STEPANAKERT (Combine Sources)–Nagorno-Karabakh Republic President Bako Sahakian praised on Tuesday the England-based HALO Trust for its decade-long effort to rid his war-affected country of landmines and unexploded ordnance.
Speaking at a celebration of the organization’s 10 year anniversary in Karabakh, Sahakian presented HALO with a plague featuring the 10,000th landmine it neutralized in the republic. “We regard saved lives as the biggest result and value of the work done by [HALO],” he said in a speech at the ceremony held in Khachen, a village in Karabakh’s eastern Askeran district.
Caroline Cox, a vice-speaker of the British House of Lords, who was at the event, echoed Sahakian’s praise for HALO’s mission. Instrumental in establishing HALO’s presence in Karabakh, Cox is the leader of the British-Armenian friendship group and an ardent advocate for humanitarian assistance to the fledgling democracy.
“I hope very much that Azerbaijan will not try to influence other potential donors willing to support demining efforts in Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Cox, speaking ahead of the celebration with regional and local politicians. Demining, she said, has a “humanitarian, rather than political” character.
The HALO Trust has always found support in Karabakh, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Atadjanyan, who pledged continued support for the organization at the celebration.
HALO’s Caucasus Desk Officer, Andrew Moore, thanked the HALO-Nagorno Karabakh donors past and present for their vital support but warned that major donor funding is becoming harder to attract. He appealed to the Armenian Diaspora to help fund the organization’s “vital, lifesaving work of mine clearance in Nagorno Karabakh.”
Landmines were used extensively during the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, as were large amounts of cluster munitions and other explosive ordnance. Since the war ended in 1994, 328 people have been killed or maimed by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). The minefields and cluster bomb contamination continue to inhibit development and infrastructure projects, leaving farmers unable to cultivate vast swaths of fertile agricultural land.
Since 2000 HALO has provided the only large-scale demining effort in the republic. The NGO employs 210 local staffers, who over the last 10 years have cleared mines, cluster munitions and other items of UXO from 9,140 acres of minefield and over 49,400 acres of battlefield, which were then returned to local communities across Nagorno Karabakh for productive and safe use. In addition to the location and destruction of 10,000 mines and 10,000 cluster bombs, clearance has resulted in over 45,000 other items of UXO being safely located and destroyed.
The HALO Trust is a non-political, non-religious NGO that specializes in the removal of the hazardous debris of war. HALO is the largest humanitarian demining organization in the world with over 7,500 national staff clearing mines in 10 countries, managed by just 40 international and headquarters staff.
The HALO Trust in Nagorno Karabakh is currently funded by: The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the private, California-based Julia Burke Foundation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands funded HALO in Nagorno Karabakh between 2001 and 2009.
Other organizations that have funded HALO Nagorno Karabakh in the past are: Grapes for Humanity, Actiefonds Mijnen Ruimen, Newman’s Own Foundation, the Co-operative Bank, the Cafesjian Family Foundation, the Howard Family Foundation, the Pro Victimis Foundation and Anti Landmijn Stichting.
HALO says that it has already cleared nearly 80% of minefields and about 70% of the area contaminated by cluster munitions in Nagorno Karabakh. The NGO believes the remaining areas can be cleared within the next five years but this timeframe depends on the continued availability of donor funds, which are on a downward slump. Without funding, HALO warns, the removal of all the minefields and cluster munitions will take longer, leaving impoverished rural communities blighted by mines and cluster munitions for years to come.
According to Karabakh’s authorities, much of the republic’s development, reconstruction and other humanitarian aid are dependent upon the continuation of mine clearance in Nagorno Karabakh. Continued demining is also essential to avert future casualties.