Disposing of Bosnia's mines (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

With an estimated one million mines still buried there, Bosnia is the most mined country in Europe. The UK led North West Task Force, part of EUFOR, has recently been focused on training the Bosnian authorities in mine disposal and storage - a vital change in approach as EUFOR prepares to reduce its presence in Bosnia. Report by Danny Chapman.


A Mine Cell, run by Bosnian mine awareness trainer Bojan Krupljanin, is located within the Multi-National Task Force-North West (MNTF NW) HQ at Banja Luka. Bojan teaches newly deployed personnel as well as the local population about the dangers of mines in the local area. He explains that there are 18,600 minefields on record in Bosnia and another 20-30,000 suspected fields.

This is the legacy of a brutal war, in a country which had numerous munitions factories, and where children were taught at school (in the former Yugoslavia) how to use small arms and lay mines. When communities in Bosnia turned on each other, many fled their homes, and some left mines to protect properties during exile.

In actual fact known minefields cover just 4.5% of the country. Tourists wanting to visit the country should not be put off and many British people working in Bosnia say in terms of security it is far safer than the UK. Bojan puts it like this:
"Large parts of the country are safe. The problem is for locals living near suspected mine areas. This is a country born for adventures. Tourists deserve to know areas they shouldn't go to, like in any country, but think of it as not going to a river where you are told there are crocodiles."

The legacy of the mines however is still presenting significant environmental and development barriers for Bosnia. People are still dying every month from mines and unexploded ordnance and there are over 150 casualties on average a year. Bojan explains:

"Last year there were 35 victims from mines in Bosnia, in the last four months 93 new minefields have been found. And this is 12 years after the last mine was officially laid."

The problem is mostly rural, where the mines are most prevalent and the communities are tied to agriculture and the exploitation of natural resources for their living. The presence of mines prevents them from making that living. Mine casualties usually arise from rural people seeking access to drinking water, reconstructing their houses and using mined rural roads.

The Civil Protection Agency (CPA) is the Bosnian Government's lead agency for demining. They have staff located around the country and the British Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team at MNTF NW have been working with the Banja Luka CPA team over recent months.

The EOD team's remit is to protect the EUFOR forces. Should EU personnel come across unexploded ordnance, the EOD team will go out, examine it, and if necessary remove it and later destroy it.

But at this stage of operations, with MNTF NW winding down, the EOD team have been turning their attention to teaching and advising the Bosnian EOD teams, in order to provide a safe and secure environment for the local population.

Bomb Disposal Officer, RAF Chief Technician Tommy Tomilzeck, based at RAF Brize Norton, is coming to the end of his tour in Bosnia. He explains how the EOD team's role has changed over the last few months:

"We're stepping back from doing the job ourselves, the CPA are competent and willing, we're providing an advisory role now and relying more on the CPA, although they aren't getting enough financial support."

Banja Luka has just two Bosnian CPA bomb disposal staff, although a lot of demining in the country is done by private companies. One of the major issues facing the CPA, and where the EUFOR teams have recently been helping out, is in advising local police on the safe storage of mines and unexploded ordnance until it can be collected for destruction.

The local population is constantly being asked to hand over any ordnance they may have to the police. But storage at local stations has not always been that safe. Chief Technician Tomilzeck witnessed this when he first arrived in Bosnia:

"Outside the police station a car was being held up to stop it rolling down a hill by an anti-tank mine! The station's door was being propped open by another anti-tank mine and in the secretary's office, strewn about, were 16 anti-tank rockets and various grenades! The car did actually roll down the hill when we removed the mine, so in a way it was working!"

The EUFOR team now visit all the police stations in the area and advise them how to separate items, record what they have, sandbag rooms, and encourage them to securely guard rooms where munitions are held. And the CPA now routinely visits the stations to remove materials.

Police were sometimes reluctant to hand over munitions for destruction because they were often required in court as evidence when prosecuting people charged with illegally holding them. The EUFOR EOD teams encouraged a change in the law so that photographic evidence could be used instead.

"I hope we have now managed to eradicate such practices as I first saw when I came here," says Chief Technician Tomilzeck. "It's still not perfect. These items should not be kept in police stations at all, but if they are kept there, at least they are being kept in a safer way."

The MNTF NW EOD team are currently putting together a poster campaign targeted at police stations and highlighting the dangers of mines and unexploded ordnance.

Bojan also goes out into the community, to schools and local markets, giving mine risk education to civilians. He says that in 2006 EUFOR gave 21,304 civilians mine risk education - 19,945 of those were taught by the mine cell in Banja Luka:

"We're unique," he says. "There's no other example in Bosnia of a mine awareness centre with this much experience, because we've existed so long with the same personnel."

He is sad to see British troops withdrawing from Banja Luka:

"The British forces have done much more to provide a safe and secure environment than anyone else in the country."

Chief Technician Tomilzeck sometimes struggles to let the CPA deal with everything:

"It's not always easy to step away," he says. "We have moral responsibilities as bomb disposal officers not to leave until it's safe, but I do feel like I have made a difference here and made it safer for local people."

Von: 27.02.2007 www.reliefweb.int

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