Victims of left-over mines

Every third citizen in danger


SAT, 29 APR 2000

Sarajevo, 25 April, 2000 - In the middle of a large meadow not far from their homes, they say there is a strange building – you can enter it through the door of a refrigerator, then you pass through a window frame and then you are underground, and there is also a small window… They had heard that it used to be a bunker during the war. The three of them, Ema, Goran and Haris, wished to check what was hidden in that edifice and the next day the whole school would hear what an undertaking they accomplished. They set out. They went in. They laughed, it was interesting. BOOM! A big explosion interrupted last weekend the game of three children in Sarajevo.

It was impossible to save Ema, Goran and Haris – out of children’s wish for adventure they entered an unmarked mine field on the former line of separation between the warring parties in B&H. The tragedy happened on location of Debelo brdo, which is very close to the centre of the capital of B&H! At the time of the tragedy and even an hour or two after it, while ten-year old Ema was still alive, it was impossible to get hold of the experts of the entity centre for removing mines – for quite some time already they are doing nothing because there is no money (donations) for removing mines, and policemen, firemen or the ambulance could not help because they have to maps of B&H with marked mine fields, and none of these services in B&H has a helicopter! (“And even if they had one – what would they do with it, who would dare be lowered from a helicopter into a mine field? Who would take the blame if that person stepped on a mine and were killed? What would happen if a possible explosion of a mine damaged the helicopter and destroyed it?" an official of the cantonal police in Sarajevo asked us when we asked whether it would have been possible to reach the children from the air by helicopter.)

At this moment only the army and SFOR have helicopters in B&H, but there are no written rules when these two institutions can lend these mobile aircrafts, to whom, under what circumstances and in what conditions. Had they existed at the moment of the explosion on Debelo Brdo, the children, or at least one of them, might have been saved! Their mothers just beg that if possible their children be the last victims of these perfidious killers.

The tragic story about the three killed children points out to the terrible consequences of the war the citizens of B&H are still threatened by. But also to the fact that in immediate vicinity of people’s settlements, this time the very centre of the capital of B&H, there are unmarked mine fields. In the Mine Action Centre of B&H Federation – MAC F B&H) the first answer was that they did “not know whether the field was marked, but that a long time ago this territory was marked as mined and highly risky, a project for removal of mines was prepared, it just waited for a donor!”, said Ahdin Orahovac, director of MAC FB&H. “Everybody in surrounding buildings knew that this was a mine field, eye-witnesses of the tragedy claim that they often warned the people who would set out towards that field… “Children will always be children, they would not listen”, said Miroslava Vladisavljevic, employee in the department for removing mines of B&H MAC…

“Had the field been marked the children would have still been alive”, claims ambassador Jacques Kleine, special envoy of UN Secretary General for B&H. But: “We do not have sufficient resources to mark all mine fields. It often happens that the warning band with which we fence a mine field is torn. We had cases of individuals who tore the band and put it around their summer cottages so possible thieves would think that they were mined and give up on robbing them!”, Orahovac answers. Vladisavljevic adds (probably only to her understandable explanation) that marking mine fields can be “a double-edged weapon!”: “Then people think that only the marked area is mined”!?

Connoisseurs of the process of detection of mine fields and their removal believe that around B&H there are more than one million of unexploded mines which may be active for another 50 years if not removed. They also claim that they are to be found all over B&H, but that they are most densely distributed in a ring around Sarajevo.

“I looked up at the crown of a cherry-tree under which we were passing. It was full of blossom. My heart was full of satisfaction because I was on my land again, in my garden, among my beautiful roses… The last thing I remember is that I said: ‘God, what beauty!’” said Asija Kamber who after the explosion of a mine she stepped on lost both her arms and legs and who was seriously burnt and wounded all over her body. She was injured in the first post-war year of 1996. This year, five years after signing of the Dayton accords and four years after the beginning of the process of removing mines, only in the second week of April more than ten patients were received in Sarajevo hospitals with injuries caused by explosions of mines left-over from the war!

Organised removal of mines in B&H began in 1996 and 1,600,000 square metres have been cleared since, 600,000 square metres only last year. But mines are still shed along 14,000 km long former demarcation line between armies in B&H or on about 3,000 square kilometres of suspected territory. It is estimated that in B&H there are still more than 30,000 mine fields, and only 50 to 60 per cent have been registered and marked! In fact, it is just believed that there are that many marked, because the mine field in Debelo Brdo, for example, where the three children were killed was registered as part of the allegedly marked 50 to 60 per cent!

But victims show that the efforts invested in removal of mines are still insufficient – last winter, again in the immediate vicinity of Sarajevo, on the former demarcation line near Lapisnica, an enormous landslip started moving threatening the main roads in the city itself, some infrastructure facilities and apartment buildings. It was impossible to begin work on the landslip because the enormous mine field inside it also started moving! After the movement of the land it was very difficult to determine again where the mines were.

After signing of the Dayton peace agreement, all the armies in B&H were obliged to hand in the reports about mine fields. Slightly over 18.5 thousand have been handed in so far, which is less than half of the expected number, and the data in them deviate from the actual situation up to 50 per cent and moreover most frequently they are not done professionally but very superficially, as Orahovac says.

As an illustration – in the report on mine fields in Herzegovina it is stated that “mines are on rocky ground, by a heap of stones”!? Nevertheless, based on these reports and investigations, a map of B&H was made with the detected mine fields drawn in it. It is up-dated every day by introduction of new data, it is claimed by Vladisavljevic. But although MAC B&H has a whole department which is engaged solely in making the data base and maps, those who need them do not have them.

What can policemen, firemen, emergency medical service do? As an illustration (these are the data on the Sarajevo canton only, although unofficial data show that the situation is the same in other cantons), none of these institutions owns a map with marked mine fields. Sarajevo firemen, for instance, only during the first weekend in April, put out 17 forest fires on the territory which was the demarcation line during the war! Fortunately, nobody was killed, but they were forced to wait until the fire reached the road in order to put it out. “We cannot help in removing mines, but we are the most exposed to danger of mine fields. I ordered my men not to enter the forest and not to get off the road, but to wait for the fire to reach them and then put it out…”, says commander of the professional fire brigade of the canton of Sarajevo. He reminds of another risk which, he says, hardly anyone ever thinks of – the fire does not necessarily activate the mines, they most frequently remain active even after a fire.

Policemen do not have maps with marked mine fields either. Not rarely in pursuit of criminals they enter areas which were on the demarcation line during the war, that is, a highly risky zone. Last winter, policemen from Sarajevo went to save a group of people buried in the snow also in the vicinity of what used to be the demarcation line. They say that they sought notes and maps about mines in the police centre and at the fire department, they asked the government of the Sarajevo canton for them, the army authorities and other places, but got nothing.

Maps of mine fields are made by MAC of B&H (while entity MAC are entrusted with the job of removing mines and training, this one does the logistic jobs – maps, training and other). “We give maps to anyone who asks for them, in the required proportion and for specific regions, all free of charge. All they need to do is ask”, says Miroslava Vladisavljevic. To the question whether there is a way to send the maps by a certain mechanism to the firemen, policemen or other services which are at the disposal of the citizens in urgent situations – the answer is – “yes, if they reach such an agreement with us!” To the repeated question whether anything can be done without waiting for an official agreement because for many it might be too late by then, we get the answer of Vladisavljevic’s colleague who wishes to remain anonymous: “I did not even know they needed them”!? and Vladisavljevic herself answers as follows to the same question: “It is, maybe not the same but comparable, as if you told us to sew clothes for everybody, and we said we would but you had to give us the measures first!”

Nevertheless, unofficially we find out that MAC B&H regularly sends its maps to embassies in B&H and foreign humanitarian organisations!

According to incomplete data, since signing of the Dayton agreement until April, 900 persons were victims of unexploded mines. Expressed differently, this means that every other day there was a new victim! At the same time – 500 experts for removing mines are unemployed! More than one hundred of new ones completed the UNHCR training course. In MAC of B&H Federation claim that they have no money, not even for the band which is used as a warning to mark the mine fields nor for tours of marked mine fields and checking whether “markings” are in order.

In this country where there are about three million citizens and about one million mines, that is, one for every third citizen, the price of removing mines from one square metres has been lowered from 500 convertible marks to slightly more than 2.5 marks. In the end of last year somewhere near Mostar a mine which weighed about 300 kg was found, which had been there since the Second World War. “You must understand mines. They were planted by soldiers who did their best to obstruct and hurt the other party. Nowadays when one reverses the process and tries to detect where they are – it is difficult to locate them”, an expert for removing mines explains. Because of all these facts many mothers in B&H are disconsolately concerned, and it seems, they will be that for a long time!

Original article