Thousands of Mines Remain in Croatia
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ A multitude of hidden killers is taking its toll in this former Yugoslav republic as local people and U.N. soldiers try to strengthen the peace after the 1991 Serb-Croat war.
Thousands, maybe millions, of unmarked land mines were laid along the 1,000 miles of front line during the conflict, often in haste by soldiers who neglected to keep track of where they put them.
They could remain capable of killing or maiming with grim efficiency for decades to come.
There are two to four million mines still in the ground in Croatia and neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, or ″a mine for every three persons,″ said Paul Nedergaard, a U.N. explosives expert in Zagreb.
The latest victims were three U.S. journalists who drove across a mine Sunday near Mostar, in southwestern Bosnia close to the Croatian border. Two were killed, a third wounded.
The highest concentration of mines is thought to be in eastern Croatia, scene of bitter Serb-Croat fighting in 1991. Serbs still control a third of Croatia, including the eastern edge that borders the Danube River.
It may take 20 years to get rid of them all, said Lt. Col. Cornelius de Goede, a U.N. military observer who monitors de-mining operations in eastern Croatia.
An estimated 10,000 people were killed in the war in Croatia. It largely ended with a cease-fire in January 1992, and a new agreement signed in March strengthened and extended the truce.
Each side agreed to withdraw about a half-mile from its front line. A 1.25- mile separation zone was created, where refugees could return and rebuild their homes under the protection of U.N. forces.
Three U.N. experts were wounded recently as they de-mined a 1,500-foot stretch of road to open a new crossing at the front-line town of Vinkovci, 140 miles east of Zagreb.
A Croat physician and two policemen were killed in April as they helped clear anti-personnel mines in a forest area near Pakrac, about 60 miles east of Zagreb. A third policeman was badly wounded.
In Serb-held regions of southern Croatia, one peacekeeper was killed and five injured by mines over the past two weeks. The area also claimed the lives of two Serb soldier whose car ran over an anti-tank mine earlier this month.
″During the chaos of the 1991 war, all sides ... mined the area along the battlefield,″ said Fran Visnar, a military writer in Zagreb. ″This could be Europe’s Cambodia,″ he said, noting that many mines were planted indiscriminately and without maps.