Azerbaijan, located in the heart of the South Caucasus and along the coast of the Caspian Sea, has long understood the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance. As many as 1,400 Azerbaijanis have been killed or injured by landmines, buried artillery shells, and mortars since the end of Azerbaijan's 1988-1994 conflict with neighboring Armenia. In addition, this former Soviet republic was home to several military training sites where tons of munitions left over from past exercises and testing were left behind in the years leading up to independence. As a result, humanitarian demining is now one of the government's top priorities -- and an area where the United States is stepping up to lend a helping hand.
I recently met Kathryn Boynton, the Program Manager for the South Caucasus from our Bureau's Office of Weapons and Abatement (PM/WRA), who explained how our conventional weapons destruction programs are making a positive difference in communities across Azerbaijan -- and dozens of other countries around the world struggling to recover from conflict.
Since 2000, the United States has provided more than $20 million in training and support for the Azerbaijan Agency for National Mine Action (ANAMA), a nongovernmental organization that works closely with the country's government to address the majority of the humanitarian demining needs in Azerbaijan. With support from the United States, NATO, Australia, and several European countries, Kathryn said, ANAMA is working on clearance and local outreach in the 18 of the country's 65 districts, located mainly in the west and northwest areas of the country, known to have the most serious challenges from landmines and unexploded ordnance.
This past summer, a five year-long joint clearance effort in Azerbaijan's northwestern Saloglu region led by NATO's Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) and executed by ANAMA, came to a successful end. With help from Turkey, the lead nation on the project, the United States, and an array of other supporting countries, ANAMA was able to safely recover and destroy more than 640,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance. This means that for first time in years, the Saloglu region has safe farming and agricultural land in which the locals can use to their benefit. At the end of the closing ceremony, NATO and ANAMA announced the start of a new project in Jeyranchel, Azerbaijan. The new project will have the task of clearing former Soviet military training and arms testing sites in the region. The clearance project in Jeyranchel will begin in the coming year with the United States as the lead nation, providing financial support along with the contributions from over a dozen other nations. The hope for this new project is that more land can be cleared of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) and then be safely returned to the people of Azerbaijan.
In many countries around the world, landmines and UXO inhibit development, disrupt markets and production, prevent the delivery of goods and services, and generally obstruct reconstruction and stabilization efforts. By removing these deadly hazards, we can help children, families, and communities to live in safety, as well as encourage the socio-economic development needed to further the larger goal of promoting peace and prosperity.
Under the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program -- an interagency partnership among the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the United States has contributed more than $1.9 billion toward landmine clearance and conventional weapons and munitions destruction in 80 countries. U.S.-funded initiatives include:
• Mine clearance projects by partner organizations, such as RONCO, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and The HALO Trust;
• Mine-risk education to help endangered residents avoid injury by identifying potential hazards;
• Research and development into new demining technologies;
• Training local demining technicians in affected countries; and
• Supporting rehabilitation programs serving those injured by landmines and unexploded munitions.
The United States is the world's single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction programs, such as humanitarian demining, and is proud to be selected as the lead nation for the next project with NAMSA and ANAMA. This project will help provide training for ANAMA employees and enable them to to create a safe environment for the people of Azerbaijan.