US assists mine-clearing efforts in northern ALBANIA

Mines and unexploded ordnance left over from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s still pose a threat in border regions of Albania, affecting livelihoods and development. The United States and other Western countries are helping the government tackle the problem.


With help from the United States and other Western countries, Albania is working to clear mines and unexploded ordnance. Many of these date from the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s, when the former Yugoslav forces planted mines along the Albania-Kosovo border.
Since 1999, there have been 208 mine accidents, in which 238 people were injured and 34 killed, according to the UNDP. Minefields exist in the districts of Kukes, Has and Tropoje, as far as 20km inside Albanian territory.

The problem has had a serious impact in these predominantly rural areas, where some of Albania's poorest people live. They depend on small farming, grazing, firewood gathering and other subsistence livelihoods. According to the Journal of Mine Action, economic pressures force some to work in mine-infested areas, despite the danger to life and limb.

Mines also pose an obstacle to the building of roads and infrastructure, block water sources, and prevent the development of tourism and commerce in what might otherwise be an area ripe for development. Border control has also been affected, as the threat of mines slows down response time to border incidents, making effective patrols impossible.

The Albanian Mine Action Committee was formed in October 1999 to direct policy and supervise mine-clearing efforts. Under its direction, the Albanian Mine Action Executive co-ordinates the programme and carries out accreditation, validation and quality management.

The United States is one of the largest contributors to the programme, granting $7.3m during the period 2000-2005. The funds go towards not only mine clearing, but also projects to educate people about the risks posed by mines, and assistance for survivors of mine accidents.
For this year, Washington is providing $1m. In April, US Ambassador Marcie Ries paid a visit to Dobruna, in the Has district, where a mine-clearing project is under way.

International community assistance is channeled mainly through the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance (ITF), a humanitarian, non-profit organisation established by the Government of Slovenia in 1998. The United States provides up to $10m annually to ITF in the form of matching funds, according to the US embassy.

In addition to assistance provided via the ITF, the embassy hosts "Night of a Thousand Dinners" events to raise funds for mine victim assistance. The events in December 2003 and February 2005 raised about $38,000. Another is planned for later this year.

Von: 6.06.2006, By Erlis Selimaj for Southeast European Times in Tirana,

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