The British Foreign Office has announced it is providing £500,000 to help clear landmines in and around the recently liberated Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.
The money will help “to make the area safe, prevent injuries and save lives” following the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Figures show 160 people have been killed or injured by landmines since last November. An estimated 1 million landmines and unexploded ordnance remain hidden across the region, posing an ongoing and indiscriminate threat to life.
In a statement issued at the beginning of this month, the UK government said its fund would support the vital work of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to clear the landmines. The funding will help the organisation to provide “training and personnel to support mine clearance and make contaminated land safe for human use in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.”
The Minister for the European Neighbourhood and the Americas, Wendy Morton (pictured, top), said: “The territories in and around Nagorno-Karabakh are amongst some of the most heavily mined in the world, with frequent reports of civilians losing their lives or suffering life-changing injuries.
“The UK’s donation will be used to harness the UN’s expertise and reduce the risk to civilian life in both Armenia and Azerbaijan through the provision of training and technical demining support to those helping make the area safer.”
According to the Foreign Office statement, the funding “will be used by the UN to deliver support with local and national de-mining organisations in Armenia and Azerbaijan including through technical, strategic and management support.”
Unexploded mines in the territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh kill on a weekly basis. To truly tackle this issue, we also need collective action. The UK is now calling on other countries to help support the @UNDP initiative https://t.co/rRqbfsd0jO
— Wendy Morton MP (@morton_wendy) September 1, 2021
Describing itself as “a leading force for good in the region”, the UK said it was “the first country to announce humanitarian support following the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with £1 million donated to the International Committee of the Red Cross to support those affected.”
The UK government also used its 1 September to call on other countries to support the UNDP demining initiative “to help thousands of people affected by the conflict to rebuild their lives and return to the region after being driven from their homes by conflict or unexploded munitions.”
Minister Morton said, “…there’s more work to be done. That’s why we’re calling on our international partners to also support the collective effort needed if we are to ensure the safety of all people in the region.”
The significance of the landmine problem was confirmed to T-VINE by the Azerbaijan Embassy in London. The Azerbaijan Embassy spokesperson told T-VINE that up until 7 September 2021, which marked the 300thday since the signing of the Tripartite Statement signed by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia on November 10, 2020, “160 Azerbaijani citizens have been killed or injured by mines laid by Armenia during the [Nagorno-Karabakh] conflict.”
Among the fatalities were two journalists and a government official, who were killed in a fatal mine explosion in June while carrying out their duties.
A total of “46,486 mines and unexploded ordnances were cleared from over 15,510 hectares in the territories formerly occupied by Armenia,” the Embassy spokesperson added.
In June, Baku confirmed a prisoner exchange deal that saw the Azerbaijani authorities hand back 15 Armenian prisoners of war in exchange for a map from Armenia detailing the location of some 97,000 landmines in the newly liberated district of Nagorno-Karabakh of Agdam.
It is believed up to a million landmines were laid by Armenian forces across the region before they withdrew after last year’s 44-day war that ended their 30-year occupation of Karabakh.