The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement is deploying the Quick Reaction Force (QRF), a group of civilian explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) experts, to Serbia, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The QRF will arrive May 26 and work with local officials of both the Serbian and BiH Mine Action Centers 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).
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. 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.
Since 2008, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs has deployed QRF teams to countries including Congo-Brazzaville, Cyprus, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, and Vietnam to address emergency issues related to the removal or mitigation of abandoned or otherwise at-risk conventional weapons and munitions, landmines, and unexploded ordnance. Also, since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.3 billion in more than 90 countries around the world to reduce the harmful effects of the explosive remnants of conventional weapons in post-conflict environments, including more than $96.7 million in BiH, and over $15.7 million in Serbia. To learn more on U.S. humanitarian demining and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, check out the latest edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.
For additional information, please contact the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at PM-CPA@state.gov.