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Humanitarian Disarmament returns to Kosovo

A destroyed ammunition bunker near Prizren whose destruction during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign may have resulted in contamination by ammunition “kicked-out” by the blast. Photo: Darvin Lisica

NPA’s efforts to make Kosovo free of unexploded cluster munitions and landmines have started. As of November 3rd, Norwegian People’s Aid has an office in the capital of Pristina and initial preparations for non-technical survey are underway.  The first operational task will be to size up the scale of the remaining cluster munitions problem in the politically-sensitive northern municipalities on the border with Serbia.

Kosovo is still contaminated with cluster munitions, landmines, and other potentially hazardous Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) resulting primarily from armed conflicts linked to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, including fighting between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the army of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, as well as NATO bombardments in 1999.

In the early 2000s, NPA participated in the effort to clean up the immediate aftermath, but was ultimately forced to close down its program when those coordinating the international response prematurely declared after a few years that the problem had largely been solved and international funding dwindled.

Though much progress was made, many areas contaminated with unexploded cluster munitions have yet to be surveyed and cleared because of the lack of available manpower today—only one other international humanitarian clearance operator is present in Kosovo—and political tensions in several affected areas in the north have complicated efforts.

It is precisely in these largely neglected areas that NPA plans to start survey and clearance operations, following an initial assessment in May 2014 and discussions with both municipal governments in the north and national authorities in the capital.  Though Kosovo’s exceptional political status and ethnic makeup sometimes place these two stakeholders at odds, everyone can agree that the people living in Kosovo have a right to go about their daily lives without fear of injury or harm from the aftermath of battles that ended 15 years ago. 

“NPA’s assistance in contributing to the survey and clearance of cluster munitions and mines was requested by many stakeholders in Kosovo, including national authorities in Pristine, municipal governments in affected areas, and international donor countries committed to seeing safer environments and stability for everyone in Kosovo,” says Darvin Lisica, NPA Regional Director for Southeast Europe. 

“Our return to Kosovo gives us a sense of pride for many reasons: for one, it shows the trust afforded to us by those who requested our help in Kosovo.  Stakeholders at all levels recognize us as an efficient and dependable partner with experience operating in politically challenging and sensitive environments.  As an organization we are also happy to see the efficiency and flexibility produced by our strategy of using our longstanding humanitarian disarmament program in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a regional springboard from which to launch and support other interventions.  Our Project Manager, Goran Persic, is a fine example of how NPA’s investments in developing its own locally-recruited human resources in Sarajevo are now paying off when it comes to how quickly we are able to assess and respond to neighboring countries’ requests for NPA assistance.”

Most of all, says Lisica, it is great for NPA to get a chance to return to Kosovo to help finish the job once and for all.

24.01.2015 | Chris Natale, Pristina, REPUBLIC OF KOSOVO