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Progetto Bosnia
Thu, 29/05/2014

Despite the fact that the conflict in the ex-Yugoslav territories has been over for more than a decade, today, Bosnia-Herzegovina is still one of the world's foremost countries contaminated with antipersonnel mines and unexploded devices (UXOs).
Since the end of hostilities approximately 5,000 people have been victim of landmines and unexploded devices. For this reason, INTERSOS projects in the country are focused on humanitarian demining activities as well as Mine Risk Education (MRE). The office in Sarajevo coordinates the activities of various mine clearance teams throughout the region; equally important is the mine risk awareness work that INTERSOS runs in support of local communities. The latest projects were implemented through funding from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ilijas Municipality.
Starting from January 2014 Intersos is phasing out from the country, after more than 15 years of demining interventions.

Context

After the death of Tito, the brief conflict that signalled the separation of Slovenia gave way to the disintegration of the state of Yugoslavia. For Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina this process would not prove to be so easy due to the nationalistic project of the then Yugoslavian president, Slobodan Milosevic, who tried to militarily prevent any such splits through the mobilisation of strong minority Serb forces within the two regions. The Bosnian ‘Declaration of Sovereignty’ of 15 October 1991 was followed by the hold of a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia early the next year. The referendum, which was boycotted by the Serbian community, resulted in a vote of 64% in favour of independence. This immediately led to the deployment by the Belgrade Government of their troops on Bosnian territory and the consequent formation and mobilisation of military and paramilitary groups on behalf of the three principal Bosnian ethnic groups: Serbs, Croats and Bosniak Muslims.

 

On 6 April 1992, The European Community recognised the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina; the Serbian deputies responded by proclaiming the secession of the Republika Srpska from Bosnia-Herzegovina, where military and paramilitary troops, supported by Belgrade, took control of about 70% of the territory. Ethnic violence flared-up throughout the country resulting in many civilian deaths and thousands of refugees. On 2 May 1992, the Yugoslav People's Army (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's army) and Serbian paramilitary militias blocked all access to Sarajevo, placing the city under a siege that would eventually last 43 months. Murder, rape and deportation continued for the duration of the war in an outbreak of ethnic cleansing that reached its climax in July 1995, with the massacre of approximately 8,000 civilian Bosniaks in Srebrenica.

 

The horror provoked throughout the world as a result of this massacre led to an attitude shift throughout the international community. In August 1995, NATO began a campaign of aerial bombardment of Serbian militia installations which brought about an end to the conflict.

On 21 November 1995 in Dayton, Ohio (USA), the heads of state from Bosnia, Alija Izetbegović, Serbia, Slobodan Milošević and Croatia, Franjo Tuđman signed the Peace Accord which transformed Bosnia-Herzegovina into a federal republic composed of two entities: the Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. The conflict resulted in a total of 102,000 deaths and 1,326,000 refugees, the worst European conflict since the end of the Second World War. The post-war reconstruction effort faced many challenges, including managing the reintroduction of refugees and displaced persons caused by the war, the necessity of housing reconstruction and the reestablishment of infrastructure, and the need to stimulate the return of entrepreneurial enterprises.

Fundamental in this effort has always been mine and UXO clearing. The presence of UXOs, unexploded artillery munitions, rockets, missiles and cluster bombs, in addition to landmines represents a continuing hazard for the Bosnian people and their national integrity, inhibiting agricultural development,delaying the integration of refugees and displaced persons and limiting the population's freedom of movement. Still today, the consequences of the presence of UXOs and antipersonnel mines are extreme: killing, mutilating, and physically disabling primarily Bosnian children and workers who are exposed to these devices. Farmers,shepherds and woodsmen continue to be the principal victims of this terrible legacy of the Yugoslav conflict - a vivid example of the social damage that limits freedom of movement and the recovery of the socio-economic life of the country.

On going intervention

Intersos in Bosnia and Herzegovina has completed its activities of mine clearance and mine risk education (MRE) in the end of 2013 and is currently phasing out.
Thanks to the Italian Cooperation funding, INTERSOS has implemented direct demining for approximately 100,000 square meters of land in the areas of Sarajevo, Mostar and Bosansko Gorazde. The mine clearance works in these areas has enabled the restoration of infrastructure, water supply systems, and both cultural heritage and touristic facilities. A  Municipality Plan for mine risk education, consisting in Community Liaison, MRE presentation for risk group (school children’s, hunters, wood workers etc.), Permanent marking and Public information etc. has also been implemented.
Starting from January 2014 Intersos is phasing out, planning to close permanently its mission in the country by the end of 2014. 

Intersos in the country

INTERSOS began its operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993 , during the civil war, following later on the subsequent steps of the post-war reconstruction , the return of refugees , the difficult peace .
From 1993 until the Dayton agreement of 1995, we have been concerned primarily to transport and distribute basic items, such as medicines and medical supplies mostly in the areas of Zenica and Tuzla and to provide assistance to orphan children.
Since the end of 1995, INTERSOS has focused its action in the border areas between the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Republic of Bosnia, especially in the regions of Sarajevo and Tuzla. This choice was intended to encourage the resumption of dialogue between the municipalities of both communities and to support the return of displaced persons to their areas of origin.
INTERSOS started demining activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996, with operations in the canton of Tuzla and Sarajevo , to make possible the reconstruction and the return in full security of refugees and displaced persons . Industrial areas, touristic and sports areas, public parks, power lines and agricultural land have been recovered and returned to the people and local authorities. Between 2002 and 2004, we have reclaimed the industrial plant FAMOS in Sarajevo, in order to eliminate risk areas and help to boost production and employment. Moreover, other areas of high social significance and economic interest for the population, such as the mountain Trebenic, the touristic area for winter sports, which in 1984 hosted the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo and during the war became one of the points from which it was conducted the siege of the city.
Interventions demining in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been made with funding from the European Commission, the Italian Cooperation, Italian Regions and local authorities and INTERSOS private donors.
However, it will never be possible to remove all mines and explosive devices. A certain number will unfortunately remain, especially those located in wooded areas or buried under earth or debris that might one day reappear. Furthermore, the recent flooding in much of the Balkans , particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina , made ​​it even more difficult to identify contaminated areas, because the large amount of water falling in a few days has moved massive amounts of land, making impossible the identification of contaminated areas.It is therefore necessary to educate the public and in particular children to behave in the correct way in order to reduce or completely reset the number of accidents due to landmines , which still are reported each year in the country .
In this sense, the activities of "Permanent marking" of the territory, which started in 2009 and continued until the end of 2013 are of particular importance . In fact, this type of intervention involves placing metal poles of 1.5 m height with signs of danger mines, to define the areas considered at risk that will not be demined for the next 5 years. In this way the BHMAC , the only authority responsible for managing and coordinating all demining activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina , expects to achieve the goal of " zero landmine victims " since the previous goal of "zero mines in Bosnia and Herzegovina " does not seem possible anymore given the widespread distribution of the bombs , the time passed since the mines where placed , the lack of detailed maps and eventually the effects of the recent flooding .

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