wonderful opportunity for the people of Kosovo to live free of mines by the 20th anniversary of the conflict.