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LATVIA, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


Mine Ban Policy

Latvia has not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Latvia attended the all the Ottawa Process diplomatic meetings, but did not endorse the pro-treaty Brussels Declaration in June 1997, and took part in the Oslo negotiations only as an observer. Latvia voted yes on the pro-ban UN General Assembly resolutions in 1996, 1997, and 1998. It signed the Convention on Conventional Weapons and its Protocol II on mines on 4 January 1993, but has not ratified.

At the Budapest Regional Conference on Antipersonnel Landmines, 26-28 March 1998, a Latvian Foreign Ministry official said that Latvia “welcomes the efforts of the international community to put an end to the use of this weapon and to eliminate eventually all emplaced and stockpiled antipersonnel mines.” He also said that Latvia “does not have practical problems to comply with [the treaty’s] requirements. Antipersonnel mines are not produced or manufactured in Latvia. Latvia maintains no active minefields at her borders or elsewhere. The limited number of antipersonnel mines retained in the National Armed Forces stockpiles is estimated to be sufficient for training purposes for no longer than the next 7 to 8 years. The export of all types of antipersonnel mines has already been prohibited...since September of 1995.”[1]

He concluded, “Latvia looks forward to joining the Ottawa Convention in the nearest possible future. However, due to the very limited resources of military equipment and materiel forces available to the Latvian military, we must first seek suitable and cost-effective alternatives.... the problem of alternatives...is, in fact, the sole obstacle on our way to join the Ottawa process.”[2]

In 1998 while in Canada, Latvian Defense Minister Talavs Jundzis stated that Latvia intends to sign the Treaty in the future, but his statement has not been repeated by the new Minister of Defense. The Latvian military still holds that there is legitimate use of APMs, such as to protect strategic objects. Due to the weakness of the Latvian defense system, it considers that the use of antitank mines together with APMs can be an efficient tool in case of a massive land invasion.[3] The reluctance on the part of Latvia (and other Baltic states) to fully join the Ottawa process stems in large part from its occupation by the former Soviet Union, and continued concern about Russian aggression. The military has argued that antipersonnel mines can be an inexpensive and reliable means to slow down an attack, and that no affordable alternatives exist.[4]

Production, Transfer, Stockpiling, Use

The Latvian government states that it has never produced or exported antipersonnel mines.[5] In September 1995 the Latvian government instituted a formal, indefinite moratorium on export of all APMs. It was reaffirmed in 1997.[6] The government has acknowledged that it has a stockpile of antipersonnel mines. According to a military official, the number of APMs is about 20,000.[7]

There is no evidence of recent use of antipersonnel mines by Latvian Armed Forces.[8] However, in Latvia, as well as other Baltic countries, explosives and homemade mines are used by criminal elements. According to the Riga City Police department, the number of explosions in Riga, the biggest city in the Baltics, in 1997 was 37, and in 1998 was 23. Most of them caused death, injuries and serious damage to vehicles or buildings. Most of explosions were targeted to other criminal elements or people involved in “business disputes.”[9]

Landmine Problem and Mine Action

The biggest problem for Latvia is mines and other explosives left during WWI, WWII and Soviet occupation. Every year Latvian Armed forces neutralize or dispose more than 3,000 ammunition items. Destruction is carried out by explosion and incineration. EOD personnel were trained in the U.S. and Germany. Equipment assistance has come from Denmark.

Following are statistics on explosives detected and destroyed in Latvia in the period of 1993-1997:

- mines (APMs, antitank mines, mines of special use) 24,251

- artillery and gun projectiles 4,082

- navy ammunition (mines, torpedoes) 53

- aviation bombs (weight, not exceeding 500 kg) 1,298

- hand grenades 62[10]

About 10.3 tons of plastic and other explosives were also destroyed.[11]

Comparing the three Baltic countries, the mine situation is the worst in Latvia where large areas of agricultural land still are closed for civil use. Unique is the situation in Cekule in the suburbs of the Latvian capital Riga, where in the area of 240 ha. the contamination of the soil is about 10-15 pieces of ammunition per cubic meter. Contamination is up to 3 meters deep. After several cases in 1995 and in 1997 when explosives were found and schoolchildren were wounded, the area is now partially protected and corresponding warning signs are displayed. According to U.S. experts, clearing Cekule would cost up to US$100 million, and it would be less expensive to cover the whole area with a layer of concrete.[12] Since 1994, engineering units of NAF of Latvia have been clearing the area, not deeper than 15 cm.

Another area of concern is Zvarde (24 000 ha), which as the former Soviet aviation test ground was closed to the civilian population after the WWII. Due to military operations during the war the area is mined, and the effort to reclaim the land for peasants often is useless, since the property can not be used for agricultural purposes because of the contamination.

According to the National Armed Forces representatives, Latvian Armed Forces are training EOD personnel from the Latvian Homeguard Units (voluntary defense organizations under the National Armed Forces), the Latvian Navy, and the Ministry of Interior. There are two levels of qualification of EOD personnel and about 200 Homeguards and 10 professional deminers are able to participate in demining operations (except sea operations). There are immense problems with the demining equipment, and specialized vehicles existing in the Latvian army.[13]

Since 1995 no state funds have been used for demining operations.[14] Local government funding for demining equipment has decreased from approximately US$4,000 to US$3,000.

There has been some Western assistance for demining operations by Denmark and the U.S.[15]

Not very much is done in the area of mine awareness. Areas seriously contaminated by explosives are marked by signs and partially guarded.[16] One Latvian NGO, the Baltic International Center of Human Education, is now carrying out a mine awareness project financed by Open Society Institute and local organizations.


[1] Statement of Mr. Ingemars Biseneiks, Security Policy Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, to the Budapest Regional Conference on Antipersonnel Landmines, 26-28 March 1998.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Interview with Guntis Aizporietis, National Armed Forces, Riga, 15 December 1998.

[4] Interview with Mr. Krivas, Lithuanian Ministry of Defense, Vilnius, 22 January 1999; telephone interview with Mr. Mannik, Estonian Ministry of Defense, 27 January 1999; interview with Mr. Aizporietis, Latvian National Armed Forces, Riga, 15 December 1998.

[5]Interview with Ingmars Bisenieks, Latvian Foreign Ministry, Riga, 23 November 1998.


[7]Interview with Guntis Aizporietis, National Armed Forces, Riga, 13 January 1999.


[9]Interview with Ieva Zvidre, Press Center of the Riga City Policy Department, Riga, 24 February 1999.

[10]Diena Newspaper, 3 January 1998.


[12]Diena Newspaper, “Area in Cekule will be restricted,” G. Nagle, 12 September 1998.

[13]Interview with Guntis Aizporietis and Egil Lescinsikis, National Armed Forces, Riga, 13 January 1999.

[14]Interview with Guntis Aizporietis, 13 January 1999.

[15]Interview with Guntis Aizporietis, 13 January 1999.

[16]Latvian Radio News, Riga, 22 February 1999.