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US Cmdr. Urges Bosnia Mine Cleanup

October 5, 1997

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The commander of the U.S. forces in Bosnia said Sunday much more must be done to rid this embattled region of 750,000 land mines buried during 3 1/2 years of ethnic war.

Maj. Gen. David Grange said Bosnia will be unable to return to normalcy or its refugees to resettle until the mines are dealt with.

``At the rate we’re going, it will take 50 to 100 years″ to remove the mines, Grange told The Associated Press in his office at ``Task Force Eagle″ headquarters.

To move the process along, Grange, who commands 12,000 multinational NATO troops in one of the three peacekeeping sectors in Bosnia, said he has proposed ideas including extra ``hazardous duty″ pay, health and life insurance to Bosnian and Serbian mine clearers. The U.S.-sponsored Dayton peace accords, which ended the war in 1995, gave the Bosnians and Serbs responsibility for recovering and disarming the lethal weapons.

Grange said his proposal for increased pay and benefits has been approved by the commander of NATO forces in Bosnia, U.S. Gen. Eric Shinseki, and has been sent on to Washington. The U.S. government could provide some of the money, he said.

``De-mining affects the resettlement of refugees and the freedom of movement″ needed to return Bosnia to normal, Grange said. ``All these things are tied together.″

He noted that local conscripts are not eager to take on the dangerous job of clearing mines, and once the locals are trained and their tours of duty completed, many are hired away by private firms at higher salaries.

Because those firms are working under contracts, they focus clearing efforts on commercial projects or businesses and not on clearing areas where it is needed for humanitarian reasons, such as farmlands or residential districts.

Grange said U.S. forces have removed many mines from roadways they use and around their bases, but the bulk of the work should be done by local forces. ``They put them in. They should be held responsible for them,″ Grange said.

Lt. Col. Jack Scherer, commander of the 82nd Engineer Battalion who is supervising the military’s de-mining effort, said NATO peacekeepers have helped remove 13,000 anti-personnel mines and 2,900 anti-tank mines in the past nine months.

While civilian teams probe every square inch of an area they are clearing in order to make it absolutely safe, Scherer said, military specialists try to clear mines and mine fields documented by the warring factions to get as many as possible in the shortest period of time.

Many units that laid mines may have been wiped out or dispersed during the war, which means many mines remain uncharted. An increased effort will be made this winter to locate military mine documents, another step to speed the process, he said.

Even so, the process is going too slowly for Grange. He took a framed colored drawing from his wall that showed a small child lying under trees, a leg cut in two by an explosion.

The caption said: ``In search of Koraj orchard blossoms, I became an invalid.″ Azra Efendic, a 6th-grade girl, signed it.

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