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Mind your step

Mines are a massive problem in Bosnia. No one knows exactly how many devices, ranging from huge anti-tank mines to small and now internationally banned anti-personnel mines, still litter the country.

A best guess estimate puts the figure at around one million, scattered over thousands of locations. All are well hidden and often booby-trapped.

Nato has a very strong no-touch policy on mines. 'We do not go out and routinely clear mines unless we need to for our own purposes,' explains Major Guy Marot, commanding officer of 5 Field Squadron. He is a bomb disposal and mine clearance expert with vast experience of the damage such weapons can cause.

The armies that laid the mines must clear up their own minefields, he explains. 'There is a clear message that we are not putting any of our soldiers at risk to clear their minefields.'

Marot actually has three specialist Aardvark mine clearance vehicles at his disposal in Bosnia. These use flailing chains to clear or detonate mines and are capable of surviving blasts from any individual mines that are missed.

But even using this equipment can be risky, because sometimes mines are buried in stacks that can destroy an Aardvark, so the three machines remain largely unused.

Instead Marot's squadron and the explosive ordnance division alongside it run a comprehensive mine awareness programme for both Nato personnel and the local population. This points out, in often graphic and disturbing detail, the consequences of stumbling across a minefield.

It is a long battle, but the message appears to be getting through. Since 22 Regiment arrived in March, there has been just one casualty as the result of a land mine, compared to around 30 from road traffic accidents.

However, lack of expertise and accurate location records mean that clearing all the minefields will be an almost impossible task for the local military. Nato has already comprehensively mapped all known sites using information from both sides of the war. It is currently training soldiers from the former warring factions in 'look, feel and prod' techniques, so the risk of treading on a mine is reduced to 0.4 per cent.

There are also plans to make Aardvark vehicles available to the locals, either by selling or loaning them. Sadly, in the meantime, the best advice to everyone in Bosnia is never to step off hard ground.

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