Belarus unlikely to meet mine disposal deadline (BELARUS)

Under the Ottawa mine ban treaty that took effect for Belarus on March 1, 2004, Belarus was to destroy the world's seventh-largest anti-personnel landmine stock before March 1, 2008.


The country has already destroyed its entire stockpile of TNT-containing anti-personnel landmines subject to disposal under the treaty, with financial support totaling €205,000 from Canada and Lithuania. The overall project cost is estimated at €400,000. Under the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency's Trust Fund demilitarization project, some of the TNT-containing mines were to be detonated and others were to be converted not to be subject to disposal under the Ottawa convention. The Engineer Troops Office of the Belarusian Armed Forces General Staff reported that 45,425 PMN mines (100 percent of the targeted stock), 114,384 PMN-2 mines (100 percent), and 57,324 POM-2 mines (100 percent) were destroyed throughout 2006.

Experts also examined more than 200,826 OZM-72 mines and 5,536 MON mines and converted them to command detonation only. Around 6,000 PPM landmines were left for training soldiers and devising new mine clearance methods. It turned out much more difficult to dispose of some 3.5 million PFM-1 (Green Parrot by NATO's classification) anti-personnel mines that contain explosive liquid. Their destruction is costly and involves environmental risks.

PFM-1s have never been destroyed in large numbers before. The mine is basically a plastic bag containing explosive liquid. PFM-1 was mainly used during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prevent groups of insurgents from using certain roads. Unfortunately, civilians often fell prey to it. One of the unforeseen results of its military application was a high number of casualties among children. Due to its unusual shape, the mine was often mistaken for a toy by children. As the mine exploded, it often resulted in hand and head trauma, which was frequently lethal. This characteristic made this particular type of land mine a principal target for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

The destruction of Belarus' PFM-1 mine stockpiles was expected to be financed by the European Union, which will provide €3 million for the purpose. The European Commission invited bids for the contract in November 2006, but the winner was not selected because some bidders failed to comply with the tender competition's procedure. In December, the European Commission agreed to raise the contract value to €4 million. A new bidding competition has not been announced yet, although the European Commission has not backed out of its financial obligations. In 2006, Budenerha, a Belarusian company, designed and successfully tested equipment for PFM-1 destruction.

But since the project is funded by the European Commission it will select the contractor. Belarus may destroy its stockpiles of PFM-1 landmines in 2008 or 2009 if the European Commission invites bids in the near future, Colonel Ihar Lisowski, head of the Engineer Troops Directorate of the General Staff of the Belarusian Armed Forces, told reporters in Minsk on January 15. Colonel Lisowski said that Belarus is unlikely to face punishment for failure to meet the deadline as Ottawa treaty signatory states are aware of the situation. Foreign experts indicated earlier that Belarus was not the only country to miss the deadline. Belarus' position is clear. The country has done what it could to meet its commitments under the mine ban treaty and is not prepared to spend millions of euros on something that it does not urgently need. In 1999, foreign experts confirmed that PFM-1s are stored in proper conditions. It is mostly the international community that is concerned about the stockpiles. Belarus also may need foreign assistance to complete nationwide land clearance of unexploded ordnance. Belarus is affected by mines and unexploded ordnance in the ground mainly found in agricultural land and forests, but also in major cities including the capital city of Minsk. In the most affected areas, UXO contamination is so extensive that soil movement brings items of ordnance to the surface even after previous clearance.

For Belarus, both World War II UXO and Soviet stockpiles are a larger problem than emplaced mines; since 1945 at least 26 million items of UXO have been cleared from the ground. In 2006, a senior defense official reported that an estimated 353 square kilometers (136 square miles) of land still requires demining. However, a lack of national information collection and sharing hinders a full understanding of the scope, extent and impact of mine/UXO threat in Belarus.

There are no maps of mined areas in existence and suspected hazardous areas are not marked off until the presence of UXO is confirmed. Mine clearance is currently under way in several areas, for instance in the Vitsyebsk region, where large ammunition depots were located during World War II. However, it may be impossible to clear all ordnance from the ground because the country experienced two world wars in the last 100 years. There are still explosive remnants left from World War I and the 18th and 19th century's Napoleonic wars. By Andrey Novikaw

Von: BelaPAN, 28.01.2008

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