YEREVAN (A.W.)—Three HALO Trust workers were killed in a mine explosion in Artsakh on Thursday morning. Two more employees of the de-mining organization were severely injured in the incident, which took place in Gazanchi, in Artsakh’s Martakert region.
A statement by HALO Trust indicated that the its employees were killed and injured by the accidental detonation of an anti-tank. “The staff members were in a vehicle conducting minefield survey duties at the time,” read a part of the statement.
The organization also said that the injured are currently being treated at a hospital in Stepanakert. “We are working closely with the local police and authorities and have called in external investigators to report on the full facts of the incident,” read another part of the HALO statement.
Hours after the announcement, the organization published a second statement publicizing the names of the three victims: Pavel Akopov, Samson Avanessian and Marat Petrossian. According to local sources, all three were local residents.
Artsakh law enforcement agencies have reportedly launched a criminal case regarding the incident. According to local media reports, an enquiry has been launched to determine the circumstances of the explosion.
“The people of Artsakh continue suffering the consequences of the war—after the war Artsakh’s territory was the first in the world with the quantity of landmines per square kilometer,” Davit Babayan, the spokesperson for Artsakh’s President told Yerevan-based Armenpress. “After the war, thanks to the de-mining operations, it was possible to clean Artsakh’s territory of landmines by nearly 95 percent, but to neutralize the danger by 100 percent is almost impossible,” he added.
“My heart goes out to those killed and injured by the explosion in Nagorno-Karabagh [Artsakh],” Congressman David Valadao (R-Calif.) said regarding the incident. Valadao, who is a Co-Chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, visited Artsakh last September and met with the HALO Trust team members to learn first-hand of their life-saving de-mining work in the region. Valadao successfully spearheaded an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 House foreign assistance bill, supported by the ANCA, which secured $1.5 million in support of the HALO Trust’s ongoing de-mining efforts.
“These individuals have dedicated their work to ensuring the safety of others and their sacrifice will never be forgotten. This tragedy serves as a stark reminder of the ever-present danger in the region. We must continue our work to restore these communities so they may live without fear of mine-related accidents,” Valadao added.
The HALO Trust is the oldest and largest landmine clearing organization, operating all around the world. It was established in 1988 and its first program took place in Afghanistan as Soviet troops withdrew from the country. While the organization employs around 7,500 people across the world, the HALO trust is a British and U.S. registered entity with significant funding from the British and American governments.
HALO first started working in Artsakh in 2000. “We had conducted some work with training local capacity in Karabagh prior to that, but there were a variety of issues. By 1999 we got an appreciation of the size of the landmine problem there and realized that it was significantly greater than we had initially anticipated,” Andrew Moore, the Director of Development of the HALO Trust told the Armenian Weekly in a June 2017 interview.
According to HALO, prior to the Thursday’s incident, there had been 370 civilian casualties in Artsakh since the organization began recording the figures in 1995. “Per capita, given that Karabagh has a tiny population, it has one of the highest accident rates anywhere in the world… It’s up there with the conventional countries, which we expect to have landmine problems, like Cambodia and Afghanistan,” Moore had explained.
A recent USAID evaluation estimated that of Artsakh’s population of around 150,000, close to 125,000 people have directly benefited from the work that HALO has done since 2000. The organization has indicated that it is working to make Artsakh landmine free by 2020.