Kosovo resumes clearing mined areas

AP News
Posted: Apr 05, 2012 9:28 AM
Kosovo resumes clearing mined areas

Demining experts have resumed the slow process of clearing Kosovo of the many NATO cluster bombs and Serbian military land mines left behind from the 1998-99 war. Since the conflict ended, the hidden devices have killed 114 people and wounded more than 450.

Members of the Kosovo Security Force donned protective gear and visors on Thursday to pick up where they left off last year after the first snowfall. In Kosovo, demining experts have to wait until spring approaches and the ground softens to resume scanning for explosives.

Some 4,500 mine fields were registered in 1999 following NATO's 78-day bombing campaign that ended the war and stopped the brutal crackdown by Serb forces on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Master Sgt. Behxhet Kodra of Kosovo's Security Force said the nation remains strewn with cluster bombs and land mines.

On Wednesday, the U.N. marked International Mine Awareness Day to highlight the dangers of explosive devices such as these that have been used in conflicts around the world.

Kodra said clearing Kosovo's many mine fields is a dangerous but rewarding job.

"We have been working on this location for the past two years now and have found and destroyed some 200 explosive ordinances from cluster bombs to shells and mortars, rockets and other projectiles," he said. "One cleared mine is one human life saved."

His team was combing the hills around the village of Harilac, 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Pristina, the capital, and near the country's main airport.

The area was heavily bombed by NATO in 1999 to target tunnels where the Yugoslav army was storing its fighter planes and using the nearby runway to fight NATO bombers.

The Kosovo Security Force is a lightly armed civil emergency force made up mostly of former ethnic Albanian rebels who fought a guerrilla war against Serbia. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence, but Serbia has rejected the move and treats the territory as part of Serbia.