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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK

World: Europe

The deadly debris of war

Refugees are flooding back into Kosovo despite the dangers

By BBC News Online's Fergus Nicoll

The war is over, but death still awaits the unwary or unlucky in Kosovo.

Kosovo: Special Report
In the wake of the Yugoslav military withdrawal, mine-clearance experts and K-For troops are beginning the work of removing or detonating thousands of land-mines and booby-traps left behind by the Serbs.

In addition - as the deaths of two British Gurkha soldiers on Monday illustrated - there is a danger from unexploded Nato bombs, still scattered around war-time targets.

Click here to read about cluster-bombs

Mines are cheap and easy to produce, costing between $3 and $30.

But the UN estimates that treating a patient who has lost a limb to a mine costs about $3,000 per amputee.

[ image:  ]
Mines have been described as "the perfect soldier": they don't need sleep or food, and once buried can remain active for over 50 years.

In practical terms, anti-personnel mines can be divided into two categories: blast mines and fragmentation mines.

Blast mines usually respond to pressure - a child, a farmer, a soldier, stepping on the mine's sensitive trigger-plate.

[ image: Fragmentation devices: Often used as booby-traps]
Fragmentation devices: Often used as booby-traps
Fragmentation mines are usually set off by trip wires - a booby-trap technique already witnessed in Kosovo.

When the mine explodes, a large number of metal fragments - either contained in the mine or parts of its own casing - are blown out with lethal effect.

Around 50 countries have produced and exported anti-personnel mines, and at least 350 models are currently available.

Yugoslavia manufactures at least 16 types of mine, including the PMA-2 and PMA-3, which have been found in large numbers in Kosovo's central Glogovac region.

[ image:  ]
The International Campaign to Ban Land-mines (ICBL) has called on the government in Belgrade to stop using land-mines.

The 1997 treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of land-mines was championed by the ICBL, which won the Nobel Peace Prize the same year.

The treaty has now been ratified by 81 countries and signed by 135, and became international law in September 1998.

Neither Serbia nor the Unites States are signatories.

Nato cluster-bombs

[ image: CBU-87/B cluster-bomb: Blasts out 202 individual
CBU-87/B cluster-bomb: Blasts out 202 individual "bomblets"

Most cluster bombs are intended for "soft" targets: troops or unarmoured vehicles.

Nato also used them against fixed targets of a dispersed yet unprotected nature, such as communications sites.

[ image: American F-16s carrying cluster-bombs to drop on Yugoslav positions]
American F-16s carrying cluster-bombs to drop on Yugoslav positions
To maximise casualties and damage, Nato's 1,000-lb CBU-75/B - made in the United States - scatters 202 detonating "bomblets" over an area the size of a football field.

One CBU-87/B - an "all-purpose, air-delivered cluster weapons system" - costs $13,941 to manufacture.

The distinctive yellow cartridge-shaped bomblets have been found in several locations in Kosovo.

During Nato's air-strikes, both American and British crews dropped cluster-bombs on a wide variety of Serb military targets, including airfields, early-warning sites, vehicles on roads, and artillery positions.

US F-15E and F-16 aircraft used the CBU-87, while British Harriers dropped RBL755 cluster-bombs in April.

(Click here to return to top of story)

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Internet Links

Mine Action Information Centre

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Technical details on land-mines

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