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Country Reports
ABKHAZIA, Landmine Monitor Report 2005


Key developments since May 2004: HALO Trust cleared and area-reduced almost 2.3 square kilometers of land in 2004, destroying 815 antipersonnel mines, 153 antivehicle mines and more than 1,500 UXO. Abkhazia received about US$2 million for mine action in 2004, including $1.5 million from the US; in 2005, US demining assistance to Abkhazia increased to $3 million.

Mine Ban Policy

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the 1992-1993 conflict between Abkhazia and the government of Georgia was characterized by significant use of mines by both sides. A cease-fire agreement was reached in May 1994, but skirmishes have continued. Abkhazia is not an internationally recognized state, so it cannot become party to the Mine Ban Treaty.

During a Landmine Monitor research and advocacy mission to Abkhazia in May 2005, officials expressed sympathy with humanitarian concerns, but bluntly stated that Abkhazia cannot ban antipersonnel mines at this time. The Foreign Minister told Landmine Monitor, “Abkhazia suffered great losses because of landmines, and Abkhazia is interested in solving the landmine crisis around the world. Our problem is that we live under constant pressure of another war. Abkhazia cannot refuse to use landmines, because it is one of the means of defense of its forces. When we have international guarantees that there will be no war, then we will make significant steps to join the Ottawa Convention.”[1 ]

Military officials echoed similar sentiments: “Landmines in Abkhazia are used for the purpose of defense of her military personnel, and at this moment we cannot refuse to use this weapon.”[2 ] Another officer stated, “Abkhazia can hardly ban landmines at this moment.”[3]

Production, Transfer, Stockpiling and Use

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. Russian engineering units serving with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping forces may also stockpile antipersonnel mines.

In 2004 and the first half of 2005, there was no new use of antipersonnel mines reported on the territory of Abkhazia.[4 ] According to military officials, “There are special units in Abkhazia that are ready to install landmine fields at any moment providing it is necessary for the defense of national security. However, the military force of the Republic of Abkhazia did not use landmines for the past two years.”[5 ] In the past, armed groups from Georgia, allegedly linked to the Georgian government, have infiltrated into Abkhazia and laid antipersonnel mines, but there have been no reports of such mine-laying since 2003.[6 ]

Landmine and UXO Problem

Contamination of Abkhazia with mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) resulted from the armed conflict of 1992-1993 between the breakaway republic and Georgia proper. The war was “characterized by front lines moving along the Black Sea coast from the Gumista River, north of the city of Sukhum, to the Ingur River further south....Mines were laid in flat and fertile valleys to augment the natural obstacles of the rivers.”[7]

According to Sergey Shamba, Minister for Foreign Affairs, “immediately after the war Abkhazia used landmines along banks of Ingur river and Gal canal for the protection of its armed forces. Then the HALO Trust began demining operation and as far as I know Gal region is completely cleared of landmines.”[8 ] In an interview in May 2005, the Deputy Minister of Defense claimed that there were no mines left on the border with Georgia.[9]

Minister Shamba also claimed that there is mine contamination on the upper part of Kodor Valley.[10 ] HALO has noted that due to insecurity and lawlessness in the Upper Kodor Valley it is not possible to conduct survey or mine clearance operations there. According to HALO, “all the mines laid in Abkhazia were of Soviet military origin and include anti-personnel (PMN, PMN2), anti-group (MON50, 100, 200, OZM72) and anti-vehicle (TM62, TM57) mines. HALO also found a considerable number of improvised explosive devices (IED) packed into oxygen cylinders or fuel drums.”[11 ]

HALO described Abkhazia as resembling the worst-affected areas of Bosnia, yet receiving a fraction of the international aid to resolve its mine/UXO problem.[12]

Mine Action Program

There is no internationally recognized mine action authority in Abkhazia. Mine action data collection, planning and operational coordination is provided by the Abkhaz Mine Action Centre (AMAC), established by HALO in 1999. HALO manages AMAC, with international funding.

AMAC records all survey, clearance and post-clearance data. HALO reports that relevant data including maps are distributed to and analyzed in conjunction with development agencies and local ministries. As there is little pressure on land in Abkhazia, task selection and prioritization are largely left to the HALO management team, which liaises with local community leaders and the Abkhaz authorities.[13]

HALO conducted a comprehensive survey in 1999-2000 that identified nearly 18 square kilometers of land as being mined or suspected of being mined. It has since cleared and area-reduced more than eight square kilometers. Manual deminers use the one-man-one-lane technique, while mechanical units are used for area reduction.[14 ] HALO deploys integrated manual and mechanical mine clearance teams, mine risk education teams, and survey and minefield marking teams, based in Ochamchire and Gal. It has also trained and equipped a mobile explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team to deal with all items of ordnance used in the conflict, including large bombs.[15 ] During 2004, HALO Abkhazia employed 450 demining staff (increased from 380 in 2003).[16]

HALO’s mandate, under its accelerated demining program, is to declare Abkhazia “mines and UXO impact free, where security permits” by mid-2007. All known minefields in Abkhazia have been prioritized for clearance, with minefields closest to human habitation determined as the first priorities.[17]

The accelerated program relies on additional mechanical clearance assets being deployed in support of existing manual mine clearance assets. From May to October each year, it doubles the output of manual and mechanical clearance by organizing two shifts of manpower to use the machines and detectors available, thereby achieving clearance operations from 7am to 7pm.[18 ]

Mine and UXO Clearance

During 2004, HALO manually demined 1,166,861 square meters of land and mechanically reduced 1,105,791 square meters of suspect area; a total of 708 antipersonnel mines, 115 antivehicle mines and 869 UXO were found and destroyed.[19 ] HALO also deployed an EOD team to systematically visit villages across the region in search of UXO. In 2004 the EOD team found and destroyed 704 UXO (including five aircraft bombs close to Sukhum city), 107 antipersonnel mines and 38 antivehicle mines.[20]

Clearance operations in the upper part of Gal were completed in March 2005 with the exception of one task. Subsequently, HALO held a meeting at which NGOs working in Gal region, UN military observers and heads of village administrations discussed landmine issues. No new information on landmines was reported by any of the people or organizations. However, monitoring of the mine situation in the region will continue.[21 ] HALO hoped to complete its work in Gal and declare the region mine impact free in mid-2005.[22]

The Abkhaz authorities believe that HALO could be more effective if Georgia provided maps of the minefields. This question was raised during negotiations between Abkhaz and Georgian authorities, held in Gal on 12 May 2005 at the request of HALO; Georgian authorities promised to address the issue.[23 ]

Initially, Abkhaz authorities were reluctant to allow HALO to operate in areas they considered strategically important, including the Ingur river banks in upper Gal and along the Gal canal. As security improved, HALO gained permission to expand operations to these areas.[24 ] After HALO first gained agreement to carry out mine/UXO clearance in 1997, its operations were initially concentrated around the Abkhazian capital Sukhum and along the de facto border with Georgia in Gal region.[25 ]

Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeepers have also conducted mine/UXO clearance in their area of responsibility in Gal region. In upper Gal, HALO believes that CIS peacekeeping troops have removed a considerable amount of explosive ordnance, possibly around 5,000 mines and UXO, in the “security and limited weapon zones” only.[26 ] By July 2005, Russian engineers had also carried out survey and demining of the railway between Ochamchire and Zugdidi (in Georgia). At the trilateral Abkhazian-Georgian-Russian meeting in Gal region on 2 July 2005, the parties decided to carry out a joint mine survey of the Psou-Ingur area, including the bridge across the Ingur River, from 15 July to 1 October 2005. Three teams located in Gal, Sukhum and Gagry have been assigned to do the survey, which is intended to lead to a railway connection between Russia and Georgia through Abkhazian territory. This route was expected to earn Abkhazia between $500,000 and $800,000 per month.[27 ]

HALO deminers suffered no casualties in 2004; an Abkhaz Army deminer was injured in a mine accident in April 2004.[28 ] On 13 August 2005, a HALO deminer initiated a PMN2 antipersonnel mine while working on Habiuk Mountain north of Sukhum. The deminer suffered the immediate traumatic amputation of part of his foot. Subsequent investigation determined that the deminer had contravened standard operating procedures while excavating a signal in the minefield; the deminer will receive compensation for his injuries.[29] 

Mine Risk Education[30]

HALO conducts mine risk education (MRE) in Abkhazia, as part of an integrated mine action program of mine clearance, minefield marking and MRE. HALO reports that this has resulted in a reduction in casualties, with only six recorded casualties in 2004.[31 ]

Following a survey of mine casualties in 2002, adult males are considered to be the most at-risk group and are the focus of most MRE programming. However, HALO continues with a school-based program. HALO maintains a mine casualty database, which is used to analyze casualty trends and adapt MRE programming.

Television is considered to be of the most effective ways of reaching large target audiences in Abkhazia. HALO has commissioned a number of short documentaries and advertisements aimed at the adult population, and puppet shows and cartoons for children. MRE posters and booklets are printed in Russian, Abkhazian and Georgian. Lectures and school-based activities are given in all three languages.

MRE teams have visited every school in the mine-affected areas and distributed exercise books to students. Since 1999 and continuing during 2004, HALO has trained 645 teachers to give MRE lectures to children in mine-affected areas. Teachers were provided with an MRE pack, which included a teacher’s manual, posters, pens and exercise books.

HALO MRE teams also provide support to other NGOs working in Abkhazia, and to the UN Observation Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG). They provide new staff with MRE training.

Funding and Assistance

HALO’s operations in Abkhazia are funded by the US Department of State, UK Department for International Development, the Netherlands and Tokyo Broadcasting Systems.[32 ]Donor reports indicate that Abkhazia received approximately $2 million in mine action assistance in 2004:

  • Netherlands: €123,543 ($153,663) for mine clearance;[33]
  • Tokyo Broadcasting Systems: $200,000 through the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan;[34]
  • UK: £148,405 ($272,026) for integrated demining;[35]
  • US: $1,504,000 for demining.[36]

In fiscal year 2005, the US provided $3 million for mine action in Abkhazia.[37 ] The Department of State reported that its humanitarian demining program will continue to address the threat of landmines and UXO from the civil conflict in and around Abkhazia in US fiscal year 2006.[38 ]

Landmine Casualties

In 2004, six people were injured in reported landmine/UXO incidents, including two children and an Abkhaz Army deminer.[39 ] Five new landmine casualties were reported in 2003.[40 ]

Casualties continue to be reported in 2005, with nine new mine/UXO casualties reported to August, including three children, five military personnel and one HALO deminer.

HALO has recorded 662 mine/UXO casualties between 1992 and August 2005; 147 people were killed and 515 injured.

Survivor Assistance and Disability Policy and Practice

Health facilities in Abkhazia are in poor condition due to a lack of resources. In 2004, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided equipment, supplies and medicines to five hospitals in Abkhazia, mainly for the treatment of weapon-related injuries or emergency surgery. The assistance was terminated or cut back when the program concluded at the end of 2004.[41 ] Médecins sans Frontières provides emergency medical care and surgical equipment in support of health facilities in Abkhazia, including a clinic in Sukhum.[42 ] Landmine and other war related trauma is primarily treated in Agudzera military hospital.[43 ] Treatment of the population of Kodor Valley is also provided there.

The two main Abkhazian organizations working with persons with disabilities, including landmine survivors, are the Gagra Orthopedic Center and Association of Invalid Support (AIS). The Gagra Rehabilitation Center also provides limited assistance.[44 ]

The Ministry of Health-run Gagra Orthopedic Center (GOC) provides physical rehabilitation services and orthopedic devices, free of charge, with the support of ICRC. GOC also provides an outreach program to the Gal area for those unable to access the center. In 2004, GOC produced 81 prostheses (41 for mine survivors) and 47 orthoses, and distributed 11 wheelchairs and 520 crutches. In 2004, ICRC also facilitated the training of two physiotherapists from the Gagra center.[45 ] As of May 2005, GOC has registered 555 amputees, including 261 landmine survivors. The quality of prosthetics is reportedly limited by the available technology.[46 ] Many amputees, particularly those with above-knee amputations, reportedly seek orthopedic assistance outside Abkhazia in Armenia and Russia.[47]

The Sukhum-based Association of Invalid Support (AIS) provides physical rehabilitation, psychosocial support and computer classes for mine survivors and other persons with disabilities. AIS’s physical rehabilitation activities are implemented in cooperation with the Center for Humanitarian Programs and Agudzera Republican Hospital. AIS also operates an internet cafe.[48 ]

The Verask Charitable Foundation for the Disabled and Amputees, supported by Adopt-A-Minefield, provides mobility devices to mine survivors and other persons with disabilities in Abkhazia. In 2004, Verask distributed 33 wheelchairs and 240 crutches, and provided financial assistance to 13 disabled children in Gal region.[49]

The Harmony Center for Psychological Help, with the support of UNICEF and HALO Trust, implements a summer rehabilitation program for child mine survivors and their families. In 2004, 15 children participated in the program, including nine amputees and six with other injuries. UNICEF will continue supporting the program in 2005.[50]

Other Abkhazian NGOs assisting persons with disabilities include the Forum for the Organizations of Disabled, Association of Parents of Disabled Children, Gagra Amputees Football Club, Association of the Disabled of Abkhazia, Gudauta Association of Disabled, Society of the Deaf and Society of the Blind.[51 ]

A survivor from Abkhazia, Vitaly Gabniya, participated in the Raising the Voices training in Geneva in February 2004 and the First Review Conference in Nairobi in November-December 2004. He also took part in the conference, Approaches to Recovery and Reintegration of Survivors of War-Related Injuries, in Washington in May 2005.

The Ministry of Health and Social Security is responsible for assistance to disabled persons in Abkhazia. A new law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities has been drafted with input from disability organizations and persons with disabilities.[52 ]

The Coordination Council on the Issues of Disabled in Abkhazia, a coalition of government and NGOs, was established to address the needs of persons with disabilities, including landmine survivors; however, the council is reportedly inactive due to the presidential elections and change in government structures.[53 ]

[1 ]Interview with Sergey Shamba, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sukhum, 23 May 2005.

[2 ]Interview with Lt. Gen. Anatoly Zaitsev, Deputy Minister of Defense and Chief of General Staff, and Col. Garry Kupalba, Deputy Minister of Defense, Sukhum, 24 May 2005.

[3] Telephone interview with Col. Khuta Kurt-Ogly, Commander of Engineering Forces, Ministry of Defense, 4 May 2005.

[4 ]Interview with Lt. Gen. Anatoly Zaitsev and Col. Garry Kupalba, Ministry of Defense, Sukhum, 24 May 2005.

[5 ]Interview with Lt. Gen. Anatoly Zaitsev and Col. Garry Kupalba, Ministry of Defense, Sukhum, 24 May 2005. Abkhazia last acknowledged using antipersonnel mines in mid-2002. See Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 1180.

[6 ]See Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 1180.

[7] htpp//www.halotrust.org/abkhazia.html

[8 ]Interview with Sergey Shamba, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sukhum, 23 May 2005.

[9] Interview with Lt. Gen. Anatoly Zaitsev, Ministry of Defense, Sukhum, 24 May 2005.

[10 ]Interview with Sergey Shamba, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sukhum, 23 May 2005; information repeated in an interview with Col. Garry Kupalba, Ministry of Defense, Sukhum, 24 May 2005.

[11 ]“Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005, provided by David McMahon, Program Manager, HALO Trust Abkhazia.

[12] See Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 1181.

[13] “Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005, provided by David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, and email of 1 August 2005.

[14 ]“Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005, provided by David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, and emails 1 and 3 August 2005.

[15 ]http//www.halotrust.org/abkhazia.html.html.

[16] “Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005.

[17] “Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005 and emails from David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, 1 and 3 August 2005.

[18 ]“Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005, and email from David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, 1 August 2005.

[19 ]“Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005.

[20] “Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005 and email from David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, 1 August 2005.

[21 ]Interview with David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, Gal, 29 April 2005.

[22] “Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005.

[23 ]Interview with Sergey Shamba, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sukhum, 23 May 2005.

[24 ]“Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005.

[25 ]“Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005. See also Landmine Monitor Report 2004, pp. 1181-1182.

[26 ]Interview with David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, Gal, 29 April 2005.

[27 ]“Kavkazskiy uzel,” Information agency, 5 July 2005, www.peacekeeper.ru.

[28 ]Email from David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, 18 August 2005.

[29] Email from David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, 18 August 2005.

[30] Interview with David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, Gal, 29 April 2005.

[31 ]“Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005, and email from David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, 1 August 2005.

[32 ]“Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005.

[33] Email from Freek Keppels, Arms Control and Arms Export Policy Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4 August 2005.

[34] Email from Miori Oka, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, 24 August 2005. The contribution was in US$.

[35] Email from Andrew Willson, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department, Department for International Development, 1 July 2005. Average exchange rate for 2004: £1 = US$1.833, US Federal Reserve, “List of Exchange Rates (Annual),” 3 January 2005.

[36] USG Historical Chart containing data for FY 2004, email from Angela L. Jeffries, Financial Management Specialist, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, US Department of State, 20 July 2005. US funds to mine action in Abkhazia are formally ascribed to Georgia.

[37 ]USG Historical Chart containing data for FY 2004, email from Angela L. Jeffries, Financial Management Specialist, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, US Department of State, 20 July 2005.

[38 ]US Department of State, “Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, Fiscal Year 2006; Europe and Eurasia”, www.state.gov/documents/organization/42251.pdf, accessed 23 September 2005.

[39 ]Unless otherwise stated, all information in this section from: email to Landmine Monitor (HI) from David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, 17 August 2005; email to Landmine Monitor (NPA) from David McMahon, HALO Abkhazia, 18 August 2005.

[40 ]“Report on HALO Trust program in Abkhazia,” June 2005.

[41 ]ICRC, “Annual Report 2004,” Geneva, June 2005, p. 207; for more information, see also Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 1184, and the Georgia report in this edition of Landmine Monitor.

[42 ]Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, S/2004/315, 20 April 2004, p. 7; interview with MSF personnel, Sukhum, 11 July 2003.

[43 ]Interview with Dr. Guram Shoua, Agudzera Military Hospital, 27 September 2005.

[44 ]See Landmine Monitor Report 2002, p. 800.

[45 ]ICRC, “Annual Report 2004,” Geneva, June 2005, p. 207; ICRC Physical Rehabilitation Program, “Annual Report 2004,” Geneva, July 2005, p. 34-35; email to Landmine Monitor (Georgia) from the Georgian Foundation for Prosthetic Orthopedic Rehabilitation, 21 April 2005.

[46 ]Interview with Zina Donyelian, Head of Gagra Orthopedic Workshop, Gagra, 24 May 2005; interview with Stephan Sakalyan, Head of the ICRC mission to Abkhazia, Sukhum, 27 May 2005.

[47] Interview with Sergey Shamba, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sukhum, 23 May 2005.

[48 ]For more information, see Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 1184; see also Standing Tall Australia and Mines Action Canada, “101 Great Ideas for the Socio-Economic Reintegration of Mine Survivors,” June 2005, p. 4.

[49] Telephone interview with Vitaly Gabniya, Assistant Administrator, Verask, Sukhum, 6 June 2005.

[50] Interview with Viktoria Ardzinba, Director, Harmony, Sukhum, 20 May 2005; see also Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 1184.

[51 ]Interview with Aslan Kutsnia, Advocacy Director, AIS, Sukhum, 15 June 2005.

[52 ]Interview with Deputy Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Sukhum, 31 March 2004.

[53 ]Interview with Aslan Kutsnia, AIS, Sukhum, 15 June 2005.