Since 1996, when the demining process started in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the war, a total of 55 Bosnian deminers and 673 civilians have been killed by exploding ordnance.
When two deminers were killed on August 25 nearby the town of Livno in south-west Bosnia while they were on duty in one of the minefields that still blight the country, it again highlighted the dangers faced by those who are working to clear the remaining unexploded ordnance left over from the 1992-95 war.
The deminers who died near Livno, in circumstances that are so far unclear, were among a total of 55 Bosnian deminers who have lost their lives at work since 1996, according to the Bosnian Mine Action Centre, BHMAC.
After a formal investigation, it will be known exactly what happened to the three-member crew from the BHMAC in the incident, in which another deminer was slightly injured.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is reported to be one of the countries with the most uncleared landmines on its territory.
There was a national plan for Bosnia to become landmine-free by 2019, but that did not happen.
“The problem is present in 129 of the country’s 143 municipalities, and the most dangerous areas are around Doboj, Teslic, Maglaj, Usora, Zavidovici, Gornji Vakuf, Sanski Most, Velika Kladusa, Travnik and Ilijas,” BHMAC spokesperson Svjetlana Luledzija told BIRN.
Some 15 per cent of the total population – 545,603 people – are exposed to the dangers of unexploded ordnance, according to the BHMAC.
Lack of funds has slowed the process of ridding Bosnia of mines. Since 1996, more than 3,000 square kilometres have been cleared, but over the past six years, the BHMAC had an annual budget of around 20 million euros instead of the 40 million euros indicated in the Bosnian government’s initial strategy.
The deadline for clearing the country of mines entirely has now been extended to 2024 and the Bosnian authorities have appealed for more donor funds to complete the process.
“Bosnia still has about 1,000 square kilometres of suspected mine-contaminated area and this strategy, adopted by the Council of Ministers in January 2019, foresees that we will be a mine-free country by 2024. This implies that Bosnia will need some 170 million euros from domestic and donor funds, which is a large amount,” Suad Dzafic of the Bosnian Ministry of Civil Affairs told Anadolu Agency in April 2019 on International Mine Awareness Day.
Meanwhile, 673 Bosnians died and 1,769 were injured from 1996 until August 2019, according to the BHMAC.
One of those who lost his life in an explosion was Sead Zukic, who was killed in July 2018 nearby Zivinice, a small town in north-east Bosnia.
What supposed to be a day of hunting with friends turned into tragedy when Zukic accidentally stepped on a mine in a field.
“He was an experienced hunter… to this day, I cannot understand how he ended up in an area covered with mines,” Zukic’s brother Eldin told BIRN.
“The place was marked as having landmines, but who knows, perhaps he was confident enough to believe he knew all the locations [of the mines] and did not pay enough attention,” he added.
A total of 132 deminers have also been injured since 1996 in various accidents while they were on duty.
The current size of the suspected mine-contaminated area in Bosnia is 1.018 square kilometres, or 2.1 per cent of the total area of the country.
Incidents have decreased over the years but people are still injured by blasts every year.
The problem is so serious that in 2016, a local NGO warned Pokemon GO players to avoid wandering into potentially dangerous areas.
Neighbouring Croatia also has a problem with landmines left over from the 1990s conflict.
There are still some 400 square kilometres of potentially dangerous territory in the country in which there are 32,000 remaining landmines, according to the Croatian Mine Action Centre, the state institution responsible for demining.
Since the end of the war in Croatia in late 1995, 200 people have been killed by landmines – including both civilians and deminers – and 385 wounded.
Croatia is a signatory to the so called Ottawa Treaty on that aims to eliminate landmines around the world – the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.
The country had hoped to be to be landmine-free by 2019 but that plan has failed, according to domestic media reports.
News website Jutarnji.hr reported last year that Croatia – the only EU country with uncleared landmines on its territory – has extended its deadline to remove all the remaining unexploded ordnance to 2026.