Problems to be faced clearing mines in Albania

There is no doubt that Albania has a problem with mine fields that is a legacy from the Kosovo crisis and there is substantial Government concern that the mines be diffused as soon as possible and the land reopended for local residents and workers. However there is a sense that NGOs are closing quickly and returning to Kosovo, leaving the potential of a vaccuum in the country as there remain needs but less concern.

It reinforces the Albanian concern that NGOs are eager to return to Kosovo, where there is more attention and glory, and have overlooked the pressing concerns remaining in Albania. Although the conflict was concentrated in the Kosovo region, there is no doubt that Albania is a victim of wartime activities.

To date, 26 people have been killed and another 70 injured by mines in Albania.

In the northeastern tip of Albania, on the border with the Kosovo province, there are numerous minefields that are causing havoc. On July 10, two Albanian shepards were badly injured when trying to save sheep after they had wandered into a mine field. The area had been identified as a mine field but the signs had been taken down by somebody.

Other mine fields in the area have not been identified or cleared yet and that is preventing farmers from returning to their crops. The nature of farming is such that, should they be kept from the fields for much longer, there will be little chance of a harvest this season.

Apparently there is a method to mining and the local and international authorities consider most to be 'nuisance' mines. The standard minefield construct is a fixed area using a 'W' pattern. These mines have been placed randomly and deliberately set to be unstable and unpredictable. They are set on both sides of the border, making mine awareness and control an Albanian issue as well.

In addition, there are unexploded mortar shells in the countryside as well as NATO explosives that were dropped, accidentally, on Albanian territory.

The Albanian Armed Forces have been gathering information from the northern districts and there is an intent to develop a de-mining programme. This will be a long-term project and there has been substantial interest expressed from governments to fund the operation. One of the concerns is to ensure the skills and expertise for disarmament will be passed on to Albanian forces, improving their abilities for the future.

Reports are that there are only two Albanian army officers adequately trained to deal with mines. They have limited means, no protection equipment and no more marking material is available. The Albanina Army will be unable to start clearing without the assistance of NATO.