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Long Term Effects of Violence

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: March 18, 2000
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Clean Up from the War in Kosovo

We are accustomed to think, in the West, that a bar room brawl ends when the protaganist wins or passes out. Not so. The destruction must be cleaned up. People must begin to live again within the limited confines of the space where the brawl occurred.

The U.S. has had the luxury for some time now of fighting wars on other peoples' turf. When the war is over, we come home, with little thought to the destruction that must be cleaned up. On March 18, jeanne received this e-mail from the Peace and Education Commission on the present effects of war in Kosovo.

The Guardian (London)
                                    Tuesday March 14, 2000

DEATH LURKS IN THE FIELDS: Unexploded bombs: Kosovo tries to clean up after air strikes
By Jonathan Steele in Pristina

The U.S. is refusing to allow American troops to remove the thousands of unexploded cluster bombs dropped by NATO planes on Kosovo last year.

As the snows melt and the first planting season since the NATO air strikes approaches, Albanian and international officials fear that the death toll from bomb casualties will rise as farmers start to plough, children play in the fields and people go into the woods to collect timber for cooking.        

Cluster bombs are far more deadly than landmines and around 10% failed to explode. But for fear of the “bodybag syndrome”, whereby the bodies of U.S. casualties are returned home in bags, the Pentagon has ruled that it will not order its professional disposal experts to defuse them. The job is being dumped on underfunded civilian teams, largely staffed by Albanians.        

Each cluster bomb unit contains up to 200 weapons the size of a tennis ball canister. The unit opens up at about 2,000 feet, unleashing a hail of the bomb canisters that swamp an area the size of four football pitches with lethal shrapnel. Designed as an anti-tank weapon, each bomb can also penetrate five inches of steel.         

During the Kosovo war, U.S. and British pilots were under orders to drop them from above 15,000ft to keep their aircraft safe from enemy fire. Hundreds of the bombs missed their targets.        

 “NATO gave us information about where they thought they dropped them. These were detailed grid references, but many turned out not to be correct,” says John Flanagan, a colonel from New Zealand, who heads the UN’s mine action coordination centre in Kosovo. “They may have intended to drop six bombs on one target and four go off somewhere else, as much as one kilometre from the intended spot.”         

The UN coordinates the work of several civilian demining teams. As well as falling wide, about 28,000 of the deadly canisters failed to explode. If they stay on the surface and can be seen, they can be detonated by putting an explosive charge beside them. But most go through the soil and are lying between 10cm and 20cm underground, ready to blast a tractor or a person who steps on one. When hidden, they are far harder to detect and dispose of than ordinary landmines.        

“NATO doesn’t want to create a precedent for cleaning up in post-conflict situations. They first made this clear in the Gulf war. [The Gulf war cleanup] cost $700m, but luckily the Kuwaitis could pay,” Col Flanagan says. Kosovo, by contrast, is poor and much more heavily populated than the Kuwaiti desert.        

 “My personal opinion is that if they’re going to use these kinds of weapons, they have to recognise there is a postwar environmental effect,” he adds.         

Traditional landmines are mainly used to defend fixed sites, and armies usually keep records of where they are laid so that they can be lifted later. Cluster bombs are attack weapons and inaccurate.         

Since June, 54 people have already been killed by mines or cluster bombs in Kosovo; another 250 have been maimed. In the worst cluster-bomb accident, four children died near Gnjilane and one was seriously hurt when they threw a stone at the yellow canister lying in a field. Only 30% of Kosovo’s arable land was used last year because most refugees came back too late to plough. This year, however, mine casualties are expected to rise in spite of efforts to make people aware of the dangers lurking in their fields.         

K-For, the NATO-led international peace force, says it will lift mines and unexploded cluster bombs only if they obstruct its mission to provide security; in practice, this means those found on main roads or near K-For bases and buildings.        

The non-governmental organisations’ (NGO) disposal teams have destroyed 2,743 bombs so far, but that still leaves over 25,000. The U.S. government and other NATO partners are paying for some of the NGO work, but every contract requires time-consuming lobbying and pleading for funds. It would be easier to use the Pentagon’s trained weapons disposal teams, but cowardice among politicians and the consequences of casualties even in a volunteer army appear to preclude it.