War’s long-term legacy: How landmines keep killing and maiming for decades
Civilian casualties from warfare are often the victims of landmines originally laid to deny ground to soldiers. Landmines and other unexploded ordnance are taking lives - and ruining many more lives - in the EU’s neighbourhood. The killing and maiming are not just happening where war now rages in Ukraine but in countries where the battles are over, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.
When Azerbaijan regained territory in the 2020 Karabakh War, it discovered that anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines affected thousands of square kilometres. The deadly and long-lasting weapons were most highly concentrated along the former line of control with Armenian forces.
Most of those minefields were mapped but there were no records for most of a much larger area where mines had been laid by retreating troops. Since the war, 225 people have been killed and injured, mostly far from the former line of control.
Many of the injured were soldiers but of the 39 who were killed, the vast majority were civilians, such as farmers venturing into fields, or simply children playing with a football. Until the mines are cleared, society and the economy cannot recover and ruined ghost-towns remain uninhabited.
“Conflicts where mines are the weapons of first choice are growing”, said Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the EU, Vaqif Sadiqov. “They are one of the main causes of civilian victimisation and extremely extensive in Azerbaijan”. He said mine clearance is a national priority and his country was grateful for EU and UN support.
The European Union one of the top three funders of mine clearance work, currently spending €365 million. “It's expensive, it's time-consuming and it's dangerous”, said Adam Komorowski from the Mines Advisory Group, an international NGO. “These mines are not going away, even if the attention does” from countries now years or even decades after experiencing conflict.
Within the EU, Croatia still has fresh landmine casualties, from a war that ended in the last century. In neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina, nearly a thousand square kilometres are still at risk from mines, four times the area cleared so far.
Around the world, the level of casualties from landmines has been growing since 2015. As Ambassador Sadiqov observed, it is only once the minefields are eliminated that a country is no longer in aftermath of a conflict.