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Demining with French paratroops

By 1st Lt. Javier Donesteve
First published in
SFOR Informer#110, April 4, 2001

The SFOR Informer was just notified at press time, that WO2 Xavier Andréoli sustained fatally injuries while on a de-mining operation near Prozor. He is a member of the 17th Paratroop Engineers Regiment (17 RGP). The SFOR Informer shares the pain of his family, his regiment, French army and all of SFOR.

Konjic - Sgt. Laurent Laprade advances very slowly toward the mine, kneeling. "We can see that one, but we don't know how many more there could be," he said. Followed by Pvt. 1st Class Frederic Bertolotti, who holds the mine detector, he sticks the mine-prodder in the ground once. Then, he marks the one-meter-wide corridor of mine-cleared land with yellow tape.
The watchful eye of the platoon leader, Warrant Officer 2 Frantz Thil, supervises everything. Meanwhile, another soldier with his weapon ready to fire looks around. "The sentry checks that no animals come too near. There are many in the area: dogs, cows, sheeps … any of them could set off a mine and put us in danger. Security first." said Thil, a 39-year-old veteran soldier with many years of service in the Paratroops Engineers and Special Forces, who has cleared many minefields.
This is happening in the hills surrounding Konjic. "During the war, the confrontation line was here and the whole area was mined. Bosnian-Croat people were on the hills and Bosniacs were downtown. At present, the French platoon located here patrols these tracks very often and the mines are a risk for them, as for the population. That's why we are here: to increase general security," Thil said.
Capt. Stephan Vales, Engineer chief, French Battle Group, added, "We only carry out demining tasks in the surroundings of SFOR installations, like what we are doing in the vicinity of Camp Butmir, Sarajevo, or where SFOR troops can be involved. We also co-operate with the MAC (Mine Action Centre) and we support local civilians with technical advice. In fact, we were warned about these mines by them when two cows activated a mine and died."
Back in France, Vales commands 22nd Coy, 17th RGP (Parachutist Engineers Regiment), the sappers platoon is included in the French Battle Group comes from.
"Three teams are working in the area, in different points," Thil said. "Two PMR-3 fragmentation mines can be seen. The PMR-3 is a tripwire-activated anti-personnel mine. Usually they are not alone, but protected by pressure-operated mines laid along the course of the tripwire. We must go very slowly and very carefully."
As Thil warned, a few minutes later another mine is discovered near the first one. It is a PMA-1A. The earth is carefully cleared around it, and then the mine is deactivated. Nothing else is found. Then, works begin with the PMR-3. "The fuse is very old and in very (a) bad state, which increases the danger," he says.
Later on, the fuse was removed, and the rest of the PMR-3 was also deactivated. A young paratrooper proudly posed for a picture with the mine, and immediately returns to work. There is still much to be done.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: France
Engineering - Mines and De-mining