Dear MDDC friends, distinguished colleagues, Minister Bosnjak, Ambassador Fitchen, Mayor Karic, I am very pleased to be here tonight to mark the Mine Detection Dog Center’s 20th anniversary.
As some of you may know, the United States helped establish the Mine Detection Dog Center for Southeast Europe in 2003, right here in Bosnia and Herzegovina and covered initial operating costs for several years. Since 2003, MDDC has built a global reputation for its excellence in training mine detection dogs. Its dogs have worked not just here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but all over the world, in places like Iraq, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Angola, and Turkey.
Over the last 20 years, MDDC has trained 530 service dogs, and these dogs have played an important role in helping MDDC’s demining teams clear over 26 million square meters of land of landmines and other unexploded ordinance. As a dog lover myself, I especially appreciate the intensive, high-risk work these dogs and their handlers undertake to keep the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina safe. There is nothing quite like the special bond established between each dog and its trainers and handler.
In December, I had the great pleasure and fun of visiting an elementary school to join a CHAMPS call. This MDDC-led program brought together students from both Mak Dizdar Elementary and the Catholic School Center, here in Sarajevo, with their peers at North Mianus School in the state of Connecticut. The students performed several plays to demonstrated their knowledge of landmine safety, and they showcased how they are assisting landmine victims – not just to continue living – but to thrive socially and professionally.
It was clear to me that in addition to teaching these children practical lessons about avoiding contaminated areas and staying safe, the CHAMPS program has imparted a valuable lesson to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rising generation: that they have the power to make a difference in the world and in someone’s life, regardless of where they come from or how they identify themselves.
We are also proud to have partnered with MDDC on many demining projects across BiH, including, perhaps most notably, the Sarajevo Free of Mines Project that marked the largest U.S. contribution to a single demining project in Bosnia and Herzegovina in more than a decade. And we are not stopping. The United States is currently funding the Brcko Free of Mines Project, alongside Switzerland and Norway, representing the Embassy’s largest demining project to date, totaling over 13 million square meters. With MDDC, we will soon launch the Mostar South Hodbina Project, to work toward declaring Mostar South and its surroundings mine impact free.
The United States is proud to be the world’s largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action, and we share common cause with those working to address the harmful effects of indiscriminately used landmines on civilians. Bosnia and Herzegovina, with support from international donors, has achieved tangible results in removing over 75 percent of landmine contamination, 28 years after the war ended. Clearly, there is more work to be done, and demining remains a critically important issue in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This work is important, and it matters. It saves people’s lives and enhances human security. It allows the citizens of this country to reclaim their land for agriculture and to establish new businesses and attract tourists. It allows children to safely walk to school and play outside, carefree. And, it promotes reconciliation by allowing returnees to return home. The United States will continue to support demining efforts here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, striving toward the goal of one day declaring the country free of the humanitarian impact of landmines.
On behalf of the United States, I want to thank the Mine Detection Dog Center, the BH Mine Action Center, ITF-Enhancing Human Security, Mines Advisory Group, and all who partner with us to help free Bosnia and Herzegovina from the horrible scourge and threat of landmines. I want to especially thank Nermin, Marija, Lejla, and the entire MDDC team for all their tireless efforts in writing MDDC’s success story. And last but not least, I want to thank to dogs because without them none of the successes of the last 27 years would have been possible.
I hope the success of this project will inspire even stronger and broader partnerships for humanitarian demining projects elsewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the years to come. Thank you all again.