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Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 21:07 GMT 22:07 UK
Kosovo mine expert criticises Nato
K-For soldiers training to clear mines in Kosovo
Soldiers on the ground support demining
By the BBC's Nicholas Wood in Pristina

The head of the UN's demining programme in Kosovo has blamed Nato for the slow progress made to clear up unexploded bombs in the province.

The latest victim, a 10-year-old boy, was killed on Sunday when he walked into an unmarked field of cluster bombs.


Sometimes the first time we knew there was an area [with unexploded bombs] was when there was a casualty reported

John Flanagan
Mine Action Co-Ordination Centre

More than 100 people have now died from bomb and mine injuries since the end of the war in Kosovo, in June last year.

John Flanagan, the head of the Mine Action Co-Ordination Centre in Pristina, says essential information about the precise location of cluster bomb sites was withheld from his group.

"It was definitely frustrating, 10 months later we are just getting to grips with the information. It shouldn't be like that," he said.

Unexploded bombs

Almost 1,400 cluster bombs were dropped in Kosovo, mainly by British and US planes.

The shells break up into dozens of smaller bomblets and scatter over an area of one square kilometre.

About 10% fail to explode on impact, and remain on the ground.

Kosovar boy
Children are attracted by the bright colours of the bomblets

The Mine Action Centre first asked K-For for information about the location of the bombs last in August.

But it was not until this April that the centre realised it did not have the full details.

Mr Flanagan says his teams would have been able to mark out and demine far more areas if Nato had co-operated earlier.

The UN had to lobby Nato officials in Brussels and Washington before the information was handed over.

Since the arrival of spring there has been a steady increase in number of casualties from mines and cluster bombs.

Rising toll

In April 15 people were injured compared with 13 in March, and six in February.

The bombs are particularly attractive to children.

The American bomblets are plastic and coloured bright yellow.

However, they contain an incendiary device - shrapnel - and armour pearcing explosive that can pearce steel 25 cm thick.

Unlike most mines they often kill or maim more than one person at a time.

K-For has the responsibility to mark out "essential sites".

But the Mine Action Co-Ordination Centre says as much as 40% of risk areas have yet to be cordoned off.

"It became apparent we didn't have the information, and areas were not marked." said Mr Flanagan.

"Sometimes the first time we knew there was an area was when there was a casualty reported," he said.

Responsibility

There is now increasing pressure on Nato and K-For to take responsibility for the problem.

It is estimated that cluster bombs make up to 40% of mines and unexploded bombs in the province.

Yet the vast majority of demining work is done by civilians.

Also Nato partners have a differing in their concern about the problem.

"Some of the information is considered as sensitive. The UK soldiers are very supportive of the operation," said Mr Flanagan.

But he added some countries have yet to give their full support.

"The guys on the ground want to help out as much as possible. It's a political decision. Cluster clearing is not beyond K-For's and Nato's ability," he said.

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Kosovo: One year on
Click here for in-depth coverage and latest news
Key stories:
Nato's incomplete victory
The view from Kosovo
Serbs fear new war
Nato strikes: The untold story
An Uneasy Peace
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See also:

17 May 00 | Americas
Pressure to quit Kosovo
28 Feb 00 | Europe
Kosovo: What happened to peace?
16 Mar 00 | Europe
Kosovo one year on
22 May 00 | Europe
Kosovo bombs kill boy
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