Explosive Threats in Serbia: Clearing the past for a better future


On March 24, 1999, NATO began a 78-day military intervention in the conflict in Kosovo without a UN Security Council resolution authorizing this action[1], whilst approximately 2 million land mines were planted during Bosnia’s civil war.[2]  During the South East European floods in 2014, these Explosive Remnants of War (ERW), anti-personnel (APMs) and anti-tank mines (ATMs) surfaced and were carried by the more than 3000 landslides that occurred across the Balkans.[3] Despite inexhaustible efforts by national mine action centers, scars of the dismantlement of former Yugoslavia are still physically visible today, and impede on the development of the region. It is important to address current challenges and emphasize the need for funding necessary to complete Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and landmine clearance in Serbia and the region of the Western Balkans.

Prior to the analysis, it is important to establish a fixed definition of ERW. According to the second article of Protocol V to the UN 1980 Convention:

Explosive remnants War means unexploded ordnance [UXO] and abandoned explosive ordnance [AXO].

  1. Unexploded ordnance means explosive ordnance that has been primed, fused, armed, or otherwise prepared for use and used in an armed conflict. It may have been fired, dropped, launched or projected and should have exploded but failed to do so.
  2. Abandoned explosive ordnance means explosive ordnance that has not been used during an armed conflict, that has been left behind or dumped by a party to an armed conflict, and which is no longer under control of the party that left it behind or dumped it. Abandoned explosive ordnance may or may not have been primed, fused, armed or otherwise prepared for use.[4]

Together with APMs and ATMs, ERW continue to pose a threat to the general economic and social development of the region. For example, UXO contamination can have long-term impacts, including harvest losses due to polluted farmland that can no longer be cultivated.[5] Furthermore, contamination can restrict access to water, damage buildings, and hinder the construction and maintenance of infrastructure. The prioritization of ERW and land mine removal, however, is decided according to the level of risk to the population.[6]

SeaminesAlbania660x400In Serbia the contamination of ERW and landmines is still widespread, posing a considerable danger to populated areas. In the 1990s, most AP and AT mines were placed along the border with Croatia, in the northern part of Serbia in the villages of Jamena and Morović, within the municipality of Šid, amounting to an area of more than 6 Km2 (2.3 mi2).[7] Furthermore, an area of about 22 Km2 (8.5 mi2) at 12 sites in nine municipalities have been polluted with UXO as a result of ammunition depot explosions (City of Belgrade, municipalities of Novi Pazar, Novi Sad, Kraljevo, Požarevac, Paraćin, Smederevo, Valjevo and Vranje), whilst an estimated 180 unexploded aerial bombs and missiles from the NATO intervention have been found in more than 100 military and civilian sites at depths greater than 20m (22 yds).[8] Serbia exemplifies that clearance should be conducted as soon as possible. However, there seems to be a lack of capital to fund the clearance operations, equipment, staff, training and education, and the identification process of Suspected Hazardous Areas (SHA). As Dalibor Jovanović concludes in 2011 that “without the help of the international community and donors, Serbia cannot resolve the numerous problems related to full clearance by its Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention deadline”.[9]

In 2013, Serbia asked to extend this deadline to 2019. The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention requested the survey activities to be completed in 2015, while demanding that “Serbia submit to the States Parties, by 1 March 2016, an updated detailed work plan and budget for the remaining period covered by the extension.”[10] Like many of its neighboring countries, Serbia has come to a critical juncture to solve the current ERW and land mine issues. It will not be able to do so without the financial and operative support from international donors, certainly when we consider the fact that it might not feature as a priority on the political agenda of Serbia’s political decision-makers.

In 2012, ITF Enhancing Human Security, a non-governmental organization that has been the main implementing partner in the Balkans for the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, received almost $10.4 million to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia; provide technical training to Kosovo’s Mine Action Center; oversee separate stockpile destruction projects in Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro; and provide administrative support to the Regional Approach to Stockpile Reduction (RASR) initiative.[11] Similar funding programs that are channeled through organizations such as ITF, Norwegian People’s Aid, DanChurch Aid, GICHD, and Halo Trust are vital but have been insufficient.

The clearing operations at the Paraćin site, lasting from 2006 to 2012 demonstrate the costly nature of ERW clearance. The total costs were estimated at least $ 10,436,600, mostly financed by the Russian Federation, while it was estimated that about $ 19,815,000 was lost in trade revenue on main transit roads.[12] Some estimates suggest that the ‘rule of thumb’ cost of UXO clearance amounts to approximately $ 2 per square metre.[13] The Paraćin case study gives us an indication to which extent UXO clearance operations and demining can prove to be expensive.

Nevertheless, Serbia – and perhaps the entire Western Balkans – is no longer seen as a priority considering current developments in Ukraine and the Middle East. This results in a shift of focus, from the Western Balkans to the aforementioned “hot regions”. Quite simply, the region is put at the bottom of the priority list.

Clearing Serbia – and to wider extent – Western Balkans of all its ERW and landmines is a project that demands finalization in the short-term future. In order to achieve socio-economic progress in this region, it is vital that the international community continues to invest capital in demining and ERW clearance operations to allow the region to prosper. Furthermore, a mine and ERW-free Serbia would be an important contribution to the advancement of EU accession dialogues.  In sum, ensuring human security, improve infrastructure, and avoid infliction on agriculture and trade by avoiding scenarios similar to the 2014 floods has to be put on the priority list of those who have the South East European region at heart.

[1] Schroeder, E., ‘The Kosovo Crisis: Humanitarian Imperative versus International Law’, Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2004, p. 179.

[2] Kakissis, J., ‘Balkan Floods Expose Deadly Mines From 1990s Civil War’, NPR, 2014, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/05/20/314379214/balkan-floods-expose-deadly-mines-from-1990s-civil-war, accessed on 29 July 2015.

[3] ‘Yugoslav Wars’ Remnants Are Complicating the Balkans Flood’, Vaughn Shirley, 2014, http://www.vaughnshirley.com/printedtransmissions/2014/5/19/when-wars-remanants-exacerbate, accessed on 29 July 2015.

[4] Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War (Protocol V to the 1980 Convention), 28 November 2003.

[5] Lazarević, J., ‘Costs and Consequences: Unplanned Explosions and Demilitarization in South-east Europe’, Small Arms Survey, 2012, p. 38, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/C-Special-reports/SAS-SR18-costs-and-consequences.pdf, accessed 29 July 2015.

[6] Jovanović, D., ‘ERW in the Republic of Serbia’, The Journal of ERW and Mine Action, Issue 15.1, 2011, http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/15.1/notes/jovanovic/jovanovic.shtml, accessed on 30 July 2015.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Jovanović, D., ERW in the Republic of Serbia.

[10] http://www.apminebanconvention.org/fileadmin/APMBC/clearing-mined-areas/art5_extensions/countries/13MSP-Serbia-Ext-Decisions.pdf

[11] ´U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Programs Promote Security in the Balkans’, U.S. Department of State, 2012, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/10/199875.htm, accessed 29 July 2015.

[12] Lazarević, J., ‘Costs and Consequences: Unplanned Explosions and Demilitarization in South-east Europe’, p. 58.

[13] Ibid, p.38.

Previous articleU.S. confirms Islamic State use of chemical weapons
Next articleThe India-Pakistan Nuclear Arms Race
Martijn van Ballekom is an consultant at IB Consultancy and holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and International Relations from Royal Holloway University of London. He has completed a Master’s of Science in International Relations and Diplomacy at the University of Leiden. At IB Consultancy, Martijn is responsible for marketing activities and has frequently written for the CBRNePortal and other platforms.