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Tuesday, June 22, 1999 Published at 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK


UK

Nato bomb caused Gurkha deaths

Checking for mines is a skilled but dangerous task

The two British soldiers killed in an explosion while moving Nato cluster bombs in Kosovo have been named.

Lieutenant Gareth Evans, 25, from Bristol and Sergeant Balaram Rai, 35, who lived in Nepal were on peacekeeping duties. They were moving unexploded bombs away from a school building at the request of Albanian villagers, military sources in Kosovo said.

Brits in Balkans
Both were members of the 69th Gurkha Field Squadron, part of the 36th Engineer Regiment based at Maidstone, Kent. The UK military confirmed on Tuesday that the bomb was of Nato origins.


Ben Brown reports: "It's Nato's task to pick up the litter of war"
Two Kosovo Albanians were also killed and another was in hospital with shrapnel wounds to the chest. A fourth was believed to have been taken away by the villagers after suffering minor injuries.

The news follows a British military investigation into the explosion in Negrovce, near the town of Orahovac. Lt Evans and Sgt Rai were were the first Nato deaths since the alliance began peacekeeping duties in Kosovo.


[ image: One of the casualties is stretchered away]
One of the casualties is stretchered away
Villagers had found what were described as "substantial quantities" of Nato cluster bombs. They gathered on Monday to pile them them by the schoolhouse, aided by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

The bombs were moved because a local doctor did not want them to be exploded where they lay. He thought it would hold back rebuilding work in the badly damaged village.

Lt Evans said the bombs could be moved, and they were separated into three piles for detonation by specialist soldiers.

UK military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Nick Clissitt said: "It was during the wiring of the charges that two piles detonated prematurely with tragic results."

'They know the risks'

Major Andy Edington, second in command of the 36th Engineer Regiment, spoke of his sadness at the death of his colleague Lt Evans.

"For any of those who knew the soldiers it is a shock and our thoughts go out to their families," Major Edington said.

Kosovo: Special Report
But he said troops in Maidstone were much "calmer" following the identification of the two soldiers, after "nervous anticipation" before the announcement.

"There will be sadness for those who knew them," he added.

Lt Col Clissitt said the explosion was "a danger that troops in the British Army live with".

"They know the risks," he said. "They are prepared for the dangers and we get on with the business in hand".

Bomb fragments

Cluster bombs are the most effective weapon for use against troops, he added.

Capable of killing large numbers of people, the bombs split into several pieces after being dropped from a plane and spread over a wide area. Military experts estimate that about 10% may not explode when they land.

Local people said about 50 separate fragments of unexploded ordnance had been collected from the school when one piece exploded, leaving a large crater.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has led the tributes to the two Gurkhas. He said: "It shows the dangers that our forces are running the entire time in Kosovo.


UK Prime Minister Tony Blair pays tribute to the soldiers' bravery
"It does underscore the bravery of our troops, their courage, their fortitude and the debt we owe them."

General Sir Michael Jackson, the British commander of the international peacekeeping force, said: "However much one talks about mines, unexploded ordnance and booby traps it appears we all have to learn the hard way.


General Sir Michael Jackson: "It's extremely sad"
"That is what happened today. It's extremely sad. The day started very well but the thought of two guys losing their lives is not good."

Gurkhas were among the first Nato troops to enter Kosovo as part of the international peacekeeping force K-For.

They helped take control of high ground on the strategic road from Blace, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to Pristina.





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