The number of mine victims is increasing day by day in Azerbaijan. During the 30-year occupation, more than 1.5 million landmines were buried by the Armed Forces of Armenia in Azerbaijani lands. The statement of the Azerbaijani Foreign Affairs Ministry reads that during the three years after the Second Karabakh War, Armenian separatists planted 500,000 mines in Karabakh. As a result of the mine threat continued by Armenia, a total of 350 Azerbaijani people became mine victims. Among them, 65 people, including 50 civilians and 15 military personnel, have died.

Humanitarian demining is one of the main priorities of Azerbaijan’s state policy, and today more than 90 percent of our demining activities are carried out at the expense of the country’s internal resources. We regretfully note that despite being one of the countries most affected by mines, the support of the international community in the condemnation of Armenia’s mine terror, the presentation of accurate mine maps by Yerevan to the Azerbaijani side, as well as the elimination of the mine threat, is not at the desired level. Suffice it to say that, in spite of calls made by international bodies and organizations directly engaged in demining activities around the world regarding the situation in various countries on April 4, International Mine Awareness and Assistance Day for Mine Action, no message was shared about the situation in Azerbaijan.

Lee Woodyear, a specialist in the public relations department of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), told Report that after the conflict, UNMAS conducted an assessment of mined areas and called for support of the efforts of the Azerbaijani government to combat landmines through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Lee Woodyear noted that UNMAS has no plans to resume demining activities in Azerbaijan in the near future: “We believe that the relevant UN agency, UNDP, supports the process. Although we do not have detailed information about the efforts of the Azerbaijani government regarding demining operations, we know that things are going well.”

There is almost no information about UNDP’s activities in the region in the foreign media. But I wonder why the attitude of the UN towards a country that is second only to Ukraine in terms of mine contamination is not satisfactory.

We addressed questions to UNDP officials on the matter. A few weeks later, we received an answer from Alessandra Roccasalvo, the acting resident representative of the Development Program in Azerbaijan. This answer can be considered a clear indication of the approach to the existing problem.

We present the interview:

– Azerbaijan is currently facing an ecological crisis due to the mines buried in the region during the 30-year Armenian occupation. Unfortunately, as a result of the explosion of landmines left by Armenia, a large number of civilians, including military personnel, often lose their lives in those areas. Even two of our colleagues died as a result of a mine explosion while performing their journalistic activities in Karabakh. What can you say about the past and ongoing UNDP activities to clear the areas of mines?

– The contamination of the liberated territories in the Karabakh region with mines and unexploded ordnance has significantly exacerbated this problem in the region. UNDP continues to support the Mine Action Agency (ANAMA) of Azerbaijan in developing its institutional and operational capacity, and provides program, technical, and resource mobilization support. Support includes a risk awareness campaign, 120,000 explosive risk awareness brochures, the training and recruitment of the country’s first female deminers, the demining of 100,000 hectares, and the involvement of 176,000 people in mine action programs.

– I am a journalist working at the UN, and I closely follow the organization’s activities. I regretfully mention that although the officials of the organization and also the spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General make frequent statements about the situation in different countries, including mine problems in Ukraine, in daily press conferences, we cannot see this regarding Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is currently the most mine-polluted country after Ukraine. Why does your organization not make any official statement condemning this war crime, and why do you not inform the international media about the activities of UNDP’s demining efforts?

– Our goal is to build a world free from the threat of mines and unexploded ordnance, and we recommend that all states join and adhere to the Mine Ban Convention.

– Armenia refuses to share the maps of the mines buried in the liberated regions of Azerbaijan, and according to official information, it is estimated that it will take at least 10 years to clear Karabakh of mines. Has UNDP tried to contact the Armenian side to get accurate maps?

– In post-conflict situations, concerned parties should share available information, including maps, with the other party to facilitate demining, prevent further casualties and injuries, and ensure that life returns to normal. The lack of detailed information about the places where the mines were buried is the main obstacle to the safe return of thousands of IDPs to the Karabakh region.

– What are your future plans regarding demining in the region? The local media reported that UNDP will prepare maps that ensure quick detection of mines and help in purchasing special equipment for this purpose. How will these maps be prepared, and when will they be ready?