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Country Reports
Abkhazia, Landmine Monitor Report 2003


Key developments since May 2002: The Minister of Defense of Abkhazia stated that in mid-2002, both Abkhazian and Georgian troops mined areas around the Marukh mountain pass. In 2002, HALO Trust cleared 858,688 square meters of mine-affected land and destroyed 456 antipersonnel mines, 127 antivehicle mines, and 749 UXO.

Mine Ban Policy

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the conflict between Abkhazia and the government of Georgia was characterized by significant use of mines by both sides, followed by a cease-fire agreement in May 1994. Because Abkhazia is not an internationally recognized State, it cannot become party to the Mine Ban Treaty. According to the Prime Minister of Abkhazia, Raul Khadzhinba, “The attitude of Abkhazia to the landmines does not depend on its leadership only. First of all it is the problem of new use by the persons who use the mines and other explosive devices to create the instability and atmosphere of fear. Apart from these questions, the antipersonnel mine problem can be addressed on the wider level.”[1]

Abkhazia is not believed to have ever produced or exported antipersonnel mines. Abkhazian forces maintain a stockpile of antipersonnel mines, though its size and composition is unknown. Mines used in the conflict have been of Soviet manufacture. Russian engineering units serving with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping forces may also have a stockpile of antipersonnel mines.


In June 2003, the Minister of Defense of Abkhazia, Vyacheslav Eshba, confirmed that Abkhazian soldiers used antipersonnel mines in 2002 for self-protection, such as when soldiers had overnight stays in observation posts in the forests around Gal and Kodor Valley regions. He said that the soldiers always dug up and removed the mines when they left the area. The Minister told Landmine Monitor that in mid-2002, regular troops from both Abkhazia and Georgia mined areas around the Marukh mountain pass.[2] The Minister and the head of the Abkhaz Engineering Corps said that in 2003, “Abkhazian forces are not using and have no intention to use antipersonnel mines.”[3]

On 25 March 2003, according to a report in the Black Sea Press Agency, a 100-person Abkhazian unit from Gudauta mined their positions in the 24-kilometer area of responsibility of Russian peacekeeping forces in Gal region.[4] Abkhazia’s Minister of Defense denied this claim as a “provocative falsification.”[5] There was no independent confirmation of the mine-laying.

In this reporting period (since May 2002), there were also allegations that Georgian military forces and Russian peacekeeping forces used antipersonnel mines in or around Abkhazia:

  • A press report in July 2002 stated that, “Georgian frontier guards blew up while laying mines in the upper Kodori gorge of Abkhazia,” and noted that one guard died and another was seriously wounded.[6] It said that a press release from the CIS peacekeepers office stated that “the staff of Georgian Border Protection Department are laying mines in the upper part of the Kodori gorge...in particular the territory between the 107th post of CIS peacekeepers and the village of Kuabchara.” Georgia has denied using antipersonnel mines. (See the Landmine Monitor report on Georgia).
  • On 15 October 2002, the Black Sea Press Agency reported that a 14-year-old boy was injured by a mine planted by Russian peacekeepers in the northern part of Kodori gorge. The press secretary of the peacekeeping forces denied this claim.[7]

Landmine Problem

Both Georgian and Abkhazian forces laid tens of thousands of mines during the 1992-93 fighting. There were numerous reports in 1999 and 2000 that groups from Georgia, allegedly linked to the government, infiltrated Abkhazia and laid antipersonnel mines.[8] Approximately 18 million square meters of land were deemed dangerous or suspect in a survey conducted by the HALO Trust in 1999. HALO categorized five million square meters as requiring priority one or two clearance.[9] As of May 2003, approximately 40 percent or about two million square meters of this high-priority land had been demined. As Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees return and start to use the land again, the priority status of certain mine-affected land may change.[10]

Mine Action and Mine Clearance

The mine clearance NGO, HALO, fully funds, staffs and supports the Abkhazian Mine Action Center (AMAC). Donors in 2002 and 2003 included Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, Tokyo Broadcasting System Project “Mine-Free” Committee (in cooperation with Association for Aid and Relief Japan’s “Zero Landmine Campaign”), and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.[11]

In 2002, HALO cleared 858,688 square meters of mine-affected land (337,191 square meters cleared manually and 521,497 square meters cleared using mechanical equipment). It destroyed 456 antipersonnel mines, 127 antivehicle mines, and 749 items of unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Between 1 January 2003 and 13 May 2003, HALO cleared 224,854 square meters of land and destroyed 249 antipersonnel mines, 49 antivehicle mines and 261 UXO.

From 18 December 1997 to 5 May 2003, HALO cleared a total of 1,991,836 square meters of mine-affected land (901,767 square meters cleared manually and 1,090,069 square meters cleared using mechanical equipment). It destroyed 4,152 antipersonnel mines, 405 antivehicle mines, and 3,367 UXO.[12]

Mine clearance rates in 2002 increased significantly, compared to the previous five years, because of the use of new mine clearance equipment, more deminers working, and improved clearance procedures. Clearance of the remaining priority one and two tasks is expected to take another two or three years. Clearance of priority three and four mined areas, approximately 13,000,000 square meters of land, is expected to take considerably longer and will be carried out only if funding is made available.[13]

In 2003, HALO employed 380 national staff, divided into fourteen manual mine clearance teams (seven in Ochamchira, four in Gal and three in Sukhum), a minefield marking/explosive ordnance disposal/survey team, and five mechanical mine clearance teams (six armored medium-wheeled front end loaders and a customized stone crusher working in Sukhum, Gulripsh, Ochamchira and Gal regions). In June 2003, HALO reported that it has almost completed mine clearance of the banks of the Gumista River.[14] During 2002, HALO’s program in Abkhazia underwent a substantial structural reorganization, with a shift in emphasis of work away from Sukhum region (which is nearing completion) to the region of Ochamchira.[15]

HALO conducted trials with three mine detecting dogs from August to December 2002 to see if the dogs could work effectively and efficiently in Abkhazia’s minefields. The trail was suspended when the dogs were recalled for use in HALO’s Angola program.[16]

Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in Abkhazia also have a demining capability. In November 2002, a Russian Ministry of Defense official stated that Russian forces have cleared 23,000 explosive objects during peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia.[17]

Minister of Defense Vyacheslav Eshba told Landmine Monitor in June 2003 that recent negotiations between Abkhazian authorities and the leadership of armed groups in the Kodor valley had resulted in an agreement in principal to allow demining of these areas. He said negotiations were underway to allow safe conditions for humanitarian demining as soon as possible. [18]

Mine Risk Education

HALO deploys three mine risk education (MRE) teams in Abkhazia, each with two specialists.[19] The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund is the principal donor for HALO’s MRE work in Abkhazia. From April 2002 to March 2003, 9,631 individuals benefited from MRE delivered by HALO through presentations and lectures and educational materials (such as text books and coloring books) in 87 schools of the four principle regions of Abkhazia, and in communities living near mined areas. In the same period, HALO visited another fourteen schools and distributed educational materials in Zugdidi region in Georgia, where the majority of Internally Displaced Persons live. Over 300 MRE posters are on display in Abkhazia and in the Zugdidi region of Georgia.

Because it is impractical, for geographic and demographic reasons, to give conventional presentations to every individual in Abkhazia, HALO has developed new methods to convey the MRE message, including a 20-minute film broadcast on national television over a six-month period and an MRE puppet show performed by children to younger children. It is estimated that these have carried the MRE message to another 20,000 people.

In 2002, the ICRC supported HALO to carry out a survey of the knowledge people had about mines and UXO. According to the survey, people knew in general about the risk of mines, but were still not aware of what they could do to minimize the risk. In response, the ICRC worked with HALO to find ways to make MRE activities more effective and conducted training using a community-based approach.[20] In 2002, the ICRC organized for HALO staff to visit the ICRC mine/UXO risk education program in Nagorny-Karabakh.[21]

ICRC field staff working in Abkhazia often receive information on areas infested with mines or UXO, which they pass the information to HALO for the follow-up. On seventeen separate occasions, recipients of HALO MRE presentations have informed HALO’s teams on the whereabouts of landmines or UXO, which has resulted in the destruction of 48 landmines or UXO. Often inhabitants of mine-affected areas inform HALO’s survey and clearance teams directly.

Landmine Casualties

There is no systematic data collection on landmine casualties in Abkhazia. In 2002, there were reports of twelve new landmine casualties, of which six were killed and six injured. The Abkhazian Committee of the ICBL (AbCBL) believes the available data underestimates the actual number of new mine casualties.

Casualties in 2002 include an incident on 8 January, in which an old man was killed after his horse and cart detonated a device that reportedly consisted of two antivehicle mines.[22] In May and June, mine incidents in the Kodor valley killed a civilian and injured two CIS peacekeepers. In May, four people were killed and two injured in Gal after their horse stepped on an antivehicle mine. The two injured people received first aid at the Ochamchira city hospital, after which they were transferred to Sukhum for further treatment.[23] In October, a 14-year-old boy was injured after stepping on a landmine in the northern part of Kodori gorge.[24]

In March 2002, a deminer working with HALO received serious injuries during a mine clearance operation.[25] HALO’s incident database recorded five mine or UXO related incidents between April 2002 and March 2003, compared to eight incidents between April 2001 and March 2002. HALO’s MRE teams interviews recent landmine casualties for the purpose of identifying dangerous areas.[26]

Data collected by the Gagra Orthopedic Center identified 244 landmine amputees since 1995: 208 male, 20 female and 16 children.[27] The Ministry of Health and Social Security does not collect specific data on landmine casualties.

More than 50 CIS peacekeepers have reportedly been killed by landmines in Abkhazia over the past several years.[28]

Survivor Assistance and Disability Policy and Practice

Health facilities in Abkhazia are in poor condition due to a lack of resources. The ICRC regularly provides equipment, supplies, and medicines to Sukhum, Agudzera, and Tkvarchal hospitals, while hospitals in Gal and Ochamchira receive first aid supplies. In 2002, 1,362 surgical procedures were performed in these hospitals, including 14 for mine casualties.[29] In October 2002, two surgeons from Abkhazia attended an ICRC seminar on war surgery in Moscow.[30] Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) continues to provide emergency medical care and surgical equipment in support of health facilities in Abkhazia, including a clinic in Sukhum.[31] In February 2002, a new Abkhazian NGO, Agency for Development and Support (ADS), in cooperation with the Swedish Heart to Heart Foundation, delivered a truckload of second-hand hospital equipment to Abkhazia for distribution to local hospitals.[32]

The Gagra Orthopedic Center (GOC), established by the ICRC in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, provides physical rehabilitation services and orthopedic devices free-of-charge. In 2002, the GOC provided 142 prostheses, 48 orthoses, 331 crutches, nine wheelchairs, and repaired 45 prostheses; 83 prostheses were for mine survivors.[33] The Gagra Rehabilitation Center (GRC) provides rehabilitation and accommodation for amputees waiting for their prostheses to be made.[34]

Abkhazian NGOs created by persons with disabilities include the Charitable Association of the Disabled, the Association of the Disabled of Gudauta region, and the Society of the Blind.[35] The Sukhum-based Association of Invalid Support, formerly the Association of Invalids with Spinal Injuries (AIS), provides physical rehabilitation, psychosocial support, and vocational training, including computer classes, to persons with disabilities. The AIS has hosted the AbCBL since 2001. The AIS initiated a “Forum for the Organizations of Disabled” in May 2001, to lobby their interests in the local and international institutions, which led to the founding, on 14 February 2003, of the “Coordination Council on the Issues of Disabled in Abkhazia.” This is a coalition of government and non-governmental organizations established to address the needs of persons with disabilities, including landmine survivors.[36]

Abkhazian legislation does not specifically mention landmine survivors as all persons with disabilities are treated equally.[37]

[1] Interview with Raul Khadzhinba, Prime Minister of Abkhazia, Sukhum, 16 June 2003.
[2] Interview with Vyacheslav Eshba, Minister of Defense of Abkhazia, Sukhum, 23 June 2003; see also Landmine Monitor Report 2002, pp. 795-796.
[3] Interview with Col. Khuta Kurt-Ogly, Head of Engineering Forces, Ministry of Defense of Abkhazia, Sukhum, 16 June 2003.
[4] “Abkhazian side mined its block-posts in ‘Security Zone,’” Black Sea Press Agency, 25 March 2003; Independent TV Channel “Rustavi 2,” 25 March 2003.
[5] Interfax news agency, 25 March 2003.
[6] “Georgian frontier guards blown up on a mine in the upper Kodori gorge,” Caucasus Press (Tblisi), 2 July 2002; see also, Apsnypress (Abkhazian State Press Agency), 7 July 2002, available at apsnypress.narod.ru.
[7] Apsnypress (Abkhazian State Press Agency), Report No. 210, 16 October 2002.
[8] US Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2002, Georgia,” Online Version, 31 March 2003.
[9] In 1999, the HALO Trust conducted a full technical survey of all suspect areas in Abkhazia. The results of this survey were published in March 2000 in the Abkhazia Minefield Survey Report. Because the original survey was so comprehensive, only two areas (constituting 20,000 square meters) of suspected mine-affected land have since been identified and HALO now has only one Survey Team that also serves as a Minefield Marking and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team.
[10] Interview with Tim Turner, Program Manager, the HALO Trust, Ochamchira, Abkhazia, Georgia, 16 June 2003.
[11] Information provided by Tim Turner, HALO, 10 June 2003.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Major General Alexander Averchenko, Ministry of Defense, Russian Federation, “Making the Ottawa Convention a Reality: Military Implications,” presentation to the ICRC Seminar on Landmines and ERW, Moscow, 4 November 2002.
[18] Interview with Vyachislav Eshba, Minister of Defense of Abkhazia, Sukhum, 23 June 2003.
[19] Information in this section was extracted from, “The HALO Trust 2002-3 Final Report to The Princess of Wales Memorial Fund,” 6 May 2003, provided to Landmine Monitor by Tim Turner, HALO, 10 June 2003.
[20] Email to Landmine Monitor (HRW) from Kathleen Lawand, Legal Advisor, ICRC, 9 July 2003.
[21] Interview with Christopher Mehley, Head of Mission, ICRC, Sukhum, 1 April 2003.
[22] Interview with UNOMIG officer, Gal, January 2002.
[23] Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, S/2002/742, 10 July 2002, p. 3; Apsnypress, 7 May 2002.
[24] Apsnypress, report N210, 16 October 2002; Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, S/2003/39, 13 January 2003, p. 3.
[25] Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, S/2002/7469, 19 April 2002, p. 3.
[26] Information provided by Tim Turner, HALO, 10 June 2003.
[27] Interview with Christopher Mehley, ICRC, Sukhum, 1 April 2003; ICRC statistics dated 29 January 2003.
[28] See Landmine Monitor Report 2002, p. 798.
[29] ICRC, “Georgia: January 2003,” Operational update, 6 May 2003, p. 4, available at www.icrc.org.
[30] ICRC, “Annual Report 2002,” Geneva, June 2003, p. 251.
[31] Interview with MSF personnel, Sukhum, 11 July 2003; see also MSF, “Activity Report 2002,” available at www.msf.org.
[32] Interview with Otar Kakalia, Director, Agency for Development and Support, Sukhum, 23 March 2003.
[33] Interview with Christopher Mehley, ICRC, 1 April 2003; ICRC statistics dated 29 January 2003.
[34] See Landmine Monitor Report 2002, p. 800.
[35] Interview with Daur Lataria, Director, Society for the Blind, Sukhum, 27 June 2003.
[36] Interview with Alhas Tkhagushev, Director, AIS, Sukhum, 21 March 2003.
[37] See Landmine Monitor Report 2002, p. 800.