Todor Jankovic (pictured) still can’t believe his luck: A few months ago the 62-year-old from Donji Skipovac was gathering wood and accidently activated a mine. The mine was designed to explode after triggering about half a meter above the ground. But the mine failed and fell to the ground as unexploded ordnance. “I know I had been very lucky”, he says. For almost ten years he and his wife are living next to the immediate vicinity of the invisible danger. Just one meter behind their house red warning signs with white skulls mark the landmine-area. Almost two decades after the war in Bosnia & Herzegovina ended the country remains threatened by more than 120,000 landmines, buried in the ground along former frontlines.
“My son Mato (not pictured) has grown up with mines” says Jana Spionjak (pictured) from Grebnice. In Bosnia already infants are thought to look out for the red warning signs near the wood. Nevertheless, the risk is always present. Mato and his father Joso went out nearly every day during last autumn in order to gather firewood for the upcoming winter. “Joso was cautious and has avoided marked areas”, says Spionjak. Nevertheless the tragedy happened last September. “He activated a mine and was killed instantly”. Mato survived seriously injured. “The boy was behind the tractor with which the timber is transported. Otherwise he would have had hardly survived,” says Spionjak.
Grebnice lies next to the river Sava, which was severely affected by the floods in spring 2014 in the Balkans. Many mines were washed away and areas that were considered safe, had to be re-marked.
Since the war ended 20 years ago, 1732 people were involved in landmine accidents. 600 died, the rest were injured, some seriously, in many cases limps had to be amputated. But there is also a positive development: The Death of Joso Spionjak was previously the last fatal accident in Bosnia. Never has there been such a long time without any accidents since the war.
One of the most shocking family histories is that of Razija Aljic from Lukavica Rijeka. When she returned to her house after the war, the surrounding forests were mined. A year later her 19-year-old son Nedzad is the first to die near the house through a mine. "It took less than two years until the next accident," Aljic is telling the story of the death of her husband. He too was in the forest to look for firewood. "The last explosion was so loud that I heard it in the kitchen," Razija brings her story of suffering to an end. The detonation of a Prom-1 mine (pictured) also kills her second son and his brother in law.
In Skipovac Donji, where Todor Jankovic is living, Norwegian NGO Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) has started with clearance operations this April. Nearly 103,000 square meters must be cleared piece by piece. In flat areas an armored vehicle is used (pictured).
"With the machine we can trigger many mines and destroy them," says Amela Balic, Operation Manager of NPA. "After that the dog squad comes in and after them our deminers are going through the landmine-area." The perfectly drilled animals are searching the ground for explosives. "Only when two of the dogs have examined the area and found nothing, the deminers come in," Balic describes the strict security protocol.
Nearly 120 deminers were previously involved in accidents, 47 of them died. The soil in Skipovac Donij doesn’t make it easy for the professionals, because the soil is full of shrapnel and cartridge. The work is exhausting. No one may be sure if the sign they are hearing from the mine-detector is just a harmless piece of metal or a deadly weapon. Some mines are made of plastic and have a low metal content. An error would be fatal, each signal must be examined strictly according to protocol. Many accidents are caused by routine errors.
Todor Jankovic appreciates the efforts of deminers. "I hope that my grandchildren visit me. But how can I make them visit me, if everywhere the death is waiting?" he asks. But he knows that the place may be mine-free later this August thanks to the intensive work of the Norwegian People’s Aid. Then the farmland is giving back to its owners. He hopes that finally the children and grandchildren of the few returnees come back. "The future belongs to the youth," says Todor.