The U.S. House of Representatives approved late on Thursday $1.4 million in fresh U.S. funding for humanitarian demining operations in Nagorno-Karabakh carried out by a British charity.
The HALO Trust has cleared tens of thousands of anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines, mostly left over from the 1991-1994 Armenian-Azerbaijani war, since it began its work in Karabakh in 2001. The U.S. Congress has financed the effort as part of its direct humanitarian assistance to the Armenian-populated territory allocated over strong Azerbaijani objectives.
The current U.S. administration has sought to end that assistance. An amendment to a House bill on U.S. foreign aid in the fiscal year 2021 requires it continue funding the demining program in Karabakh.
The amendment was drafted by three pro-Armenian members of the House. One of them, Jackie Speier, argued that Karabakh has one of the highest per capita mine accident rates in the world. More than 400 of its residents have been killed there by landmines since 1994.
The measure was also co-sponsored by more than 30 other lawmakers, virtually all of them Democrats. Armenian-American advocacy groups lobbied hard for its passage.
“Today’s vote represents a powerful rebuke to the Azerbaijani government-driven, State Department-supported effort to end Artsakh’s demining program despite its remarkable record of having removed tens of thousands of landmines and saving countless lives,” said the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The Armenian Assembly of America also hailed the amendment. “For a relatively small investment, the United States can make a significant difference for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, especially for the children,” it said in a statement.
The Assembly statement quoted Kristen Stevens, a representative of The HALO Trust, as saying: “We are overjoyed to see the House of Representatives include funding in the State and Foreign Operations bill for humanitarian demining in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
The aid allocation also needs to be backed by the U.S. Senate. The ANCA said it is already “working with Senate leaders” to include the funding in their version of the foreign bill.