The State Department has dispatched a team to Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina to help locate tens of thousands of landmines displaced by catastrophic flooding this month.
The problem began mid-month when a storm system poured three months worth of rain over the area over a period of three days, causing several dozen deaths, more than 3,000 landslides and mass evacuations from flooded towns.
The State Department said the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) arrived in the region Sunday to “survey landmine-contaminated areas affected by the recent widespread floods.”
“Heavy rains in the Balkans have caused widespread flooding that has led to the possible shifting and uncovering of some of the 120,000 landmines remaining from the 1992-1995 conflict associated with the break-up of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The flood waters also may have washed away many of the markers delineating the minefields. Efforts are currently in place by the local authorities to begin mapping the most affected areas and informing their communities about the imminent danger posed by mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO),” the State Department said.
Spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Friday that in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia “we are providing funding, coordinating with each of the governments and assisting in the volunteer efforts.”
“We released $150,000 in chief of mission funds to the Serbian Red Cross to purchase search-and-rescue boats and other items needed for immediate relief efforts. Keep in mind our assistance to the countries differs based on their respective needs. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we provided more in-kind assistance,” she said. “We’ve, to date, provided $100,000 worth of search-and-rescue boats, some of which were delivered on May 17th, and approximately $700,000 of emergency relief supplies. They’re currently en route right now.”
Not only have minefield markers been washed away, but the shifting earth and torrential waters has been leaving mines in unexpected places.
“Residents in flood-affected areas are reporting discoveries of mines and UXO. On May 21, a landmine dislodged by the devastating floods near the town of Brcko, BiH exploded underwater, but caused 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 UXO,” the State Department said.
“In Serbia, preliminary reporting from the Serbian Mine Action Center indicates that a similar problem with the shifting and uncovering of numerous landmines and explosive ordnance has occurred. Local commercial demining companies and both the Serbian and BiH Armed Forces demining units are very well versed in regular demining operations, but they will be facing clearance operations in unfamiliar circumstances – assessing large areas, clearing mines from landslides, and conducting underwater demining.”