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UK's Aardvark Group aids post-war mine clearance in Azerbaijani liberated lands

15 February 2021 15:16 (UTC+04:00)
UK's Aardvark Group aids post-war mine clearance in Azerbaijani liberated lands

By Vafa Ismayilova

The Aardvark Group is taking part in mine clearance operations on Azerbaijani territories liberated from the Armenian occupation in a 44-day war from late September to early November 2020.

In a statement posted on its official website, the group said that in December 2020, preparations were made for the construction of a new international airport, replacement highway and other key infrastructure in Azerbaijan's Fuzuli region.

“Following decades of instability and conflict, the region is heavily contaminated with explosive remnants of war, requiring the services of a [UN approved] humanitarian de-mining company to clear the area prior to any civil engineering operations,” the company said.

A detailed survey and assessment of the scale and nature of the contamination were undertaken to provide guidance in the selection of the most appropriate equipment to meet this complex challenge. Despite numerous logistical challenges, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, the Aardvark team worked around the clock to meet the 14-day delivery deadline in Fuzuli, the report added.

“This outstanding feat could not have been achieved without the expert support and commitment from the UK Defence and Security Exports team and the Export Control Joint Unit at the Department for International Trade, the UK's overseas representatives in both Germany and Baku and last but not least, the Azerbaijani Government - who embraced British support for the humanitarian efforts in their country,” the report said.

The importance of the project was reflected by UK Ambassador to Azerbaijan James Sharp who noted that the increasing number of deaths and injuries in Azerbaijan and its Nagorno-Karabakh region as a result of mines and explosives is a tragedy.

"I know Azerbaijan welcomes the support of Aardvark Group in carrying out the essential, life-saving task of clearing minefields," Sharp was quoted as saying.

To support this critical project Aardvark has deployed a senior technician instructor with the equipment ensuring the local mine clearance personnel are fully trained and certified in the operation and maintenance of the AMCS.

Aardvark Group CEO David St John-Claire said that the de-mining project will ensure that the safe construction of the new Fuzuli International Airport.

"The demining project will ensure that the safe construction of the new Fuzuli International Airport and the transformation f the area can begin in earnest. The Government plan is to see domestic and international flights within the next two years - providing a much-needed stimulus for the region, the economy and most importantly, the community," he said.

On February 9, the press service of the Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office reported that since November 10, 2020, 5 servicemen and 9 civilians have been killed, and 52 servicemen and 8 civilians have been wounded in mine explosions on liberated territories.

On February 3, Aliyev announced that mine clearance in the liberated lands would be the first step in the process to return IDPs to their homes. The president said that mine clearance was a big process as Armenians refuse to give Azerbaijan maps of minefields. “That is why explosions are frequent now. We are now reshaping the Mine Action Agency, and it will be more efficient now. But it will take some time. Of course, mine clearance work must be completed."

The president also urged Azerbaijanis not to visit the newly-liberated areas until they have been demined.

Aliyev signed a decree on February 2 on ensuring the activity of the Mine Clearance Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan liberated around 300 villages, city centres, settlements and historic Shusha city in the war that lasted from September 27 and November 10. Other Armenian-occupied districts - Kalbajar, Aghdam and Lachin - returned to Azerbaijan's control after the singing of the Russian-brokered Karabakh peace deal on November 10.

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