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US: More must be done to clear mines in Bosnia

October 6, 1997

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ A small, pencil drawing taken from a U.S. general’s wall here tells a horrid tale.

It shows a small child lying under some trees, a leg cut in two by an explosion.

``In search of Koraj orchard blossoms, I became an invalid.″ says the drawing, signed by Azra Efendic, a 6th grade girl.

``This is what really gets me,″ says Maj. Gen. David Grange, his face tightening.

The two-star general, who commands about 12,000 multinational NATO troops in one of the three peacekeeping sectors here, said Sunday that more must be done to clear the estimated 750,000 land mines buried here during the civil war here.

If not, Grange argued, progress will not be made on resettling refugees and bringing this nation toward normalcy. ``At the rate we’re going, it will take 50 to 100 years″ to remove the buried mines spread around the country by the former warring factions, he said.

The general said he has proposed a number of steps to help move the process along.

These include giving extra ``hazardous duty″ pay to the Bosnian and Serb soldiers who are responsible for recovering the lethal weapons under the Dayton peace accords.

They should also be offered health and life insurance like their American counterparts, Grange said. ``I wouldn’t send my troops out (to do such work) without it,″ he said.

In an interview at the headquarters of ``Task Force Eagle,″ Grange said U.S. troops supervise the local armies’ work, but it is dangerous labor that the local conscripts are not eager to do.

Once the local troops are trained and their tour of duty is up, many of the soldiers are hired away by private contractors who offer vastly higher salaries, the general said.

The contractors focus their clearing efforts on commercial projects or businesses and not to clear areas _ such as farmlands or residential areas that were war zones _ for humanitarian reasons.

Grange said the proposal to increase the pay and benefits has been approved by the commander of all NATO forces in Bosnia, U.S. Gen. Eric Shinseki, and has been forwarded to Washington. Some money could be provided by the U.S. government, he said.

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

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

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

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

Because many units that laid mines may have been wiped out or dispersed during the war, the location of many mines remains unaccounted. An increased effort will be made this winter to locate military mine documents to help speed the process along, Scherer said.

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