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INFO   :::  Reports - PAGE 3 > Annual Report 2000 > Text



Human Rights in Serbia 2000


XI - Problem of Antipersonal Mines in Serbia


Since 1998 the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights co-ordinated the Yugoslav Campaign for Antipersonal Mine Ban (anti-infantry mines). The latter is a member of the International Campaign for Antipersonal Mines Ban, an international movement rallying such national campaigns in over 70 countries. To date the biggest achievement of this International Campaign was adoption of the Convention on Ban on Antipersonal Mines Use, Production, Storage and Trade and Destruction of Antipersonal Mines, in Ottawa on 3 December 1997. To date the Convention was signed by 138 countries in the world. All states, parties to the Convention, relinquished the use of antipersonal mines. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is not a signatory to the Ottawa convention. It is the only regional country and one of few European countries (in addition to Russia, Finland and Turkey) which considers the use of antipersonal mines "a crucial factor in the defence system of our country." First the Yugoslav Popular Army and later the Yugoslav Army (YA) used to a large extent this kind of weapons during wars waged in the Republic of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo. Although other protagonists of the armed conflicts used antipersonal mines, the YA used them indiscriminately, which resulted in a heavy mine contamination of territories of former Yugoslavia.

It is estimated that in the territory of Croatia between 700,000 and 1,000,000 mines were laid, in Bosnia and Herzegovina about 100,000 and 50,000 in the territory of Kosovo. To date 4,000 land mine victims were reported in Croatia, 3,600 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 3,600 and 500 in Kosovo. New casualties can be expected as some estimates indicate that would take 25 years to de-mine all those areas.

As regards the territory of the Republic of Serbia no official information (the Defence Ministry, Joint Staffs of the YA, Federal Foreign Ministry) is available.

In its capacity of the Co-ordinator of the Yugoslav Campaign for Mines Ban, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights repeatedly tried to establish contacts with competent state bodies and get information on this issue. But in 1998 and 1999 we received no reply from them. Only in the late 2000 Helsinki Committee received a letter from the Yugoslav Defence Ministry. The letter failed to give a precise answer as to the mine-laying activities of the YA in the territory of Serbia, but intimated that the YA, in line with the military doctrine in place retained the right to "protect" the FRY borders by minefields both in peace and in wartime. The latter also underscored that "when laying the mines, the YA does that in a very professional way, in compliance with international standards and the Protocol II of the Convention on the Use of Conventional Arms" which means that "all the mine fields were properly marked" and consequently "there were no casualties in the minefields laid by the YA."

During its mid November 2000 visit to Sid Municipality the Helsinki Committee team was informed of heavy mine contamination of the entire border area between the municipality and the republic of Croatia. Most mines were laid in village Jamena. Svetlana Marojevic, head of Local Office of village Jamena told us that the YA had been lying mines in the area throughout 1992, but marked only few minefields. After the first casualties were reported in the area, the army came to mark the incident site. In the 1992-1997 period 6 locals were heavily injured in mining incidents. All six lost one leg, and two people died in mine explosions. Added to the two dirt roads, a large arable area was also heavily mined. There are also indications that area of Apatin municipality and the border area with Hungary were also mined.

Despite strong disclaimers of the YA Joint Staffs there are indications that the military industry is still producing mines. Added to that readiness of the FRY to sign the Ottawa Convention remains a major imponderable. In view of the aforementioned Helsinki Committee through the Yugoslav Campaign wanted to bring pressure to bear on the FRY authorities to sign the Convention. Thus we launched a major awareness-raising campaign which in 1999 and 2000 comprised three round-tables in Novi Sad, Podgorica and Pristina with a topic "Antipersonal Mines Ban" and thereafter published a compendium of authorised papers from the said round-tables.

Soon after formation of the new federal government Helsinki Committee sent letters to the FRY President, the Federal Defence Secretary and the Federal Foreign Secretary, asking them to take a public stand on that issue. Helsinki Committee and other NGOs, members of the Yugoslav Campaign and the Popular Movement "Otpor", simultaneously launched a petition for signing of the Ottawa Convention.

In the early December 2000, on the third anniversary of adoption of the Ottawa Convention, a press conference was organised to raise awareness of the mine problems, mine contamination and mine casualties in the neighbouring countries and in the FRY.





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