Caucasus Reality 15 january — 11:30

Aliyev hurries with resettlement, but mines interfere

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BY FARID ISAYEV, AZERI DAILY COLUMNIST

The coming year promises the beginning of a great return of Azerbaijanis to Karabakh. As President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly noted, the first representatives of the former internally displaced persons will return to their homes in Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur. But is everything ready for the mass resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people?

The authorities want to return the internally displaced persons to their native lands as soon as possible, but for this it is necessary to create decent living conditions and the necessary infrastructure. But the biggest problem is the mines. Armenia never provided a full map of minefields. After the war, more than 200 of our military and civilians were blown up by mines, dozens of people died. There are also casualties on the Armenian side and among the Russian peacekeepers. And demining is a long process and takes time, which is confirmed by official data from Azerbaijan's demining agency ANAMA.

And the statistics are sad -- about 14,000 square kilometres of territory will have to be cleared of mines, which can take up to 13 years of hard work. The difficulty lies in the fact that the Armenians mined not only the main economic facilities -- power lines, water reservoirs -- but even cemeteries. Last year, by order of the head of state, more than $60 million was allocated for these purposes. ANAMA is assisted by Turkish demining specialists who supplied special equipment. In February last year, Russian specialists began clearing mines in the Aghdam district (Russian peacekeepers are also clearing territories in their area of their ​​responsibility). In August, the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) donated 10 specially trained dogs to ANAMA. In total, by July 2023, the Institute plans to donate 30 mine-detecting dogs to Azerbaijan free of charge.

It's been a year and two months since the 44-day war ended. But the clearing of the land is slow, which causes dissatisfaction among Azerbaijanis who are striving to return to their native lands. And it's easy to understand them. Since November 10, 2020, ANAMA has cleared over 6.7 thousand hectares of territories in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan from mines and unexploded ordnance. During this period, 10,472 anti-personnel mines, 4,775 anti-tank mines, and 13,214 unexploded military ordnance were discovered and cleared. And if we take into account that each square kilometre is equal to 100 hectares, then the picture that emerges is disappointing. Only 130 square kilometres of territory have been cleared, compared to 14,000 square kilometres that require cleaning. At this pace, it will take a century to completely clear the liberated territories. True, mine clearance operations, in addition to ANAMA, are also carried out by the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the State Border Service. And in total, 20,165 hectares of territory have been cleared, which again does not give reason for optimism. It is also not reassuring that, according to the joint action plan of ANAMA, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the State Border Service, this year it is planned to clear 40,000 hectares of land from mines and unexploded ordnance.

And it is no coincidence that President Ilham Aliyev, earlier at a meeting with the head of the European Commission, Charles Michel, suggested that the European Commission consider the possibility of financing the demining process in Azerbaijan at the expense of its own funds. No, the head of state did not ask for money, this is not typical of him. And the country's financial resources allow the government to fully implement this process. The President offered to provide financial assistance to European demining companies so that they could come to Azerbaijan and start working, since it would not be possible to complete demining in a short time by the forces of Azerbaijani government departments alone. The head of state stressed that this is a very expensive job, but if the territories are not cleared, it will be difficult to ensure the return of people to the region.

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