By Ljiljana Kovacevic
The public in Doboj — already familiar with such incidents — was shaken yet again after four people died and several were seriously injured in separate mine explosions ten days ago.
Doboj, located around 60km north of Sarajevo, was a strategic point during the 1992-95 conflict. The warring parties used mines to secure the dividing front line along the area around the town.
Sixteen years after the end of the war, spouses Salih and Sahza Hasanamidzic went on Barakovac Hill near the town to collect bullet shells, friends and relatives say, with the aim of selling them as scrap metal.
The two skidded into a still uncleared minefield and triggered a mine. Sahza was seriously wounded from the explosion and died soon after. Salih, a war veteran, survived suffering only light injuries.
“The Civil Protection team came to the scene to clean up the area so that the police could carry out an investigation and found the bottom of a mine. It is a quite unreachable terrain, there are trenches because the front line was there during the war,” Civil Protection anti-mine operations officer Simo Djurovic told SETimes.
Later in the day, a mine exploded as five RS Railways workers were cleaning the area around the track in Sevarlije near Doboj. Dushan Petrovic and Miroslav Nikic died at the hospital, while the other three were seriously wounded.
Emir Agic was fishing on the Bosna River near the place of the incident and was the first to hear the explosion and screams and calls for help.
“A young fellow, also a rail worker, called me to help his colleagues. I called five other fishermen, we climbed the bushes and carried them. The ambulance arrived shortly,” Agic told the media.
Local fishermen said the area where the explosion took place was covered with mines during the war. RS Railways management, however, said no warning sign had been put up to indicate the danger.
Bojan Topalovic, one of the injured workers, said the company had assured the workers that the area was safe. The accident, and particularly the memory of his dismembered friends, will stay with him all his life, he said.
“Two pieces of shrapnel hit me, but I managed to call an ambulance, get off the road and stop vehicles to ask for help,” he recounted. A day after the Doboj incidents, a middle-aged man was killed in the village of Jasenica — located on the inter-entity line of separation between Modrica and Gradacac — as he walked into a minefield while cutting trees.
In the 16 years since the end of the war, 1,670 people have been injured from stepping on mines in BiH, and 583 of them died. Furthermore, 113 de-miners suffered injuries while carrying out their operations, with 46 deaths as a result.
About 24 square miles of the Doboj municipality are mined making it one of the most serious cases in the country. Eighty-four people have suffered mine explosion injuries in the Doboj municipality since the end of the conflict. Thirty of them have died.
Two anti-mine operations personnel were killed and two wounded in three separate demining accidents in Doboj.
This year alone, seven people were killed and 11 injured in ten mine accidents throughout BiH.
“The most common reasons leading to casualties includes ignoring mine signs and entering the suspected areas to cut down trees, pick berries as well as wild fruits or collecting recyclable materials,” Mine Action Centre of BiH (BH MAC) spokesperson Svjetlana Trifkovic.
Trifkovic explained the highest concentration of mines besides Doboj is in nine other towns including Brcko and Bihac.
BiH is ranked among one of the countries whose citizens face the greatest threat from mine accidents.
“The mines are the most dangerous for people in rural areas, which are largely economically dependent on access to land contaminated by mines,” Trifkovic said.
BH MAC officials argue the solution of the complex mine problem is possible only through active and effective participation of local authorities on all levels. It is necessary to also continuously raise awareness about the dangers of landmines for people in disadvantaged areas through brochures, posters and presentations. This year alone, the mine risk education programme trained approximately 16,000 people.
At 62 locations across the country there are mental health centres affiliated with the Centres for Primary Rehabilitation (CBR), which provide free medical care to victims.
Seven “pain clinics” have been established with fully trained staff trained to assist mine victims while NGOs with the help from foreign donors implement projects to help victims of mines, primarily to obtain employment.
Competent institutions estimate that BiH could be cleared of mines by 2019 at an average cost of 41m euros per year.
“Bosnia has enough people and equipment to clean up contaminated areas, but current plans are not met mainly due to lack of money,” said a spokeswoman,” Trifkovic said.
Landmine Survivors Initiatives (LSI) in BiH is an NGO covering over 40 mines-affected communities. In its 14 years of existence, the organisation has provided support to more than 2,900 survivors from more than 80 municipalities.
“As part of the broader population of persons with disabilities, landmine survivors in BiH are entitled to rights and benefits as defined by different domestic laws and policies. BiH has made significant progress in fulfilling the needs of survivors in the healthcare care sector, but programmes have not been developed to address the long term needs in economic opportunities and social empowerment,” said Amira Kavgic, an co-ordinator at the organisation.
Survivors of mine explosions do not receive equal treatment, she pointed out, as war victims are entitled to more rights and benefits than civilians. At the same time, disparities exist because implementation of the laws is the responsibility of the cantonal/municipal authorities.
These are very often limited in their resources and are not capable of providing survivors with basic disability benefits, Kavgic said.