De-mining project begins in Albania with Swiss support
Switzerland has donated SFr1 million($580,000) to a project to remove mines from northern Albania. Until the middle of May, 50 local volunteers are to learn de-mining skills, before beginning operations on Albania's border with Kosovo.
They will be trained by six international supervisors, including two members of the Swiss army. The project is being supported by the Swiss Federation for De-mining.
Northern Albania was heavily mined by Serb forces during the conflict in Kosovo in 1999, in an attempt to prevent cross border incursions by the Kosovo Liberation Army. In addition, NATO forces dropped large numbers of splinter bombs in the area, many of which remain unexploded.
De-mining experts working in northern Albania say it is impossible to estimate just how many mines there are in the region. Unexploded splinter bombs around villages are also thought to pose great dangers to the local population.
One of the main problems of de-mining in northern Albania is the lack of infrastructure to deal with injuries to project workers.
There are few available helicopters to evacuate injured personnel to hospital, and the project organisers have asked the Albania authorities to guarantee that one helicopter will be on standby during de-mining operations.
The funding donated by Switzerland to the project will allow de-mining to continue for one year, but it is estimated that the operation will have to continue for a further two years in order to ensure that northern Albania is really free of mines and splinter bombs.
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