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U.S. Army Sgt. Stacey Dawson of Joint Military Affairs, left, takes down the information Friday about a demining team's productivity at a mine field just outside Eagle Base's gate from one of the team's members, Sgt. 1st Class Emir Hadzikadunic, of Demining Battalion of Federation military from the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dawson's translator Damir Osmanovic, pictured center. Stabilization Force troops monitor demining by Bosnian armed forces, set their productivity rates, and help when they can with demining equipment.

U.S. Army Sgt. Stacey Dawson of Joint Military Affairs, left, takes down the information Friday about a demining team's productivity at a mine field just outside Eagle Base's gate from one of the team's members, Sgt. 1st Class Emir Hadzikadunic, of Demining Battalion of Federation military from the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dawson's translator Damir Osmanovic, pictured center. Stabilization Force troops monitor demining by Bosnian armed forces, set their productivity rates, and help when they can with demining equipment. (Ivana Avramovic / S&S)

U.S. Army Sgt. Stacey Dawson of Joint Military Affairs, left, takes down the information Friday about a demining team's productivity at a mine field just outside Eagle Base's gate from one of the team's members, Sgt. 1st Class Emir Hadzikadunic, of Demining Battalion of Federation military from the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dawson's translator Damir Osmanovic, pictured center. Stabilization Force troops monitor demining by Bosnian armed forces, set their productivity rates, and help when they can with demining equipment.

U.S. Army Sgt. Stacey Dawson of Joint Military Affairs, left, takes down the information Friday about a demining team's productivity at a mine field just outside Eagle Base's gate from one of the team's members, Sgt. 1st Class Emir Hadzikadunic, of Demining Battalion of Federation military from the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dawson's translator Damir Osmanovic, pictured center. Stabilization Force troops monitor demining by Bosnian armed forces, set their productivity rates, and help when they can with demining equipment. (Ivana Avramovic / S&S)

Cpl. Akib Softic of Demining Battalion of Federation military from the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, demonstrates Friday how most deminers clear the land of deadly devices — by using a probe. Softic was demining just outside Eagle Base on the same day a large piece of land was officially turned over to civilian authorities after it was demined.

Cpl. Akib Softic of Demining Battalion of Federation military from the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, demonstrates Friday how most deminers clear the land of deadly devices — by using a probe. Softic was demining just outside Eagle Base on the same day a large piece of land was officially turned over to civilian authorities after it was demined. (Ivana Avramovic / S&S)

GRADACAC, Bosnia and Herzegovina — Soldiers reclaimed another chunk of land from the deadly devices planted in ground during the 3½-year Bosnian war.

During a small ceremony Friday outside Gradacac — about two hours northwest of Eagle Base — Bosnian military deminers turned the nearly 100 acres of land over to civilian authorities.

After the ceremony, American soldiers took a short walk through the land that once held 25 land mines and 37 unexploded ordnances.

Before driving back to Eagle Base, they stopped outside the wire where Bosnian soldiers were demining another piece of land.

“U.S. forces don’t actually conduct demining,” said Capt. Kyle Shaffer of Joint Military Affairs. “We’re here to supervise the armed forces of Bosnia that are actually doing the demining.”

Clearing mines has gotten harder since March, when he first came into the country, Shaffer said.

The drought and high temperatures that have hit Europe are affecting the deminers, too. The lack of rain has made the ground dry and difficult to probe for mines. And the heat has cut effective work to six hours a day. During spring and fall, best seasons for demining, soldiers work from eight to 12 hours a day.

In the case of the Gradacac minefield, deminers’ work was slowed by many ammunition and shell casings found in the ground, which used to be the front line during the war.

There are 18,000 known minefields left in country, their size varying from one-quarter of an acre to 25 acres. But officials believe many more minefields are unknown.

When the peacekeeping force first came into the country at the end of the war, soldiers relied on the military records to chart the mine fields.

“The militaries didn’t keep very good records, or any at all,” Shaffer said. “A lot of [the mine fields] are newly discovered.”

It is estimated that at the current rate of clearing mines, it will take “up to 33 years” to make Bosnia mine-free, Shaffer said.

The teams — broken up between the military of Serb-controlled Republika Srpska part of the country and the Muslim-Croat-run Federation — need more mechanical devices to speed up the mine-clearing process, he said.

“It’s critical that … we get mechanized devices to these guys,” said Shaffer.

Although deminers are years away from ridding the country of mines, once the process is completed, the military demining teams could become a great asset to the United Nations, NATO and the European Union.

“These guys are real professionals,” said Sgt. Stacey Dawson, a Stabilization Force soldier who helps monitor the team’s progress.

Capt. Senad Smigalovic of Demining Battalion of Federation military from the Gradacac team is proud of his team’s accomplishments.

He estimated they clear about 100 acres each season, from spring to winter. If they had mechanical devices available, they could do twice as much, he said.

Gradacac is the seventh minefield his troops have demined and turned over to civilian authorities since March.

In spite of all the difficulties, deminers are slowly making the land safe again.

“How many houses there will be here, who knows?” said Pero Filipovic, another deminer, “especially now that it’s demined.”


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