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Country Reports
ABKHAZIA, Landmine Monitor Report 1999



In April 1991, the Republic of Georgia declared itself independent of the Soviet Union. In 1992, the long standing dispute over the political status of Abkhazia resulted in the outbreak of war. At the end of September 1993, Georgian armed forces withdrew from the territory of Abkhazia. Additional fighting took place in early 1994. After a cease-fire agreement in May 1994, the Commonwealth of Independent States Collective Peacekeeping Forces (CIS CPKF) were introduced into the region. In November 1994, the Supreme Council of Abkhazia adopted a new constitution and declared Abkhazia to be a sovereign republic, which can be bound by international law. No international diplomatic recognition has been extended to Abkhazia. Peace negotiations are being conducted by the United Nations and facilitated by the Russian Federation, with the representatives of the USA, Britain, France, Germany and Russia, acting as Friends of the UN Secretary General. No progress has been made on agreement on the political status of Abkhazia.

As a result of the fighting, and continued skirmishes, Georgia and Abkhazia are mine-affected (see also the report on Georgia).

Mine Ban Policy

Since Abkhazia is not an internationally-recognized state, it cannot sign the Mine Ban Treaty. Abkhazian authorities have made no statements in support or opposition to the ban treaty, but it would appear that mines are still viewed as a legitimate and necessary weapon.

Production, Transfer, and Stockpiling

It is not believed that Abkhazia has produced or exported antipersonnel mines. One report on the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict speculates that, prior to the conflict, Abkhazia received small arms and light weapons (possibly including mines) from Russian or Soviet sources, and that once conflict began, Abkhazia obtained weapons (again possibly including mines) from raids on Russian facilities in Abkhazia, raids on Georgian facilities, black market purchases, and direct transfer from Russian forces.[30] There is no concrete evidence, however, as to whether Abkhazian forces availed themselves of the Soviet stocks or if they obtained their landmines and other weapons elsewhere. There is no evidence of transfers of mines to Abkhazia in the past few years.

Abkhazia no doubt currently maintains a stockpile of antipersonnel mines, though the size and composition are unknown. Most mines used in the conflict were of Soviet types, and it is likely those types that are now in the Abkhazian arsenal.


Both Georgian and Abkhazian forces used landmines extensively during the war of 1992-93. Georgian military units laid the majority of landmines in Ochamchira and Sukhumi districts, while the Abkhazian forces are reported to have laid the majority of mines in the Gali district.[31]

Landmines are still being used today in Abkhazia by groups which infiltrate from the territory of Georgia. UN reports have detailed numerous landmine incidents. For example, in 1997, the UN noted: "The mine problem in the Gali district has worsened...with mines killing or maiming innocent civilians and threatening the population of the district. Mines continue to prevent humanitarian organizations from working in all areas of the district outside of the town of Gali. This is of particular concern as reports from civilians who have traveled to villages indicate a precarious humanitarian situation that must be addressed as soon as possible."[32]

The UN also noted that during August and September 1998, ten separate incidents of mine attacks and ambushes against the Abkhazian militia by armed groups operating in the lower Gali region caused the death of twenty-five Abkhazian militia. Sixteen soldiers of the CIS peacekeeping force were wounded in the same period in similar attacks.[33]

There are two main Georgian groups that claim responsibility for these mine attacks, the "White Legion" and the "Forest Brothers,” which have been operating since 1996.[34] After five peacekeepers were killed and three others injured in a landmine incident on 12 July 1998, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the killings as an act of terrorism by Georgian guerrillas and said that "any attempts to present the White Legion or the Forest Brothers as organizations that have nothing to do with Georgian special services are an attempt to ignore reality."[35] Human Rights Watch has noted that despite Georgian denials, there are “persistent and highly credible reports that partisan groups had links to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Defense, and to the State Security Service and to some members of the government.”[36]

Low intensity protracted conflict continues in Abkhazia, and the UN Security Council noted that allegations of mine use in the region continue: “The Security Council also condemns the continued laying of mines, including more sophisticated types of mines which has already caused several deaths and injuries among the civilian population and the peacekeepers and observers of the international community.”[37]

The United Nations Development Program has said that “nuisance mining is reportedly common in Gali province, where antitank and directional landmines are laid to disrupt travel along the road network in lower Gali and to harass Abkhazian military forces and the CIS peacekeeping force.”[38]

Landmine Problem[39]

The Government of Abkhazia estimates that there are between 30,000-35,000 landmines scattered in approximately 500 mined locations throughout Abkhazia.[40] The Halo Trust demining organization estimates that there are closer to 50,000 landmines in Abkhazia.[41] According to the UN, landmines are estimated to affect at least 2,000 hectares of arable farm land, as well as schools, hospitals, and administrative buildings in the Ochamchira region.

The landmines laid during the war are concentrated along old confrontation lines by the Gumista River, throughout the Ochamchira region, especially along the main roads, in the upper Kodor valley, along the Gal canal and the Ingur River. The landmines along the Gumista River run through the western edge of Sukhum. These landmines were laid in 133 separate minefields that stretch from the upper bridge over the Gumista approximately ten kilometers south to the Black Sea. North of the upper bridge, landmines were laid along the ridge lines of the mountains cut by the Gumista. The Gumista river area was formerly an area of light manufacturing and agriculture. Today, factories destroyed during the fighting remain untouchable because of heavy landmine contamination. The high fertility of the soil along the river has attracted a number of families, who continue to live in the local neighborhoods and farm small plots of maize and orange groves, despite the close proximity to large minefields.

This population continues to suffer occasional landmine casualties, as well as regular livestock losses. Given the proximity to the minefields by the river, the normal cycle of rain and snow washes significant numbers of landmines into the river and down to the sea. Twelve antipersonnel landmines were removed from beaches near the Gumista estuary in 1997 by Abkhazian engineers. These landmines pose a potential hazard to commercial fishermen as well as bathers in the areas around the mouth of the Gumista River. None of the mined areas along the Gumista have been fenced off or marked.

The Ochamchira district is one of the most heavily mined regions in Abkhazia. About thirty percent of the tea plantations in this region, or approximately six hundred hectares, have been mined. In addition, villagers indicate that up to forty percent of their livestock are killed by landmines before they normally would be slaughtered. Approximately thirty kilometers of electric power lines are mined in this region, preventing crews from repairing them.

Mine Clearance and Mine Awareness

No comprehensive program on humanitarian mine action currently exists in Abkhazia. The Abkhazian authorities have a limited capacity to deal with the landmine threat. There is a lack of funds, equipment, and trained personnel. Abkhazian engineers have demined some essential areas, such as water and electricity supply systems. The CIS CPKF and the HALO Trust are conducting humanitarian demining in Abkhazia.

Since 1994, the special engineering unit of the Russian Ministry of Defense as a part of the CIS CPKF has been conducting demining operations in Abkhazia. All the networks of roads, as well as the most crucial elements of the infrastructure in Abkhazia and the south bank of the Ingur River, have been surveyed and demined by the Russian deminers. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, some 10,000 explosive devices have been cleared since 1994.[42]

The HALO Trust started demining operations in 1997 with their first two demining platoons. Eventually, it plans to field five platoons of twenty deminers to tackle the landmine problem in Abkhazia. According to the UN Assessment Mission this project appears capable of clearing Abkhazia of landmines within five to seven years, although it would benefit greatly from the addition of mechanized clearance components.[43] HALO Trust estimates that it has cleared 1,209 antipersonnel and antitank mines.[44] The continued use of landmines has delayed implementation of mine action programs and mine clearance in contaminated areas.

The Norwegian Refugee Council ran a mine awareness campaign in 1994 that was limited to internally displaced persons and returnees in the areas around Zugdidi and Gali.[45] The ICRC has distributed some brochures to refugees in the Zugdidi region of Georgia, yet not to the actual population of mine affected regions in Abkhazia. Occasionally the ICRC's video clips are shown on television about the danger posed by the landmines. The Centre for Humanitarian Programmes, together with the "Scouts of Abkhazia," are planning to develop mine awareness programs.

Landmine Casualties

UN military observers, CIS peacekeepers, Abkhazian militia and army personnel, as well as many civilians have fallen victim to mines in Abkhazia since the cease-fire in 1994. Altogether the number of victims runs into the hundreds. The UN estimates that forty-one Abkhazians were killed or injured by landmines in the last half of 1997.[46] In January 1997, CIS peacekeepers left the road near Saberio and accidentally entered a minefield. Two CIS peacekeepers were injured.[47]

There is no organization in Abkhazia that specifically collects data on the landmine casualties in Abkhazia. The landmine and UXO incidents in Abkhazia are registered by different agencies according to their nature, location and outcome. Some landmine or UXO incidents have not been reported or registered.

Survivor Assistance

The ICRC in cooperation with the Ministry of Health of Abkhazia runs orthopedic projects for the disabled, many of whom are landmine casualties. According to the Abkhaz Social Security Foundation there are some 490 amputees in Abkhazia and some 380 of them use the ICRC orthopedic workshop for free prostheses.[48] No psycho-social rehabilitation programs for landmine victims are provided on the regular basis.

Initial information indicates that the Abkhazian medical system has the expertise but often lacks the resources adequately to treat landmine injuries. However, the Abkhazian authorities at the Republican Hospital in Sukhum say that they lack some surgical equipment, cardiac monitors, anesthesia machines, respirators, and facilities properly to handle and store blood.[49]


[30]Human Rights Watch Arms Project/Human Rights Watch Helsinki, “Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia’s Role in the Conflict,” Vol. 7, No. 7, March 1995, pp. 17, 44.

[31] United Nations Development Program, United Nations Needs Assessment Mission to Abkhazia, Georgia (United Nations, March 1998). See http://www.abkhazia.org.

[32] UN reference S/1997/47 paragraph 13.

[33] UN reference S/1998/1012 paragraph 35.

[34] Amnesty International Reports, 1997 and 1998. Georgian media reports.

[35] RFE/RL Newsline Vol 2, No. 134, 15 July 1998, quoted in Amnesty International, EUR 56/02/98, p. 19.

[36] Human Rights Watch, World Report 1999 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1998), p. 263.

[37] United Nations, Statement by the President of the Security Council, S/PRST/1997/50, 6 November 1997.

[38] UNDP, United Nations Needs Assessment to Abkhazia, Georgia, March 1998.

[39] The following section is drawn from the UNDP’s Needs Assessment Mission.

[40] Statement on the Situation with Landmines in Abkhazia, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia, No. 11, 22 January 1999.

[41] UNDP, Needs Assessment Mission.

[42] Deputy Commander of Engineers Adam Nizhalovsky, Report on the First International Conference on Landmines in Russia and the CIS, Moscow, 27-29 May 1998, p. 15.

[43] United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Needs Assessment to Abkhazia, Georgia.

[44] HALO Trust report provided to Abkhazian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, December 1998.

[45] United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Needs Assessment to Abkhazia, Georgia.

[46] UNDP Needs Assessment to Abkhazia, Georgia.

[47]United Nations, Casualty and Incidents:Georgia. www.un.org/Depts/Landmine/casualty/georgia.htm.

[48] Centre for Humanitarian Programmes interview, August 1998.

[49] UNDP, Needs Assessment to Abkhazia, Georgia.