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U.S. Sends Expert Team to Balkans After Floods Unearth Land Mines
May 27, 2014

Three people in protective suits in a field behind a danger sign
Soldiers repair mine-warning signs in fields near the Bosnia River, which flooded near the town of Visoko, 30 kilometers north of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on May 20.

27 May 2014

The U.S. State Department is deploying its Quick Reaction Force (QRF), a group of civilian explosive-ordnance-disposal experts, to Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina after flooding increased the danger from land mines and unexploded ordnance in those nations.

The QRF, from the department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, was scheduled to arrive May 26. The team will work with local officials of both the Serbian Mine Action Center and the Bosnia-Herzegovina Mine Action Center to survey land mine–contaminated areas affected by the recent floods, the State Department said in announcing the deployment May 25.

Heavy rains in the Balkans have caused widespread flooding that has led to the possible shifting and uncovering of some of the 120,000 land mines remaining from the 1992–1995 conflict associated with the breakup of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the department said. The flood waters also may have washed away many of the markers around minefields. Efforts by local authorities to begin mapping the most-affected areas and informing their communities about the imminent danger posed by mines and unexploded ordnance are ongoing, State said.

Residents in flood-affected areas are reporting discoveries of mines and unexploded ordnance. On May 21, a land mine dislodged by flooding near the town of Brcko, Bosnia-Herzegovina, exploded underwater, causing no damage or casualties. The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina estimates that 320 square kilometers of the flood zones are potentially contaminated by shifting mines or unexploded ordnance, the State Department notice said.

In Serbia, according to the department, preliminary reports from the Serbian Mine Action Center indicate a similar problem with the shifting and uncovering of numerous land mines and explosive ordnance. Local commercial land-mine-removal companies and both the Serbian and Bosnia-Herzegovina armed forces mine-removal units are well versed in regular land-mine-removal operations, but they will be facing clearance operations in unfamiliar circumstances — assessing large areas, clearing mines from landslides, and conducting underwater mine removal, the State Department said.

Since 2008 the State Department has deployed QRF teams to countries including Congo-Brazzaville, Cyprus, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Uruguay and Vietnam to address emergency issues related to the removal or mitigation of abandoned or otherwise at-risk conventional weapons and munitions, land mines and unexploded ordnance.

Also, since 1993 the United States has invested more than $2.3 billion in more than 90 countries around the world to reduce the harmful effects of the explosive remnants of conventional weapons in post-conflict environments, including more than $96.7 million in Bosnia-Herzegovina and more than $15.7 million in Serbia.

More information on U.S. land mine removal and conventional weapons destruction programs in available in the department’s annual report To Walk the Earth in Safety.