Exposing the deadly menace in Kyrgyzstan’s fields

In Kyrgyzstan’s scenic grazing pastures lies a threat with the potential to maim and even kill people who live off this fertile land. Most of the victims are curious or unsuspecting children tending cattle or playing in the area. They touch, pick up or disturb what they think is old and rusty pieces of metal. In fact, this is unexploded ordnance (UXO) – abandoned explosive devices that continue to blight the lives of many, long after the battles have stopped raging.

The list of victims makes for sombre reading. According to local media reports, as recently as 17 April 2014 an explosion killed two children and injured four more in Zardaly in Batken province. A dozen more have been killed in the preceding decade. All of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented had the local residents been aware of the lethal danger posed by UXO.

A deadly legacy

The munitions were laid in the aftermath of the so-called Batken incidents of 1999-2000, when Kyrgyzstan’s authorities battled to counter incursions by terrorist fighters in the south-west of the country. Air attacks were launched on suspected terrorist bases within Kyrgyzstan, and mines were laid along the border.

Years after the operation, the munitions have left a deadly legacy.

In October 2014 the Batken team from the OSCE Community Security Initiative (CSI) Project in Kyrgyzstan, together with the local police and military engineers of the Ministry of Defence launched a campaign to raise awareness among local schoolchildren about the dangers of explosive ordnance.  

Recognizing the danger

The CSI funded the production of leaflets featuring illustrations of UXO to be distributed among children and village residents to help them recognize this elusive menace. Here are some top tips:

  • NEVER approach or touch any real or suspected munition you come across – unexploded ordnance can kill!
  • If you find unexploded ordnance, call the police immediately and tell them what you have found!
  • Tell your parents and friends and create a safety cordon!
  • Wait for the police and disposal experts to arrive, show them where the device is and describe what you have seen.
  • Never let your cattle graze on land where unexploded ordnance has been found until the disposal teams have told you it is safe.

“Deaths and injuries resulting from UXO are avoidable if communities are properly educated about the dangers,” says Ambassador Sergey Kapinos, the Head of the OSCE Centre in Bishkek, under which the CSI operates.

UXO alert

CSI in co-operation with local police organized a short course for sixty schoolchildren in the village of Bojoy on what to do if they came across unexploded devices and how important it is to notify the police.

One of the children told the trainers that he had seen an object similar to one illustrated in the leaflet while tending to grazing cattle near the village earlier that year.

The CSI team and the course instructors, accompanied by two schoolchildren headed to the pasture. Soon they found two objects, which were identified by military engineers as live 125mm shells. They were located just a few metres away from several local cattle farms. The police officers immediately cordoned off the area and marked the location for a bomb-disposal team.

Later that day, bomb-disposal experts from the Ministry of Defence arrived to defuse the shells with specialized equipment, rendering them harmless and preventing further tragedies.

Bojoy is now much safer for children, adults and cattle. But the safety and security is also felt within the community.

“Young people are especially vulnerable and the CSI campaign to educate students about UXO has already shown itself to be successful in not only safeguarding children, but in developing trust in the ability of the police to act quickly and effectively to remove the danger,” says Kapinos.

Efficient responses by the police to the threat of UXO has seen them gain the trust and confidence of the people – a key aim of the CSI, which seeks to reduce security problems in a region which has seen its fair share of tensions.

By making the fields in which the communities live and work safer, the police are showing they genuinely care for the communities they are there to protect.