Bosnia floods create new land-mine risk in Balkans

Associated Press

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Record-high floods and landslides have swept away people, homes and roads in the Balkans over the past week, but in Bosnia another deadly menace is hiding in the flood rubble: land mines.

Authorities have spent two decades trying to unearth the 1 million land mines planted during Bosnia's 1992-95 war. Before the floods, nearly 120,000 remained in 9,416 marked minefields.

Then floods washed away river banks and fueled landslides that have unearthed minefield warning signs and, in many cases, the unexploded booby traps themselves.

An official at Bosnia's Mine Action Center, Sasa Obradovic, said his agency would deploy mine-hunting scouts starting Monday.

"Mines have surfaced now in areas where they have never been," he said.

The unearthing of mines in Bosnia could create an international problem as flood waters carry the weapons downstream. Bosnia's tributaries feed the Sava River, which runs along the Croatia border and meets the Danube in Serbia. The Danube then flows through Bulgaria and Romania into the Black Sea.

Experts warn that mines could travel through half of southeast Europe or get stuck in the turbines of a hydroelectric dam.

"We will work with Croatia and Serbia on the problem," Obradovic said.

Under an international treaty, Bosnia was supposed to be mine-free by March 2009, but that deadline proved impossible to meet. Europe's most mine-infested nation received a new deadline of 2019 to clear remaining mines and other unexploded ordnance.

Authorities say that, before the flooding, hidden mines threatened 2.4 percent of Bosnian territory and more than half a million nearby residents.

Since the war's end, Obradovic said mines in Bosnia have killed at least 601 people and wounded 1,121. He said four people have been killed and eight wounded already this year.

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