Tuesday, October 03, 2006

U.S. Congratulates Macedonia on Success in Clearing Land Mines

Washington -- The United States congratulated Macedonia September 29 for successfully clearing land mines from its territory and thus joining "the growing number of countries that are no longer significantly affected by land mines leftover from past conflicts."

The United States contributed $1.6 million to humanitarian mine action in Macedonia through the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance by matching contributions made by other donor nations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), corporations and individuals, according to a State Department announcement.

The aid sent six teams of mine-removal experts to Macedonia from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and helped Macedonia build its own capacity to clear mines. The funding also supported the training of 60 mine-clearance personnel, including 16 specialists in disposal of explosive ordnance.

The United States also provided the Macedonians about $500,000 worth of mine-removal equipment, including four-wheel drive vehicles, metal detectors, radios, medical gear, a computer and other office equipment. In addition, the United States contributed funds to local Macedonian Battle Area Clearance Teams.

Many of the land mines were left over from hostilities that erupted in the first half of 2001 when a group of ethnic Albanians calling themselves the National Liberation Army carried out armed provocations near the Kosovo border that soon escalated into an insurgency. Claiming to fight for greater civil rights for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, the group seized territory in northern and western Macedonia and launched attacks against government forces.

In August 2001, the Ohrid Framework Agreement ended the fighting and laid out a legal and political action plan for the creation of a stable, multiethnic country with a strong civil society that respects the ethnic identity and interests of all Macedonian citizens. (See related article.)

Macedonian authorities have estimated that, as a result of the fighting, 80 villages were contaminated with land mines and unexploded ordnance, according to the United Nations’ Mine Action Service.

The U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program has invested well over $1 billion in mine action worldwide, including mine removal, mine-risk education, assistance to mine survivors, research and development on better ways to find and clear mines, and training for local mine action managers. Countries and regions that have received this assistance and that have been rendered free from the humanitarian impact of land mines and unexploded ordnance are Costa Rica, Djibouti, Guatemala, Honduras and Kosovo.

In addition, El Salvador and Suriname also have become mine-impact free, receiving from the United States land mine survivors' assistance and airlift capacity for humanitarian mine-removal specialists.

In July the U.S. government announced $2.1 million in grants to 20 NGOs around the world and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). (See related article.)

In August the State Department announced a breakthrough mine-detection device that combines metal detection with ground-penetrating radar, called a Handheld Standoff Mine Detection System. The new device, which is being used by the Department of Defense, can screen out the many bits and pieces of metal found in mined areas and on former battlefields that give a "false positive" signal to metal detectors. (See related article.)

The State Department continues to provide humanitarian aid to land mine removal through its Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

A report summarizing recent accomplishments of the interagency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program and a fact sheet on milestones in humanitarian mine action are available on the State Department Web site.

For more information, see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and the electronic journal Protecting Lives, Restoring Livelihoods: The U.S. Program To Remove Landmines.

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