NATO Helps Clean APM Killers in Tajikistan

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APM cleaning in Tajikistan By Jaya Ramachandran
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BRUSSELS (IDN) - Backed by a Swiss non-governmental organization, the Euro-Atlantic military alliance NATO has pledged to help Tajikistan counter the threat of thousands of tonnes of known and yet undiscovered munitions caches fifteen years after the end of a civil war in the Central Asian republic.

The 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) hopes that by securing these unidentified stocks, the project will help prevent illegal cross-border trade in munitions. The task is even more critical because of Tajikistan's southern border with Afghanistan, where full control for security is due to transition to Afghan national security forces by end 2014.

The NATO-sponsored project was launched on January 31 at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels within the framework of Partnership for Peace (PfP), which the country joined in 2002. Tajikistan actively cooperates in the fight against terrorism within PfP. The Republic of Tajikistan is the only States Party to the Ottawa Convention in Central Asia.

According to NATO, anti-personnel mines (APM) and unexploded ordnance present a variety of temptations for criminal elements seeking munitions: aircraft bombs, mortars, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles.

"Another danger stems from the fact that some of the munitions' components deteriorate as they age, becoming very unstable. With Tajikistan's dry summer temperatures, during which temperatures can reach up to 50 degrees centigrade, the risk of a fire that could cause the munitions to detonate is a very real possibility," says a NATO release.

Explaining the risks, Alexander Griffiths from the NGO Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) says: "The storage locations are often dilapidated without enough room, where munitions that should not be together lay side by side." He adds: "Most storage sites are just warehouses, poorly maintained and insecure."

FSD is an organization experienced in demining and munitions-control operations around the world. It has been APM cleaning in Tajikistanoperating in Tajikistan since 2003. This private, independent, and non-profit organization was created in 1997. Since then, it has implemented a number of mine clearance projects in more than 15 different countries.

Efforts by other international bodies such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have focused on demining and securing known stocks of munitions. The problem of hidden stocks still needs to be tackled. “What we have seen up to now is approximately 30 000 tonnes, but we believe that there is significantly more,” says Griffiths.

The project will be overseen by the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA). Under it, Tajik military engineers and soldiers will be recruited, trained and deployed as part of a weapons and ammunition disposal (WAD) team once sufficient funding has been secured.

The team will work over a 12-month period with government agencies and local communities to locate and dispose of dangerous munitions stocks, coordinating with three other WAD groups managed by FSD already operating in Tajikistan under different frameworks. Weapons and ammunition that are still serviceable will be secured and transferred to proper storage facilities.

The team, which will be trained by the FSD, will also conduct a survey of ammunition storage locations on the southern border with Afghanistan and recommend ways to improve safety and security. "These types of projects are not only saving people but saving the environment," pointed out Antonios Chatzidakis, General Manager of NAMSA.

Partnership Trust Fund projects such as the one with Tajikistan are designed to allow nations to pool resources to help partner countries with demilitarization and defence reform projects. Britain and Japan are the two main contributors for this particular project involving an estimated €575,000, with Switzerland also contributing €20,000.

Leading the project, Britain has contributed £100,000. "The UK is delighted to be the lead nation of the first NATO Trust Fund in Tajikistan," says British Ambassador to NATO, Mariot Leslie. "By securing and destroying surplus munitions, the UK, the other contributing nations and NATO are making a significant contribution to the safety of the region."

Japan – not a NATO member – has contributed an initial €100 000, which included funding the project's feasibility study presented to NATO nations in March 2011. "Tajikistan is only one piece of the cooperation between Japan and NATO concerning regional security," says Kurato Shiraishi, First Secretary at the Japanese Embassy to Belgium. "The security of the region and of the international community is our interest and concern." Japan has previously helped fund regional security and Trust Fund projects in other countries, including in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Tajikistan, a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia, is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east. Disputed Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan are separated from Tajikistan by the narrow Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the south.

Almost immediately after independence, Tajikistan was plunged into a civil war that saw various factions, allegedly backed by Russia and Iran, fighting one another. All but 25,000 of the more than 400,000 ethnic Russians, who were mostly employed in industry, fled to Russia. By 1997, the war had cooled down, and a central government began to take form, with peaceful elections in 1999. [IDN-InDepthNews – February 04, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: APM cleaning in Tajikistan | Credit: NATO

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