International Herald Tribune, August 7, 1999
Copyright 1999 International Herald Tribune
International Herald Tribune (Neuilly-sur-Seine, France)
Mine Death Toll Rising in Kosovo
By Carlotta Gall; New York Times Service
The danger from mines and
unexploded bombs in Kosovo is far greater than previously thought, and casualties have
soared to alarming levels, according to international aid agencies and mine-clearing
By far the most dangerous are the volatile British- and U.S.-made cluster bombs, which
have been found in almost every part of the province and have already caused some terrible
accidents. Depleted-uranium ammunition was also used in Kosovo, the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization has told those defusing the bombs and clearing the mines.
As the death toll rises and aid agencies contemplate the difficult task ahead,
recriminations are growing over NATO's use of the cluster bombs and what an aid worker
said was the reluctance of the alliance to deal with ''its own battle junk.''
The mines were planted by the Yugoslav Army and ethnic Albanian guerrillas during their
yearlong war before the NATO bombing.
In a report last week, the World Health Organization estimated that from June 13 to July
12, 130 to 170 people were injured or killed in bomb and mine accidents, a rate of about
10 per 100,000 residents.
Former army engineers and explosives experts from a British group, the HALO Trust, are
close to completing a two-month survey and have found a far greater presence of mines
planted by Yugoslavs and Kosovars than they had expected. These experts have visited every
village in Kosovo.
But far more alarming for the engineers is the high number of cluster bombs they have
found, and have seen kill people. Their storage room in Pristina is full of the ugly
casings of bombs, missiles and mine debris, and a whole wall is devoted to the cluster
NATO has told those clearing the ordnance that it dropped 1,500 cluster bombs on Kosovo
during its two-month air war. Each releases 150 to 200 bomblets, small canisters that
float down to the ground on individual parachutes or with metal shuttlecocks. Each
canister is potentially lethal when jolted or moved.
There is widespread ignorance about the danger of cluster bombs. Two soldiers of the
British Gurkha regiment were killed when moving cluster bombs into a field to destroy
them. It was reportedly four weeks after the bombing ended that allied officers mentioned
that rounds tipped with depleted uranium had been used against Serbian tanks, and warned
those clearing mines to avoid crawling over tank wrecks.
The Pentagon has insisted that there is no health hazard from the low levels of radiation
released when the rounds explode, but the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission treats
depleted uranium as a hazardous material, and Western anti-war groups, as well as health
officials in Iraq, where such shells were used during the Gulf War, have disputed the