The Hunt for the Hidden Bombs and Land Mines of Kosovo

The bomb hunters of Kosovo roam the country on foot, searching for explosives that dot the landscape 17 years after the Kosovo War. The slightest disturbance can cause an explosion, making the work so risky that the men and women who do it insisted that Emanuele Amighetti wear body armor and helmet just to photograph them.

NATO dropped many of those bombs during a 78-day campaign to end the ethnic war that roiled Kosovo for 15 months. An estimated 20 percent of those munitions didn’t detonate, joining the untold numbers of mines and other explosives left behind by soldiers on both sides. The United Nations swept the nation after the war and declared it free of ordinance in 2001, but data from the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor show more than 100 people have been injured by explosives since then.

Amighetti’s work often examines the aftermath of war, so he asked Halo Trust International about joining a team as it went hunting for bombs. It estimates that some 60 minefields remain—each littered with as many as a few hundred of bombs—and hopes to clear them all by 2020.

That tedious full-time job falls to workers drawn from local communities. They receive one month of rigorous training before being deployed with bulletproof aprons and face shields. They work through early winter, when the weather makes the work too difficult. Each team is led by a seasoned veteran and includes a paramedic, although no one’s been hurt since 2001, when a cluster bomb near Grebnik killed one person and injured another.

The job requires pin-sharp concentration and tireless attention. The teams start by scanning an area with metal detectors, some of them fitted with ground-penetrating radar. Workers carefully clear brush and vegetation, and listen for the tell-tale beep that indicates a potential bomb. Anything suspicious is fenced off wth red stakes.

At that point, a worker starts digging a few feet away, slowly scraping away earth laterally to reveal the object from the side. The idea is to avoid easing any pressure bearing down on the possible bomb and detonating it. Any ordinance is immediately reported, and destroyed where it sits or removed for detonation elsewhere. At that point, the team makes another check of the area to ensure nothing is left behind.

Amighetti accompanied a team as it worked near the villages of Balincë and Kryshec in December. The workers didn’t find anything, but his photos convey the constant threat of danger that still threatens the country long after the war ended.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/emanuele-amighetti-the-hunt-for-the-hidden-bombs-and-land-mines-of-kosovo/

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