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Country Reports
ABKHAZIA, Landmine Monitor Report 2000
LM Report 2000 Full Report   Executive Summary   Key Findings   Key Developments   Translated Country Reports


Key developments since March 1999: HALO Trust and the Abkhazia Mine Action Center completed the nationwide minefield survey, and estimate 18,366,000 square meters of potentially mine threatened land in Abkhazia. As of May 2000, 460,077 square meters of land had been cleared, and 2,448 antipersonnel mines destroyed. Systematic mine awareness programs have been underway since early 1999 aimed at school children in mine affected communities. It appears that there is on-going use of mines in Abkhazia by Georgian armed groups. The Ministry of the Interior reported thirty-three landmine casualties between January 1999 and May 2000.


After the disintegration of the USSR, the long-standing dispute over the political status of Abkhazia resulted in the outbreak of war between Abkhazia and Georgia, with significant use of mines, followed by a cease-fire agreement in May 1994. Peace negotiations are ongoing, but no progress has been made on agreement on the political status of Abkhazia. On 3 of November 1999 a national referendum took place, resulting in an Abkhazian declaration of independence. However, the international community did not recognize Abkhazian independence.[1] Skirmishes continue.

Mine Ban Policy

Abkhazia is not an internationally recognized state; it cannot sign the Mine Ban Treaty. In early December 1999, in an interview with Landmine Monitor, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the first time expressed his support for the treaty and readiness to address landmine issues in the context of the Abkhazia-Georgia peace process.[2] In May 2000, the Minister of Foreign Affairs clarified that Abkhazia would be ready to ban landmines and any other weapons as soon as they are not necessary for the defense of the national security of Abkhazia, depending on an appropriate commitment from Georgia.[3] Mines are still viewed as a legitimate and necessary weapon, and are used to protect Abkhazia from infiltration of armed groups from Georgia.

Landmine issues are addressed during the Abkhazian-Georgian talks at the governmental level mainly in the context of insurgent activities in the security zone between Abkhazia and Georgia. Despite the importance of the landmine problem no formal negotiations have taken place specifically concerned with the issue of landmines.

The Abkhazian Committee of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (AbCBL) was established in late 1999. In January 2000, AbCBL held a meeting with representatives of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), HALO Trust (British demining agency), Abkhazian Mine-Action Center (AMAC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia and local NGOs. During the meeting AbCBL expressed its determination to achieve a mine-free Abkhazia.

Production, Transfer, and Stockpiling

It is not believed that Abkhazia has produced or exported antipersonnel mines. Abkhazia currently maintains a stockpile of antipersonnel mines, though the size and composition are largely unknown. Most mines used in the conflict have been of Soviet manufacture, and it is likely that those types are now in the Abkhazian arsenal. These would include PMN-2, PMN, MON-50 and MON-100 mines.[4] (For information on transfer, see LM Report 1999, p. 837.)


Both Georgian and Abkhazian forces used antipersonnel landmines extensively during the war of 1992-93. Mines have continued to be used in varying degree as the conflict heats up and cools down again since the May 1994 cease-fire. (For information about earlier use, see LM Report 1999, pp. 837-838.)

It appears that mines continue to be used in Abkhazia by armed groups that infiltrate from Georgian territory. Abkhazia’s Ministry of the Interior states that from January 1999 through May 2000 there were twenty-four mine incidents on the territory of Abkhazia.[5] UN sources have confirmed to Landmine Monitor that in this time period there were numerous mine attacks and ambushes targeting Abkhazian militia and civilians, killing and injuring a significant number of militia, civilians, and CIS peacekeeping troops.[6] On some occasions the use of improvised explosive devices has also been reported.[7]

The demining organization HALO Trust noted in March 2000 that “incidents of current mine laying...are increasingly rare.”[8]

There have been previous allegations of Abkhazian military groups or partisans laying mines in Georgia,[9] but Landmine Monitor is unaware of any allegations in 1999 or 2000.

The UN Security Council has repeatedly adopted resolutions in which it “condemns the activities by armed groups, including the continued laying of mines, which endanger the civilian population, impede the work of the humanitarian organizations and seriously delay the normalization of the situation in the Galii region, and deplores the lack of serious efforts made by the parties to bring an end to those activities...”[10]

It has been reported that engineering units of the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense as a part of the CIS Peacekeeping Forces use antipersonnel landmines in the security zone between Abkhazia and Georgia in accordance with their mandate for protection of dislocation posts, strategic infrastructure sites and control posts.[11]

Landmine Problem

After concluding their nationwide survey, HALO Trust, a British non-governmental demining organization, and the Abkhazia Mine Action Center in March 2000 estimated that there are 18,366,000 square meters of potentially mine-threatened land in Abkhazia.[12] About 7% of this land is considered Priority 1 (land next to human habitation, pressure for use of land is great), about 23% is Priority 2 (land close to human habitation, cleared land likely to be used), about 22% is Priority 3 (land not close to human habitation, cleared land may be used), and about 48% is Priority 4 (land not close to human habitation, cleared land is unlikely to be used).[13]

In January 1999, the Government of Abkhazia estimated that there were between 30,000-35,000 landmines scattered in approximately 500 mined locations throughout Abkhazia.[14] HALO Trust had estimated in 1998 that there were close to 50,000 landmines in Abkhazia but further clearance work and extensive survey has now led them to conclude that the maximum number of mines in Abkhazia was never more than 15,000.[15]

The mine threat is restricted to four regions in Abkhazia: Sukhum, Gulripsh, Ochamchira and Gali. The worst affected areas are the banks of the Gumista and Ingur Rivers which formed the front lines at the beginning and end of the war, and along the M-27 highway between Gali and Sukhum where there were movements of troops and supplies and where the pre-war population was ethnically mixed. HALO survey teams found no evidence of mines northwest of the Gumista River.[16] According to the UN, landmines are estimated to affect at least 2,000 hectares of arable farmland, as well as schools, hospitals, and administrative buildings in the Ochamchira region.[17]

From its survey information, HALO has noted that in general: (1) Barrier minefields were used extensively on the banks of the Gumista and Ingur rivers to hamper full-scale military assaults. The Gumista River had over 5,000 mines laid on its banks. Mines are frequently washed downriver. HALO plans to clear this area by the end of the year 2000. (2) Defensive minefields were laid around military encampments, bridges and along access roads adjacent to M-27, to deny freedom of movement to opposition forces. Currently, HALO is only marking the positions of these minefields. (3) In the Ochamchira region, village people laid mines at the boundaries of their villages to protect against adjacent ethnically different communities.[18]

Use of landmines has affected the return and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons, as people are afraid of going to potentially mined areas.[19]

Mine Action Coordination and Funding

In January 1999, in cooperation with Abkhazian authorities, HALO Trust established the Abkhazian Mine Action Center (AMAC) to supervise and coordinate mine action in the territory of Abkhazia. Recognized by the UN as a coordinating body for all mine action in Abkhazia, AMAC maintains a database of all information related to mines within Abkhazia, including the collation, translation and duplication of all wartime maps. These maps can be superimposed over existing ordnance survey maps to highlight danger areas; this information is all computerized. All mapping work is the responsibility of Abkhazian personnel.

AMAC is funded through HALO Trust by the governments of the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada, Finland and the private foundations Pro Victimis and Anti-Landmyn Stichtung.[20]

Survey and Assessment

Starting in 1999, survey and mine-marking teams were deployed to carry out an in depth survey of the extent of the mine/UXO problem in Abkhazia. In March 2000, HALO and AMAC reported the results of that survey.[21] HALO noted that “AMAC has proven in a remarkably short time to be an international model for a successful fully integrated Mine Action Center. One of the first specific tasks that AMAC set itself was to locate and map each and every minefield in the territory. This report is the fulfillment of that task. Researched, compiled and written by local staff with a minimum of expatriate involvement it represents the establishment of a truly indigenous capacity.”[22]

Mine Clearance

HALO Trust and the Commonwealth of Independent States Collective Peacekeeping Forces (CIS CPKF) are conducting demining operations in Abkhazia. HALO Trust started demining operations in 1997 with two demining platoons and now has five twenty-one man manual mine clearance teams working in Abkhazia; two teams are based in Gali and three in Sukhum. As of 1 May 2000, 460,077 square meters of land had been cleared, and 2,448 antipersonnel mines, 93 antitank mines, and 1,795 UXOs destroyed.[23]

HALO has applied to the U.S. government for support for an additional three teams to operate in Ochamchira. HALO will employ 385 local staff and four expatriates in 2000. Manual teams concentrate on agricultural land and on sites where mechanical access is difficult. The manual mine clearance teams are all managed by local staff. HALO Trust has four Volvo vehicles, based in Sukhum, to support manual mine clearance.[24]

The mine action priorities of HALO Trust and AMAC are as follows: 1. Return or resettlement of refugees and IDPs; 2. Agricultural land; 3. Infrastructure - schools, bridges, water, power and sewerage, road projects. There are some mountain areas where demining is not yet planned due to difficult mountain terrain, dense vegetation and lack of financial resources.

HALO, in cooperation with AMAC, maintains the reconstruction and development of cleared areas. The arable land that was cleared along the Gumista River is back in use by its previous private owners. Though this happens only in limited areas, the psychological effect is great. The industrial sites cleared by HALO Trust are not returning to production because of the lack of investment in small businesses and because supplies and equipment were looted during the war.

Since 1994, the special engineering unit of the Russian Ministry of Defense as a part of the CIS CPKF has been demining in Abkhazia. Roads, land and infrastructure in Abkhazia and the south bank of the Ingur River have been surveyed and demined by the Russians. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, some 23,000 explosive devices have been cleared since 1994.[25] HALO Trust states that Russian engineers “have undertaken limited clearance of items in Abkhazia,” particularly in Gumista minefields. HALO notes that “some mines were missed and HALO had to re-clear some areas.” HALO states that currently Russian engineers only deal with “increasingly rare” incidents of new use, and check the stretch of M27 between Gali town and Inguri bridge “several times each day.”[26]

Mine Awareness

Since its establishment at the beginning of 1999, the Abkhazia Mine Action Center has been running a mine awareness program in Abkhazia. The program is aimed at schoolchildren in mine-affected communities and is seen as an intrinsic part of survey and assessment.[27] The ICRC has supported AMAC and HALO in this effort. Mine awareness teams operate in Sukhum and Gali. The Sukhum-based team covers Ochamchira, Gulripsh, Gagra, and Gudauta; the Gali team also works in western Georgia. In addition to regular presentations to schools the teams also talk to NGOs, factory groups, ICRC, and to the various offices of the UN.

Mine Awareness presentations have been given to 3,078 recipients in Abkhazia and Western Georgia. The mine awareness teams have distributed 4,000 schoolbooks with a mine awareness message to schools. In 2000, plans call for providing every school child in Abkhazia with similar books. Posters with mine awareness messages have been printed and distributed nationally. Traffic billboards explaining the significance of minefield marking signs have been erected in the city of Sukhum. The mines awareness program is entirely Abkhazian managed.

Landmine Casualties

There is no systematic data collection on mine victims in Abkhazia; thus information is sketchy at best. The local NGO “Rehabilitation Center-AIS” is monitoring the problem and is creating a database of mine victims. At the end of April 2000, they had interviewed 153 amputees. The Center estimates that there are approximately 550-650 mine victims, with the number increasing each year. This NGO believes the information collected by the government misrepresents the actual number of victims.[28] The Ministry of the Interior reported twenty-four landmine and UXO incidents from January 1999 to May 2000, in which there were thirty-three casualties – fourteen people killed and nineteen wounded.[29]

Survivor Assistance

The ICRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health Care of Abkhazia, runs an orthopedic workshop for the disabled, many of whom are landmine victims. According to the Abkhazian Social Security Foundation in 1998, there were some 490 amputees in Abkhazia[30] and by February 2000, some 450 of them had used the ICRC orthopedic workshop for free prostheses. There is little available in terms of rehabilitation services in Abkhazia. While medical personnel have the expertise to treat victims, at the Republican Hospital in Sukhum adequate resources and equipment to treat landmine injuries are generally not available.[31]


[1] UN Security Council Resolution, S/RES/1287, 31 January 2000, called the referendum “unacceptable and illegitimate.”
[2] Interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia Sergei Shamba, Sukhum, Abkhazia, December 1999.
[3] Interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Shamba, Sukhum, Abkhazia, 5 May 2000.
[4] Information provided to the AbCBL by HALO Trust and Abkhazia Mine-Action Center, Sukhum, Abkhazia, May 2000; also, HALO Trust and Abkhazia Mine Action Center, “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, pp. 40-46.
[5] Report of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Abkhazia, April 2000. LM has information on specific incidents available upon request.
[6] Information provided by UN sources to LM/HRW by email, July 2000. Also, information provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia to the AbCBL.
[7] Report of the Ministry of Interior, April 2000.
[8] HALO Trust and Abkhazia Mine Action Center, “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, p. 26.
[9] 1999 Landmine Monitor interview with M. Rapava, Head of Criminal Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia.
[10] UN Security Council Resolution, S/RES/1225, 28 January 1999. See also, UN Security Council Resolution, S/RES/1187, 30 July 1998; UN Security Council Resolution, S/RES/1150, 30 January 1998; UN Security Council Resolution, S/RES/1124, 31 July 1997; UN Security Council Resolution, S/RES/1096, 30 January 1997; UN Security Council Resolution, S/RES/1065, 12 July 1996.
[11] LM Monitor 1999 report on Russian Federation.
[12] HALO Trust and Abkhazia Mine Action Center, “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, p. 22. Also, HALO Trust assessment report, dated 11 April 2000, provided to AbCBL in Sukhum, Abkhazia.
[13] HALO/AMAC, “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, p. 22.
[14] Statement on the Situation with Landmines in Abkhazia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia, No. 11, 22 January 1999.
[15] United Nations Development Program, “United Nations Needs Assessment Mission to Abkhazia, Georgia,” March 1998. Email from Richard Boulter, Caucasus Desk Officer, HALO to Landmine Monitor (Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch), 28 July 2000.
[16] HALO/AMAC, “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, p. 24.
[17] UNDP, Needs Assessment Mission, March 1998
[18] HALO Trust assessment report, 11 April 2000; HALO/AMAC, “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, pp. 24-26.
[19] UN Security Council Resolution, S/RES/1287, 31 January 2000 welcomed the establishment of a new mechanism between Georgia and Abkhazia on 18-19 January 2000 for joint investigation of violations of the cease-fire of 1994 and the preparation of a new protocol on return of refugees to the Galii region, which is one of the seriously mined areas of the region.
[20] Information provided by HALO Trust to the AbCBL, 25 January 2000. Also, HALO/AMAC, “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” p. 4.
[21] HALO Trust and Abkhazia Mine Action Center, “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, p. 11.
[22] Ibid., p. 2. Preface by Simon Conway, HALO Trust.
[23] Information provided by HALO Trust to the AbCBL, May 2000. Locations, start and finish dates, and purpose of clearance are all available to the interested reader. The March survey report (p. 6) indicated 415,158 square meters of land cleared, and 2,310 AP mines, 83 AT mines, and 1,770 UXOs destroyed.
[24] “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, p. 32.
[25] A.Nizhalovsky, Deputy-Commander of the Engineering Forces, Russian Ministry of Defense: presentation at the IPPNW-ICBL Landmine Conference. Moscow. 27 May 1998.
[26] HALO/AMAC, “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, p. 26.
[27] “Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report,” March 2000, p. 14.
[28] “Rehabilitation Center – AIS” database, May 2000.
[29] Report of the Ministry of the Interior, April 2000. HALO however states that “almost all of those injured by mines in Abkhazia have been victims of anti-tank mines, many of them serving military, to the best of our knowledge there were only seven civilians injured by anti-personnel mines in Abkhazia in the period stated.” Email from Richard Boulter, Caucasus Desk Officer, HALO to Landmine Monitor (Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch), 28 July 2000.
[30] Interview with the head of the “Foundation for Medical Insurance,” Center for Humanitarian Programs, August 1998.
[31] UNDP, “Needs Assessment Mission,” March 1998.