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Third International Meeting of Mine Action Programme Directors and Advisors: Statement by Dennis McNamara, UNHCR Special Envoy to the former Yugoslavia and UN Deputy Representative of the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in Kosovo (Geneva)

Third International Meeting of Mine Action Programme Directors and Advisors: Statement by Dennis McNamara, UNHCR Special Envoy to the former Yugoslavia and UN Deputy Representative of the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in Kosovo (Geneva)

20 March 2000


Your Majesty, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you for inviting me to your meeting today. It is an honour to be among the leading advocates, policy-makers and practitioners for mine action. With your vast combined global experience in this area and extensive knowledge of the issues, I have no doubt that your deliberations here will lead to the development of more innovative mine action policies and programmes world wide. These efforts could have an important impact on international humanitarian operations for years to come.

It is clear today that demining is one of the most urgent and pressing humanitarian priorities in many post-conflict, peace-building operations. It provides an essential groundwork to enable humanitarian operations to take place, and often it is crucial in creating an environment conducive for the safe and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

In Kosovo, this has been demonstrably the case since we re-entered that ravaged province last June. You will recall that Kosovo was labelled - during the bombing campaign when it was clear that Milosevic would not return to the negotiating table - the world's first "humanitarian war". Whatever else this precisely meant, the safe return of nearly a million refugees and displaced persons clearly became one of the war's prime objectives.

It was not surprising therefore that at the end of the war the Humanitarian Pillar became the first of UNMIK's four "Pillars" - led by UNHCR and exceptionally, from the outset, incorporating the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre. The Pillar's primary task was to limit the mass and early return of refugees. Of course the refugees did not wait for the UN: within two days of entering into Kosovo with the NATO led security force in mid-June they started flooding back from Albania and Macedonia before we were ready. Inevitably there were mine victims from the first day: I recall sitting with an anxious KFOR Headquarters a few days later, confirming that they had no idea which secondary roads or routes were safe for this massive population movement. For the next months the humanitarian operation - the safe return and re-establishment of refugees, and managing shelter preparations for winter, became overriding concerns for both UNMIK and KFOR in Kosovo. The UN peacekeeping operation - like the war - had refugees and humanitarian action at the top of its agenda.

A number of UN-supported mine action programmes have been initiated during the past few years, building upon the international momentum generated by the conclusion and entry into force of the Ottawa Treaty last year. This Treaty was the result of the global mobilisation by governments and especially by civil society at large to prohibit the proliferation of anti-personnel mines. It remains a land mark first step in the process of addressing the scourge of land mines and trying to limit the horrors of war.

The UNMIK Mine Action Programme in Kosovo, initiated by the United Nations Mine Action Service through UNOPS, and supported by a number of non-governmental organisations and commercial companies - is unique in that it is the first in recent years to have been developed in response to a humanitarian crisis. While the nature of the problem in Kosovo has its own special attributes, it is my firm belief that the relative success of the UNMIK mine action response provides both existing and future mine action programmes with some valuable lessons which might be replicated elsewhere.

I say this because there is no doubt that the UNMIK programme has also benefited from the lessons learned during the implementation of previous mine action programmes in other countries, many of which were learned the hard way. At the very least, the Kosovo Mine Action Programme has reinforced the best practices of these operations, and in some cases it has managed to build upon them. Some of this presentation will not be new to the very experienced practitioners in the audience.

Kosovo: A Humanitarian Emergency

After the NATO air campaign began nearly one year ago on 24 March, some 900,000 people fled Kosovo or were forcibly deported to neighbouring countries. When bombing stopped two and half months later, most of these refugees returned, almost as swiftly as they had left.

Inevitably, some of the major threats to the returning populations, as well as the peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, were the mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) throughout Kosovo. To alert the population to this problem, public information campaigns were organised and conducted in the refugee camps before the return started, with crucial support from ICRC, UNICEF and NGOs. After KFOR entered into Kosovo on 12 June, unexploded NATO-dropped cluster munitions (CBU) were also found in many parts of the province, and tragically have resulted in a number of casualties among the returning population. The responsibility for identifying and clearing such munitions must follow the same principles, in my view, as those for mine clearing.

The speed and magnitude of the refugee exodus and return required an immediate response and considerable logistical support. Moreover, there was little time to obtain the necessary data and information in order to analyse the scope and nature of the problem. The absence of any effective local government further compounded the problem, and hampered the ability of humanitarian organisations to operate effectively and quickly.

Elements of a Humanitarian Response

From the outset, the instrumental role played by humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organisations in mine action was fully recognised and integrated into a multi-faceted programme covering a range of areas, including mine awareness, victim assistance and mine/UXO clearance.

The priorities of the mine action programme in Kosovo are based essentially on the humanitarian agenda. The Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC) was established within the structure of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) with mine action falling under the humanitarian pillar of UNMIK, which I head.

As a co-ordination body, the Mine Action Coordination Centre has no operational mine action assets. The organisations which are currently undertaking mine action and awareness activities have been bilaterally funded, engaged directly by humanitarian agencies or contracted by the Mine Action Coordination Centre.

A rapid and large-scale humanitarian response was possible because of critical support provided by a number of countries, most notably the United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Canada, USA and New Zealand, and also through the generous support of the European Commission. I would like to express our deep appreciation for this support and assistance, and hope these countries will be joined by others to continue supporting the programme in the post-humanitarian phase. These resources will serve to clear the land from mines and will be equally needed for the reconstruction of homes and infrastructure, the provision of essential services, and the rebuilding of civil society.

Lessons Learned

Although the mine action programme in Kosovo has been operational for just under one year, we believe a number of lessons can be drawn, and may be worth sharing with you. One of the most important of these from the Kosovo experience is the need to prepare both a rapid and credible response. The Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC) was established within days following the military agreement and the arrival of NATO forces in the Kosovo.

Second, UNMIK established a Mine Action Coordination Centre as opposed to the more traditional Mine Action Centre (MAC) in order to establish a clear distinction between coordination and implementation. The MACC coordinates the activities of all bilaterally funded organisations (non-governmental organisations and commercial companies) and uses donated funds to contract "core assets" such as quality assurance, mechanical clearance systems and explosive detection dogs.

Third, there is an obvious need to define the scope and nature of the problem as early as possible. The extent of mine contamination must not be expressed in terms of the numbers of mines or even area of land contaminated. The problem must be measured in terms of the impact of mine contamination. Using this information, clear priorities and milestones can be established. This information is also essential for the development of an appropriate response to the mine threat.

The MACC has used the Survey Action Centre to undertake a modified socio-economic impact study into the situation in Kosovo. This complements the rapid assessment undertaken by the HALO Trust at the outset of operations, by overlaying minefield location data with information provided by UN agencies and humanitarian relief organisations. From this, the MACC has been able to clearly identify high, medium and low priority areas, and has developed a work programme accordingly.

Four, information management is critical, as is the establishment of systems to collect, collate and analyse data. The MACC is utilising the Information Management System for Mine Action, which is a purpose-designed programme developed for the UN by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. This system has proven to be invaluable and is a contributing factor to the success achieved to date.

Five, there is a paramount need to fully integrate all components of mine action from the outset of a programme. This requirement and these components are well known and documented, and the UNMIK programme is no different from the programmes in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique and Bosnia in this respect. The UNMIK programme has merely reinforced the importance of this particular aspect of programme implementation.

Six, involvement of implementing partners has contributed significantly to the expansion of the programme. The MACC has used implementing partners to avoid duplication and to minimise the level of administrative infrastructure required. Rather than establish regional offices, certain organisations have been identified to act as the MACC representatives in each area. Local level coordination of both mine clearance and mine awareness activities is undertaken by these organisations, on behalf of the MACC.

Seven, close cooperation with the NATO-led security forces (KFOR) in Kosovo has been an important contributing factor to the programme's success to date. A high degree of cooperation with KFOR was established from the outset. An example is the fact that there is only one database for mine action in Kosovo, and that is the one held and maintained by the MACC. This is in contrast to the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where both the Bosnia MAC and SFOR have mine databases which must be constantly integrated. Other examples of cooperation include the supply of explosives to operators, medical evaluation, mine awareness and joint planning and coordination carried out on a regular basis.

Eight, although a systematic approach must be taken to ensure that mine action activities are effective, maximum use must be made of concurrent activities, particularly during the initial stages of implementation. This helps to optimise limited resources and to prevent unnecessary duplication.

The Kosovo experience shows quite clearly that there are no template solutions for the design of mine action programmes. The UNMIK Mine Action Programme has been developed to counter the particular problems encountered in Kosovo. In many cases, these are different to the problems other countries may face, and therefore the solutions cannot be directly replicated. However, the underlying philosophies that have been implemented can be applied to other programmes.

The mine/UXO problem in Kosovo is relatively limited and a solution is attainable in a comparatively short-term period. This may occur within two to three years, depending upon continued support. The life span of the UNMIK Mine Action Programme is therefore envisaged to be much less than in many other countries. This "compression" means that even though it is one of the newest programmes, decisions have had to be made in Kosovo that some of the more mature programmes have yet to face.

I would like to add (although it wasn't in my prepared notes) that while the MACC in Kosovo is formally within the Humanitarian Pillar of UNMIK, a key part of its success has understandably been its effective and independent management by highly professional and experienced managers. John Flanagan and his team can justly be proud of what they have achieved in a relatively short period. The casualty rate in Kosovo to date of 442 victims (including 93 fatalities) is, of course, 442 too many, but it undoubtedly would have been much higher without the professionalism of the MACC management.


As an industry, modern humanitarian mine action is relatively new: for example, even the Afghanistan Programme was started only in 1989. It is still undergoing a number of growing pains. But, it is important to remember that post-conflict mine and UXO clearance is not a new concept, particularly in this part of Europe. Throughout Western Europe and in all areas of the Balkans, explosive devices from as long ago as WWI are being cleared on a regular basis. There is definitely no need to "reinvent the wheel" in Kosovo or in other new programmes. We must draw from the lessons learned by all of you and from a variety of sources if we are to achieve the best result as quickly as possible. If in doing so we can assist other programmes by developing new ideas or improving upon known techniques, so much the better.

There is no doubt that the emergency situation in Kosovo has been a test of the United Nations' ability to respond in many peacekeeping areas, not just mine action. There is still a long way to go in all sectors. However, one of the "silent successes", I believe, has been the tremendous progress made in removing the threat to the people of Kosovo and the agencies working there from mines and unexploded ordnance.

I wish you every success in your deliberations in the coming days and in the essential work which you are all undertaking in this crucial area.

Thank you for your attention.