The EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, told a regional conference in Tbilisi on Friday (5 November) that the objective of a landmine free South Caucasus is within sight. "This will require strong commitment by the local governments and will be achieved quicker by a regional approach which we very much support. You can be assured that The EU will stand behind this and support all the actors In achieving what we all want South Caucasus free of mines".
The Conference, organised in the framework of the campaign "Landmine Free South Caucasus", was held in hybrid format, and was attended by the First Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia, Lasha Darsalia who also expressed the commitment of the Georgian government to work with Governments and non-governmental organisations to clean the region from landmines and unexploded ordnance. Participants from Armenia and Azerbaijan joined the conference via video link.
Addressing the event, EUSR Toivo Klaar said that for the EU post-conflict reconciliation, rehabilitation is something built in its DNA. "The EU was born out of the terrible wars of the last century, and particularly landmines which don’t discriminate between soldiers and civilians, nor between war and peace, are a scourge that we have to fight with."
"Approximately 80% of landmine victims world-wide are civilians, and children are tragically the worst effected. Humanitarian demining is therefore is key; it is about people, people like us and our families. This is why demining and a ban on landmines should be universally supported. The EU has been pushing for this and the EU condemns the use of landmine by any actor whether by states or non-state actors.
All 27 member states have acceded to the Ottawa convention to ban anti-personnel mines and are determined to pursuing its objectives and promoting its universalisation and full implementation
The South Caucasus is one of the world’s most heavily mined and contaminated areas as a result of the conflicts of the 1990s and the more recent conflicts of this century. The risk associated with these mines not only affect vulnerable communities living the vicinity of the former lines of contact but also those who wish to return to their former places of residence. Most recent reports from the region show that many civilians have become victims of unexploded ordinance and accidents in Azerbaijan’s Aghdam, Fizuli and Jabrail regions
The EU has a long history of providing support for actions that address the threat of mines and unexploded remnants of war and the EU and its member states are top donors for mine action."
The European envoy said that in the South Caucasus the EU supports landmine action in several ways:
"First we encourage mine awareness, national capacity building and we support mine victims and population in affected areas. Practical assistance has included support for demining in Abkhazia and for the disposal of unexploded bombs after the 2008 war
Second, we support risk education and advocacy including the regional initiative Landmine Free South Caucaus which was launched by LINKS Europe, and again we reiterate our support for this and congratulate LINKS Europe and all participants in this campaign.
Third, Following the 2020 hostilities the EU is also funding UNDP for humanitarian demining encompassing a non-technical survey, mine risk education, capacity building of local experts, and explosive ordinance disposal and destruction. The EU is working with UNICEF to provide mine risk education thus reaching 100,000 people, most children and IDPs".
With landmines the issue is bigger than just clearing the landmines and hazards We also want to make sure there wont be any more of them in the future
The Ottawa Convention to ban landmine s is an important tool and a driver in achieving this. The EU is the strongest supporter of the Ottawa Convention. Twenty years after it came into force the convention has become a success story for disarmament diplomacy and example of what the EU stands for: a rules based intentional order based on the respect of human rights and international humanitarian law."
EUSR Klaar concluded,
"At the moment the three South Caucasus states are not yet members of the convention, but I am happy to hear the words of Deputy Foreign Minister Darsalia today and I believe that objective of a LFSC is within sight. This will require strong commitment by the local governments and will be achieved quicker by a regional approach which we very much support. You can be assured that The EU will stand behind this and support all the actors In achieving what we all want - a South Caucasus free of mines."
The 2021 Campaign Landmine Free South Caucasus was organised by LINKS Europe in association with ten international and local demining and civil society organisations with the support of the European Union. Conferences in the framework of the campaign were earlier held in Baku on 12 October and in Yerevan on 4 November.