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Bosnia: A Plea For Help In Clearing Land Mines

Washington, 13 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - World Bank officials are hoping that British Princess Diana's visit to Bosnia will provide a badly needed publicity spark to the removal of land mines in the war-torn nation, a critical program that has had difficulty even getting started.

The glamorous young princesses' travels through Bosnia and Herzegovina were on behalf of the Landmine Survivors Network, a private group which is working to outlaw the use of landmines. But bank officials, who have been struggling to get a landmine marking and removal project going, are glad to grab at anything which may draw attention to the flagging effort.

The bank, putting the best face on the situation, issued a statement this week in Washington reporting that after "a difficult start" it has gathered 16.2 million dollars to pay for the beginning of a demining program in each of the two entities of the country.

Two separate Project Implementation Units, one in each entity, have this summer been signing seven regional contracts with internationally-recognized demining companies. In the federation, there are three contracts for the survey of minefields in Mostar, Tuzla and Bihac, and two contracts for actual mine clearance in Mostar and Tuzla.

In Republika Srpska, the Project Implementation Unit has signed one contract for a survey of minefields in the Banja Luka and Eastern Bosnia regions and another contract for clearing mines in both areas.

The bank says these contracts focus on priority areas related to transport, infrastructure, power lines, forestry and resettlement of population. It says demining work has actually started in a number of municipalities, including Milici, Brcko, Doboj, and in Usora.

The bank says removal of the landmines is a "prerequisite" to reconstruction and resettlement. The United Nation's Mine Action Center says the situation in the former Yugoslav republic is still horrible twenty months after the end of the fighting. It says there are more than 17,000 minefields throughout the country and most of them -- around 70 percent -- have fewer than ten mines.

But, it says, as long as these mines have not been located through adequate surveying techniques, large areas of land remain unsafe for human activity.

The bank had hoped to raise up to $40 million from donor nations around the world and other international institutions for the anti-mine effort. Even though it has succeeded in raising more than 16 million dollars, including for the first time ever using some of its own money, officials point out that this is a mere drop in the bucket.

Removing landmines is a very expensive operation and officials note that it costs $10 million to effectively clear an area of only two to four square kilometers. In a country which has a total geographic area of more than 51,000 square kilometers -- even with large parts that were not mined -- the need is far beyond what is currently available.

Bank official say they hope that the use of newly developed surveying techniques will allow them to zero-in on critical areas and certify more land as being fit for human use.

But they also admit that without a "lasting commitment" from the international community, it will take "more than a generation" to free Bosnia from the threat of the landmines. The effort is just beginning, pleads the bank it it's statement. "It must continue."

The U.N., meantime, says that with large tracts of land remaining uninhabitable, the flow of returning refugees has had to slow.