More than a decade after the 1999 Kosovo confllict left a trail of mines and unexploded ordnances along Albania’s northern border, the country has been declared offi cially mine-free. ”This area is no longer a place of sorrow, but a place of peace and harmony,” said Rama Basha, a representative of Shishtavec Commune in Kukes, a district in northern Albania where many of the mines lay buried. “Now this area is free.” Ownership by the Albanian government, and joint eff orts of the UN, the EU and other international partners were important factors leading to this success.
As a result of the UN-led programme, over 16 million square metres of land in northeastern Albania were cleared of mines and unexploded ordnances, which are weapons like bombs and bullets that did not explode when they were initially used and still pose a threat to anyone who might stumble onto them. Altogether, the programme led to the clearance of over 12,000 anti-personnel and 152 anti-tank mines while almost 5,000 unexploded ordnances were found and destroyed. “We would like to thank the de-miners for the work they have done” said Rujmene Begiraj from the village of Borja. “Now our children can play freely, we can make use of our land and graze our sheep without fear that they will be injured”.
Along with financial and technical support and policy advice to government institutions charged with clearing the mines, mine risk education in aff ected communities eff ectively eliminated mine accidents. To support the 238 people injured by mines, the national prosthetic-orthotic centre was established in a regional hospital in northern Albania, staffed with two medical specialists, a physiotherapist, a neurologist and a prostheses repair technician. 30 nurses from affected communities were trained to support the rehabilitation of mine survivors.
Izet Ademaj lost a leg after stepping on a mine in 1999. He worked as a policeman and was patrolling the border. “After nine months, I was given my first prosthesis at the regional hospital in Kukes” he said. “I am able to walk freely, to dance, to play football and I’m really very happy for this. Ademaj, along with other survivors, also benefitted from technical occupational training organized for mine survivors and their family members. Over 80 families established animal husbandry businesses after receiving technical advice and microcredit while another 95 completed occupational training courses. Subsequently, many opened their own businesses.