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multi-donor cooperation based on mutual trust.
Last year was a difficult one for governments and businesses. Has the world financial crisis affected the amount of donations you receive?
2009 has seen a record number of donations. The reason is the increased volume of funds from the US, who have had a desire to speed up the completion of some projects in South East Europe. Also some grant contracts were promised before the beginning of the financial and economic crisis. We may see a reduction in donations this and next year since some countries have significantly cut their budgets for international development aid. In addition, some organisations - such as the United Nations Development Programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example - that have their funds implemented through the ITF, have now completed their programmes.
How would you judge your success since being established in 1998?
In the 12 years of its existence, the ITF has implemented over 2,300 projects; it has cleaned over 100 million square metres of contaminated territories; rehabilitated 1,000 mine victims; involved over 1,000 people in programmes of psychosocial and socio-economic reintegration; trained 40,000 children and adults on mine risks; and trained 800 experts. Four South East European countries (Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) have been cleared of minefields. The ITF has launched a programme outside of the region and designed projects beyond the field of humanitarian demining. These are all impressive results and we would not have been able to achieve them without the excellent enthusiastic, young team of experts and project managers that work in the organisation.
In which countries do you currently have the biggest projects and why?
Because those countries have been the most affected from mines, most funds are allocated for projects of cleaning minefields in Bosnia and Croatia. We will also focus on cleaning the areas contaminated with cluster bombs in Serbia. The biggest projects in financial terms are currently in Gerdec in Albania where our team is clearing up the effects of the explosion of the ammunition and weapons depot.
Apart from clearing the mines, you also include programmes that help mine victims. What do these programmes consist of?
ITF funded a number of rehabilitation programmes for mine victims that were then implemented by nongovernmental organisations or public institutions. Mine injuries have negative and long-term multiplier effects - inability to be self-reliant, impact on other family members of mine victims, burden to the health system. It is most important to rehabilitate survivors [most are treated at the University Rehabilitation Institute in Soča] and to ensure their socio-economic reintegration. Currently, the most prominent project in this area is the rehabilitation of children from Gaza that was initiated and supported by the Slovenian President dr. Danilo Türk.
Your plan is to see mine-affected countries of South-Eastern Europe (SEE) free from the effect of mines and unexploded ordnance by end of 2010. Is this achievable?
It is the obligation of the Ottawa Convention signatories and their national programmes [to achieve this]. The biggest progress has been made in Albania, which has been declared a mine-free country. Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia only have to declare this formally, while Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia have asked for an extension until 2019. Whether that happens depends largely on the two countries, their national strategies and programmes, the presence of the international donor community and setting effective priorities.
Are you planning any projects in new areas?
A new strategy for 2009-2015 provides for expansion of activities outside the SEE region. We are now present in the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, where we are working closely with the OSCE in particular in establishing the Centre for Mine Action Coordination (CAMACC) based on the regional organisation in South East Europe (SEEMACC). ITF is also developing new projects for the Middle East, Colombia, Afghanistan and Vietnam.
What are your plans for the future and what should Slovenia's role be within these plans?
The ITF is going through intensive preparations to continue projects in other areas of the conventional weapons destruction (CWD) - stockpiles of ammunition, small arms and light weapons, and cluster munitions. In the future, this will represent a growing share of the total volume of our work. In regards to this we are already in talks with some major donors.
Slovenia remains an important factor in the successful operation of the ITF. Financial support through the Ministry of Defence and help from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through its diplomatic network enables us to successfully fulfil our mission. Slovenia needs to strengthen this support if it wants the ITF to continue to be one of its most successful foreign policy projects.