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


Key developments since March 1999: Latvia has announced that it has 4,500 antipersonnel mines in stockpile. During 1999 the Ministry of Defense decided to shift primarily to command-detonated AP mines or antitank mines. Mines and UXO remain a substantial problem, but there are few resources for clearance.

Mine Ban Policy

Although Latvia has not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), officials attended many meetings of the “Ottawa Process” leading to the MBT. The Foreign Ministry confirmed in January 2000 that Latvia welcomes the efforts of the international community to stop the use of antipersonnel mines and, eventually, to eliminate all deployed and stockpiled AP mines. The government considers that the MBT is the most decisive political step ever taken in this respect.[1]

The Foreign Ministry insists that Latvia meets the MBT requirements, although it has not signed the treaty: AP mines are not produced in Latvia, and there are no minefields on the borders or elsewhere. The existing small number of AP mines is estimated to be sufficient for training purposes for no longer than the next several years.[2]

Latvia did not send observers to the First Meeting of States Parties in May 1999, but the Foreign Ministry states that it closely followed developments there and studied the related documents,[3] including the Landmine Monitor Report 1999, which is considered a valuable resource.[4] Latvia has voted in favor of all the pro-ban resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly.

The National Armed Forces have held that AP mines are useful to protect strategic objects, and that combined with antitank mines they are considered an efficient tool in the case of massive land invasion. The Baltic countries’ shared history of invasion and occupation probably influences these perceptions, as well as present-day uncertainties in the region. More recently, military sources stated that while a direct military threat seems unlikely now, until it joins NATO Latvia would be isolated in the event of a conflict, and therefore AP mines provide “psychological security.”[5] But it is accepted now in military circles that AP mines do more harm to the civilian population than the aggressor, particularly if they are not the newer self-destruct type, and pose little of an obstacle to a modern army.[6] The Foreign Ministry confirmed that Latvia's position on the MBT prohibition of AP mines is highly influenced by the regional context, especially the policies of neighboring countries such as Finland, Russia and Belarus.[7]

Latvia signed the Convention on Conventional Weapons and its Protocol II in 1993, but it has never ratified the Convention or its Amended Protocol II (1996) on landmines. Latvia is not a member of the Conference of Disarmament, but would support negotiations there on the issue of AP mines.[8]

Production, Stockpile and Transfer

Officials state that Latvia is not producing and has not previously produced antipersonnel mines; all mines of the Latvian armed forces are Soviet in origin.[9] Early in 1999, the National Armed Forces said it held approximately 20,000 mines in stockpiles.[10] But in January 2000, the Foreign Ministry stated that remaining stocks total 4,500.[11] This difference has been explained in terms of the larger figure including antitank mines while the smaller figure represents those AP mines that cannot be adapted to command-detonation and would have to be destroyed under the MBT prohibition.[12] During 1999 the Ministry of Defense changed its policy away from non-command detonated AP mines and put the emphasis on antitank mines; the plan (approved at the end of 1999) is for each engineering platoon to have “controllable” (that is, command-detonated) mines or antitank mines. It has been concluded that most of the AP mines can be converted to command-detonation mode.[13]

In September 1995 an indefinite export moratorium on AP mines was imposed, which the Foreign Ministry says will be confirmed in a new law by the end of 2000. Transfer of AP mines requires approval by the Latvian Strategic Goods Control Committee. Existing regulations require several licenses for the transit of strategic, military and dual-use goods. A transit license through Latvian territory is issued only if the authorities are in possession of a corresponding export license of the exporting country and import license of the importing country. It is said to be doubtful that such transit would be authorized in the case of AP mines.[14]


There is no evidence of new use of AP mines by Latvian Armed Forces. But in Latvia, as in other Baltic countries, explosives sometimes including antipersonnel mines are used by criminal elements. According to the Latvian State and Riga City Police,[15] the number of such incidents is decreasing, from a total of 67 in 1995, to 35 by 1999. Most of these incidents caused death, injury and serious damage to vehicles or buildings. Most were targeted on other criminal elements involved in “business disputes.”

Landmine Problem and Mine Action

Mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) left from World Wars I and II and from the Soviet occupation remain a substantial problem today in Latvia; the absence of assistance by Germany or Russia in clearing these “remnants of war” is sometimes put forward as a reason for reluctance to join the Mine Ban Treaty. Large areas of agricultural land still are closed to civilian use. To determine locations polluted by explosives, Latvia has used a methodology elaborated in 1998 by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development. The classification includes nine levels of pollution; according to Ministry of Defense data there are about 60,000 polluted areas[16] covering approximately 100,000 hectares.[17] Areas intensively contaminated by mines and UXO are marked by signs and partially guarded. Every year EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) teams of the Armed Forces neutralize or dispose of more than 3,000 explosive items, as detailed in Landmine Monitor Report 1999.[18] Destruction of such explosives continues and between January-September 1999, Homeguard Units (a voluntary defense organization under the National Armed Forces) destroyed 2,847 such devices.[19]

Eight army officers and instructors were honored for their work in destroying 4,500 explosive items during 1999. Among them was Zane Silina, the only woman deminer, who destroyed more than 1,000 explosives in 1999. She says that the most active time of year is spring, but even in winter there is much disposal work to be done due to increased construction; many explosives are found on construction sites in Latvian towns.[20]

In the Zvarde region which was heavily contaminated in World War II and later used as a Soviet military test site, there are about 580 peasant families who still cannot return to their homes. According to one Homeguard deminer, Andris Rieksts, during the first two months of 2000 there were six calls from returning peasants for clearance. Zigurds Firers, Head of the District Council of Saldus, said construction of roads is necessary for this region of rich arable land. Gaidis Zeibots (of the National Armed Forces at that time) says that Zvarde region could be used as a real-life training ground for NATO deminers.[21]

According to an official of the Armed Forces, the concentration and depth of explosives in Cekule (Riga district) is such that complete clearance would require resources comparable to several annual defense budgets. In Cekule about 4.3 million cubic meters of soil will have to be moved in the clearance operation, and there is the question of whether this makes sense.[22]

Since 1995 there has been little state funding for demining and EOD operations. Local government funding for equipment has decreased from approximately US$4,000 to US$3,000 annually. State funding exceeded US$16,000 in 1999. For seriously affected regions there are very scarce government subsidies; for example, state financing for Zvarde region totals only about US$5,000 per year. Due to insufficient financing local governments are able to cover the costs only partially. One consequence is that there are no commercial demining companies in Latvia. Assistance has been provided in recent years by the United States, Norway and Denmark.[23]

Latvian Armed Forces are training EOD personnel from the Latvian Homeguard Units, Navy and Ministry of the Interior personnel. About 200 Homeguard and ten professional deminers are able to participate in operations (except at sea). There have been problems with equipment, but this situation improved in 1999 when German equipment was purchased by the State. Generally there has been no international assistance for EOD and demining activities in Latvia. In 1999 talks started on a longterm Norwegian-Latvian project to set up EOD Training Centers in the Adazi district of Riga and in Liepaja, with significant financing by Norway; this project is included in Latvia’s NATO Membership Action Plan. The Centers should open in 2002, and as a result it is expected that within a few years Latvia will employ only professional deminers and EOD personnel. There is language training for Latvian military specialists under the Latvian - Canadian Agreement on Military Cooperation, and there has been other assistance in demining/EOD operations by Denmark and the United States. The Ministries of Defense and of the Interior have also decided to establish a joint training course to neutralize improvised explosive devices, with three centers in Latvia.[24]

There are few mine awareness programs in Latvia. One Latvian nongovernmental organization, the Baltic International Center of Human Education, previously carried out a mine awareness project financed by Open Society Institute and local organizations.[25] Latvia has laws and social guarantees for disabled persons, including the victims of mine and UXO accidents. Disabled people are treated primarily at the Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedics (which was famous for its surgeons during the Afghanistan war), the Center of Microsurgery, and the National Centre of Rehabilitation in Vaivari, Jurmala (a former rehabilitation centre for Soviet astronauts).


[1] Letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 January 2000.
[2] Interview with Ivars Apinis, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Riga, 20 January 2000; Report of Latvia to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), 21 January 2000, p. 3.
[3] Letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 January 2000.
[4] Interview with Ivars Apinis, Riga, 20 January 2000.
[5] Interviews with Guntis Aizporietis, National Armed Forces, Riga, December 1998 and 1 March 2000.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 January 2000; Report to the OSCE, 21 January 2000, p. 3.
[8] Letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 January 2000.
[9] Letter from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 January 2000; Report to the OSCE, 21 January 2000, p. 3.
[10] Interview with Guntis Aizporietis, National Armed Forces, Riga, January 1999.
[11] Interview with Ivars Apinis, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Riga, 20 January 2000.
[12] Telephone interview with Guntis Aizporietis, National Armed Forces, 6 June 2000.
[13] Interview with Guntis Aizporietis, National Armed Forces, Riga, 1 March 2000.
[14] Letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 January 2000.
[15] Interview with Ieva Zvidre, Press Center of the Riga City Police Department, Riga, February 1999, updated in telephone interview with Krists Leiškalns, Latvian State Police Press Center, 5 May 2000.
[16] Interview with Guntis Aizporietis, National Armed Forces, Riga, 1 March 2000.
[17] Report to the OSCE, 21 January 2000, p. 3.
[18] Landmine Monitor 1999, pp. 800-802.
[19] Diena (daily newspaper), 12 October 1999.
[20] Airis Rikvelis, “Best Army Deminers Honoured,” Neatkariga rita avize (daily newspaper), 25 November 1999.
[21] Latvian Radio report, 1 March 2000.
[22] Interview with Guntis Aizporietis, National Armed Forces, Riga, 15 February 2000.
[23] Interviews with Guntis Aizporietis, National Armed Forces, Riga, 20 January and 15 February 2000.
[24] Ibid; Interviews with Guntis Aizporietis and Egils Lescinsikis, National Armed Forces, Riga, January 1999; visit to the National Armed Forces Headquarters, Riga, 1 March 2000.
[25] Baltic International Center for Human Education, webpage www.bc-cfp.lv.