Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action English  ENG Azeri   AZE

ANAMA DIRECTOR'S INTERVIEW TO NEWS.AZ

Mine clearance of Azerbaijan's occupied land to take 10-14 years Sat 05 December 2009 / 11:45 The negotiations on Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia may have entered the final stage. Your structure will have to clear the currently occupied Azerbaijani land of mines. Is ANAMA ready for this? This was the idea behind the creation of the agency. ANAMA was created 10 years ago and the real work has been done in the last eight years. In this period, we cleared the land available to us which was liberated in 1992-1993. This is quite a wide area of 300 million square metres. It also includes the territory of former Soviet bases and test ranges like Agstafa and Guzdek. At the same time, in creating and developing our mine-clearing capacity, we pursued two goals: first, to clear this land and, second, to create stable capacity that would be ready to conduct mine-clearing on a large scale when the Azerbaijani land is liberated. Naturally, we have plans A and B. Plan A is a short strategy that envisages clearing the liberated land currently controlled by Azerbaijan by 2013. Plan B includes the immediate expansion of the capacity that we have today in case the currently occupied Azerbaijani land is liberated. This capacity includes human resources, vehicles, dogs specially trained for de-mining and the regional bases that we have today. The minimum has already been created; it allows us to greatly boost our capacity in six months, increasing our staff from the current 280 to 700, increasing the number of dogs from 32 to 132, the number of vehicles from six to 26-28 and the number of regional bases from three to seven. We are planning to do this and we will do it all ourselves. We will have no need for external assistance. We have created a training centre in Goygol, have national instructors and a monitoring group there. Today we are training Georgians, Afghans and Tajiks as we are ready for it. We have developed the existing capacity through our own efforts. This means we will be ready to train up to 35 sappers every 45 days. At what stage will ANAMA be involved and how do you plan to schedule your actions? Our capacity allows us to deploy forces in all areas when the time arrives and to achieve our targets within a short period. We will respond promptly to all requests from the government and other organizations and define priorities and start mine-clearing. Though, I think this process will take place in phases. Once one area is surrendered, the current staff can start clearing roads, communications and the sites for primary construction and administrative centres. I don't delude myself that we can do everything. This will be a huge task: we will have to hire people, train them, buy equipment and transport it within a short period of time. But all channels are known and there is nothing secret about it. We merely need time, money and to work. In which regions of Azerbaijan does ANAMA work today? As I have already said, in the areas currently available to us. These are 12 districts including Fizuli, Agdam, Terter, Geranboy, Agjabedi, Gazakh, Tovuz and Agstafa. These districts were included in the presidential decree on the socioeconomic development of the country, which includes a provision that ANAMA should ensure the security of all people residing in these areas by clearing the land of mines and unexploded shells. We are working in all these districts except for Gedabey. We do not work there because the dangerous places in this region are controlled by the army and are adjacent to the contact line of the Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces. Under the presidential decree, we must complete work in these 12 regions by 2013. How much time do you think it will take to clear mines from the currently occupied lands? These aren't only our estimates. We have calculated this in cooperation with specialists from the World Bank that has a special department of experts on demining who carry out assessments in most countries including Croatia, Bosnia and elsewhere. They also worked with us. Opinions differ but the gap is not big - from 10 to 14 years. Ten years is our estimate and 14 years the assessment of the World Bank experts. Some may say that it is too long, but the experience of other countries shows this is not the case. For example, Croatia faced a similar problem and has requested another nine years from international organizations for demining after 10 years of mine clearance work. It means that this process will take them 19 years. Albania has been working to demine the area for 11 years though their problem is much less than ours. This work will take Bosnia and Herzegovina about 18 years with nine years already passed. The experience of other countries shows that such cases as Azerbaijan's where there is almost no map of mine fields require a lot of work. I hope we will have maps of the mining carried out by Armenian armed forces along the contact line after 1994. As for the period of local combat between partisan troops, brigades and villages when there were no regular formations, there were no maps either and we do not expect there to be any. We will work on ways of researching and questioning people as we are doing now. We are working without any maps, so it is very difficult to find and neutralize mines. Technical capacity, security issues, international mine clearing standards for the positioning of sappers, dogs and vehicles at an accepted distance apart show that mine clearance will take at best 10-14 years. But it does not mean that everyone should wait 10-14 years until we clear these lands. The process will move in tandem. First we will clear the priority land, which will be followed by reconstruction and resettlement. At that time, we will be moving forward. It will be joint work. We will also work with the population on mine awareness so that they understand which areas are cleared and where they should not walk, as clearing is under way there. Unfortunately, the world has no technology that allows everything to be cleared in a day. The army will clear mines on the released lands at the initial stage and this will guarantee 50% clearance while our clearance ensures 99.9%. This is international standard. Therefore, we should be patient. Is any foreign agency likely to assist ANAMA? I think if the government considers the term of 10-14 years too long, it can declare international tenders to bring international agencies into the mine-clearing process. But this, certainly, will require large funds because today the cost of demining one square metre is set at about $1, which is an economically good price, but foreign companies will do the work for $3-7. We calculate that demining will cost $450-500m and if international companies come, the price will certainly go up. I do not think that the Azerbaijani government will take this step. Some countries have not taken it and are managing themselves. I think we should do the same, as we have our own capacity. We should cope with this task ourselves and I do not rule out that other methods will be used too. For example, our army has good engineering troops. If the government so decides, we could deploy several battalions of engineering troops, hold minimum training for them to bring them into compliance with international standards and our supervisors would observe their work. This is also a possibility. I think that if the land is released, we will make a proposal for a temporary amendment to the law on military service to allow for alternative service in ANAMA. We could select more educated and competent people to step up this work. There are many ways that could help us shorten the demining term by one or two years. How will this initiative proceed? The package of documents is ready. We are looking forward to signing a peace treaty. But the time gap between the signing of the document and the direct implementation of measures to clear our lands will be quite long, several months. It means some procedures will be conducted under the supervision of international observers. Our troops and Armenian troops will have to clear the mines that they laid, after which an organization such as ANAMA will have permission to enter. We will get the maps of existing mines. It means that two, three or four months may pass from the signing of agreements to practical work in this area.     Leyla Tagiyeva News.Az